So Your Daughter Wants to Dress Like a Hooker. What Do You Do?

It’s Halloween. You’re a parent. Your young daughter wants to dress like a slut. What do you do?

Eleanor Barkhorn over at The Atlantic has a great piece about discouraging sexy Halloween costumes among young girls:

A female contributor to the feminist website Feministing made a similar argument [in 2009]: “What’s wrong with having a night where we can say ‘This is my body, and I’m not ashamed of it, or of using it to express my sexuality?’ In fact, the only [thing] about that that seems wrong to me is the fact that it’s limited to one day, when the other 364 days of the year turn that idea on its head.”

The only problem with these defenses of sexy Halloween [costumes] is that they don’t work with girls and teenagers. Sure, grown women can use Halloween as an excuse to put on the corset or tight dress they’d be too embarrassed to wear the rest of the year. But youth should be a time when girls don’t have to express their sexuality. As one mother put it in a CNN article, “Dressing up as a sexpot is not part of my vision for a happy, healthy childhood.”

Dealing with sexy Halloween costumes is a major problem for parents–perhaps even a milestone in the parenting of adolescent girls. If your relationship with your daughter survives the Halloween showdowns between ages twelve and sixteen years old, then your relationship with her can probably survive anything (cue: Modern Family).

Just the other day, a friend of mine who is a father asked me and my friends what he can do to discourage his pre-teen daughter from dressing like, in his words, “a hooker”:

I’d like to consult ya’ll on how to parent my pre-teen with respect to dressing . . . because (1) you’re young enough to relate and (2) you’re old and wise enough to be useful. I’m not uptight but my daughter’s desire to dress like a hooker is concerning. Maybe it’s the fashion, I don’t know; but she would wear a bikini everywhere if she could. If I forbid her to wear what she wants then she will rebel and do it anyway, making it worse. I want her to see that women are not objects. I tell her all the time that she doesnt have to get married if she doesnt want, men dont make her complete, she is strong and can stand alone, reach for goals, etc. What’s a dad to do?

This is what I told my friend:

When I was in the seventh grade, I went through a huge Madonna phase. Embarrassing, I know. But I think it was part of the developmental process that all girls who are sexually maturing undergo. Part of forming their identities is getting in touch with this new part of their selves. That, at least, is my story and I’m sticking to it.

So, of course, Halloween came around and I decided that I wanted to dress up as Madonna, cone bra and all. Not only that, but during that same period, my seventh-grade English class was assigned to write about who our role models were, and I decided that I would write about Madonna.

I don’t know what went through my parents heads when I declared my intention to be Madonna, body and mind, to them that fall–but I can only imagine. I have to give them major props, though, because they handled it in a totally reasonable way, which won me over. Basically, they initiated a conversation with me about how Madonna, whose music may be catchy and fun, is a silly publicity-seeking self-promoter. Dressing like Madonna and writing about her–taking her seriously on an intellectual level–wasn’t sending any kind of provocative message. Rather, it was just turning myself into a billboard that advertised her brand. Not cool. I also thought about the kind of image that I would be sending to my teacher (sigh, I was a major teacher’s pet, I admit it, and I wanted my teacher to respect me).

So I went back to the drawing board and ended up writing about and dressing up as a more fiery, interesting, and intriguing femme fatale: Cleopatra. This was a classier and more constructive choice–and definitely more subtle.

That experience may have been the first time I realized the value of “less is more” in the arena of sexuality. Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione in Harry Potter, hit on this point beautifully not too long ago as she dealt with how to manage her own sexual persona. Here’s what Watson said:

I find the whole concept of being “sexy” embarrassing and confusing. If I do a photo-shoot people desperately want to change me—dye my hair blonder, pluck my eyebrows, give me a fringe. Then there’s the choice of clothes. I know everyone wants a picture of me in a mini-skirt. But that’s not me. I feel uncomfortable. I’d never go out in a mini-skirt. It’s nothing to do with protecting the Hermione image. I wouldn’t do that.

Personally, I don’t actually think it’s even that sexy. What’s sexy about saying, “I’m here with my boobs out and a short skirt. . . .  have a look at everything I’ve got”? My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder.

Watson is a real class act. If she had been around when I was a little girl, maybe I would have had a different Halloween story to tell–one about showing up to school dressed as Hermione.

  1. Robert Promm

    And the point of Halloween is what?  Such occupation with the trivial is one of the major societal failings.

    Further to this, I was revolted by the “revelry” of the celebration over the SFO Giants winning the world series — as if it really had anything to do with the price of rice.  It was merely an excuse to insight riot, drunkenness and debotury.  And what’s with “we won” or “we’re number one”?  Oh really?  I didn’t see any of those idiots on the field in cold old Detroit on Monday night.

    Too much idle time.  Too much “bread and circuses”.

  2. Mike H

    This is exactly what a future dad wants to hear… (my daughter is due in March)

  3. Sandy

    My late mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, used to tell a  story about her parents’ reaction to an invitation from a college boy to a college weekend (she was in high school).  ”Nathan,” said her mother to her father, “did you hear what she wants to do?”   And that was the end.  In the Yiddish-American world, this is sometimes known as “third person invisible.”  I recommend it.  

  4. Sheila S.

    Patrick, I wholeheartedly agree!  As the parent of 4 daughters (ages 21, 19, 16, and 9) I agree! Our view has been, “Here are the standards we set for you.  If you want to behave outside those standards, you will have to engage in dishonesty to do so.”  Have they occasionally engaged in dishonesty? Absolutely. (Some more than others…)  Overall this approach has been successful.  We have good relationships with our children, and they value that as much as we do, so they don’t like to jeopardize it.

    It was the same with the birth control issue. I know too many friends who are against sex before marriage, but give in and get their daughters birth control feeling they have no choice if they are going to protect them. I told my older daughters bluntly, “If you are mature enough to have sex, then you had better be mature enough to both get/use birth control and deal with the consequences of being sexually active (disease, unplanned pregnancies).”  (One child chose abstinence until her marriage this past spring, the other went to the local health dept for birth control.  The younger two are not sexually active.)

  5. iWc

    What is worse than girls who want to cheapen themselves? Parents who dress their girls like whores. My explanation of why they do this is in the link.

  6. Jim  Ixtian
    Emily Esfahani Smith:

    Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione in Harry Potter, hit on this point beautifully…

    “My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder.”

    …Watson is a real class act. If she had been around when I was a little girl, maybe I would have had a different Halloween story to tell–one about showing up to school dressed as Hermione. ·

    Emily, you may want to rethink that if Watson actually gets the role of Anastasia for the planned female S&M-porn flick adaptation of “50 Shades of Grey”.

    “Fifty Shades of Grey” fan favorite Emma Watson recently revealed she is willing to go nude on screen.

    According to EntertainmentWise, the former “Harry Potter” star said she wouldn’t say no to nudity, especially after her adult acting in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

    “I’ve been saying since I was 16 that if it’s the right role and important for character development and the story, then of course I’ll do it,” the 22-year-old actress told Hello!

    I think the term is called ‘rationalization’…

  7. DocJay

    First of all I wouldn’t let my daughter dress like that.    If she insisted, I’d have a little discussion about the future and daddy’s pocketbook.

  8. Emily Esfahani Smith
    Michael Hinton: This is exactly what a future dad wants to hear… (my daughter is due in March) · 3 hours ago

    Congrats : )

  9. Emily Esfahani Smith

    Shiela S, I TOTALLY agree with you about this and wish that our policymakers would take the same position:

    “If you are mature enough to have sex, then you had better be mature enough to both get/use birth control and deal with the consequences of being sexually active (disease, unplanned pregnancies).”

  10. Patrickb63

    Sheila and Ken- Thanks.  And while slut clothes aren’t an issue for boys (at least wearing them isn’t.  How boys today manage to not spend all day just staring is something I wonder about), my wife and I set high expectations for them also, as far as being gentlemen, respecting females and having high expectations of themselves.   I should have made clear above that my wife is my solid partner in this.   We are not here to be our children’s friends.  We are here to be there parents. 

  11. Foxfier

    My kids won’t be allowed to dress up for Halloween if they’re too immature to dress decently. 

    Of course, I plan on laying a foundation for that ultimatum, too….

  12. Zafar

     [Your young daughter wants to dress like a slut. What do you do?]

    Don’t make a big deal out of it and she’ll outgrow the urge.  Half the time it’s to get a reaction from the parents.  No reaction means she’ll move on to something else.

  13. Charles Mark
    Emily Esfahani Smith: Shiela S, I TOTALLY agree with you about this and wish that our policymakers would take the same position:

    “If you are mature enough to have sex, then you had better be mature enough to both get/use birth control and deal with the consequences of being sexually active (disease, unplanned pregnancies).”

    48 minutes ago

    I have heard this line about being mature enough to have sex peddled about children under the legal age of consent. IMHO any child of that age who thinks he or she is “mature enough” is by definition grossly  immature, a danger to themselves, a hazard to the moral and  mental health and finances of their parents,and party to a criminal act. And adults who actively support the notion (as I heard a doctor do on the radio once) should be castigated,struck off, maybe locked up. [ Three wonderful daughters , 14, 10 and 7].

  14. Charles Mark
    Sheila S.

    Charles Mark

    IMHO any child of that age who thinks he or she is “mature enough” is by definition grossly  immature, a danger to themselves, a hazard to the moral and  mental health and finances of their parents,and party to a criminal act. And adults who actively support the notion (as I heard a doctor do on the radio once) should be castigated,struck off, maybe locked up.  

    Of course they are too immature to make that decision…I certainly hope you did not take my post to mean that we allow our girls to decide for themselves when they’re “ready?”

     

    Absolutely not Sheila.My comment was intended to be very specific to children under the legal age of consent and reflects a major concern I have about how the prevailing “pop” culture challenges parents of daughters, as well as sons, by throwing sexual imagery at them. For instance, I was horrified when the UK X-Factor last Saturday at about 8.30 pm featured a contestant singing a song with the unedifying title ” Horny, Horny, Horny”!

    For now I impress on my girls that there is no boy good enough for any of them.

  15. Sheila S.
    Charles Mark

    IMHO any child of that age who thinks he or she is “mature enough” is by definition grossly  immature, a danger to themselves, a hazard to the moral and  mental health and finances of their parents,and party to a criminal act. And adults who actively support the notion (as I heard a doctor do on the radio once) should be castigated,struck off, maybe locked up.  

    Of course they are too immature to make that decision…I certainly hope you did not take my post to mean that we allow our girls to decide for themselves when they’re “ready?”  Were that the case, it would be immoral to encourage them that way and then refuse to help them get birth control.  Since we do NOT  condone sex before marriage in any way, we will not be a party to it, especially by giving in on the birth control issue.  However, not discussing the issue and what happens should they decide to ignore our rules will not make the problem go away.  Therefore, they have been informed that we will not be a party to their violating our beliefs by providing them with birth control.

  16. Sheila S.

    We set high standards for the young men, too.  We also have a 24yo son.  He has a long-time girlfriend for whom he has sped up his leisurely education ordeal because he has this crazy notion he should be financially able to care for his wife before they get married.  Both of our older daughters got married this summer.  Both of the young men they married came to my husband and asked his blessing before officially proposing to them.  This is not something my husband went to the girls and told them he expected of their future husbands.  It was their idea…they each told their boyfriends they expected them to get their father’s blessing before the young men proposed to them.  It was very gratifying to see the girls embrace such an old-fashioned notion.  I hope my son goes to his girlfriend’s father before his official proposal.

    Have the kids made every decision one with which we agree?  Not by a long shot.  But we made some dim-witted choices at their ages, too.  I try to judge the overall result rather than the individual decisions, and am pretty content with what I see.

  17. Egg_Shen

    Are you sure you don’t mean sexy Hermoine? (Said in that post-ironical, rising intonation that’s so popular.) ;-D

    http://www.buy.com/prod/new-adult-women-s-xl-14-16-sexy-naughty-wizard-costume/212318171.html?listingId=52301317

    (Great Article, btw)

  18. Patrickb63

    “If I forbid her to wear what she wants then she will rebel and do it anyway, making it worse. ”

    Here is some blunt advice from the father of two daughters, one 19 and one 12.   If you are are afraid that forbidding your child from doing something is not the way to parent you are WRONG.  Let me say that again, in a different form: parenting from a position of fear of your child’s reaction is poor parenting.   When my oldest daughter wanted to wear clothes that were slutty, (borrowed from a friend) I told her she looked like a slut and she was not going out of the house dressed like that.  I never allowed her to purchase slutty Halloween costumes.  Yes she rebelled.  Once that I know of she did change clothes after she left the house.  But I never compromised my standards.  Today she is one of the least exposed 19 year olds I know.  and I still tell her occasionally if I think an outfit is revealing.   My 12 y/o hasn’t challenged me yet.  But she has the example of her sister to follow now.  Always set high standards of expected behavior.  

  19. Salamandyr

    Thank you for the essay, and yet another thing to plan and fear for (gulp!).  My daughter is celebrating her second Halloween this year.  So far, her costumes have reflected her Mom’s tastes more than her own.  Last year, she was Thor.  This year she’s Supergirl.   Based on current trends, the next several years will involve some variety of princess.

  20. Spin

    Patrick, your post reminds me of a scene from Battlestar Galactica, when someone orders the arrest of Adm. Adama.  He didn’t argue or protest, he simply looked the soldier in the eye and said “Make your decision, son.”  That’s real power, real influence.  As a parent you set a standard for behavior, and allow the child to make their decision.  

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