A few weeks ago, I posted on teen sexuality and the responses it engenders in adults. A thoughtful (female) reader sent me this response, which I post for your reading pleasure, without comment. Ladies, what are your thoughts? (And I suppose you too, Winston.)
When I see my young babysitter at the park, wearing a beautiful skirt that’s literally no more than 10 inches long from waistband to hem? First I notice the fabric – It’s really pretty! Why didn’t they use a little more of it?
I like your skirt, I tell her. Do I just want her to like me? Maybe a little, but I would wear that skirt six inches longer. Thanks, she says.
Next I think she must be wearing bike shorts underneath – she did bike over. At the park, the kids run off to the see-saw, and she joins them, climbing up to stand on the center and bounce it back and forth for them.
Now, she is undeniably gorgeous. Even at 13, she is already hot. She has long blonde hair, a pretty face, and a strong, tanned body. I know that she swims almost every day and eats healthy. I can tell that she knows that she looks great and takes a lot of pride in it. I wish that I had had as much discipline and self control at that age to make my body that strong and beautiful. Hell, I wish I had pushed the limits with my clothes the way she does. No. I regret not pushing those limits so much that I’m furious about it. But now I’m the mom.
When she sits down on the see-saw, oblivious to the dad nearby, to the flash of her white panties under the tiny flowered skirt, I’m a little shocked. Part of me wants to look. More of me wants to cover her. A little part wants to cover that dad’s eyes. What do I actually do? Nothing.
Isn’t she embarrassed? I wonder. But she doesn’t seem like it. Should I have said something to her? Made a sarcastic comment to the dad? On a different day, I might have done either of those things. At that moment I was frozen in horror, conflicted over shame for her, shame for myself for sort of liking it and not stopping her, and fear of what to say to the kids if they noticed her panties. I feel guilty that I brought my young sitter to the park dressed inappropriately – what kind of mom am I, anyway? And maybe I’m a little jealous that I’m not the one catching that dad’s eye. It is a quagmire.
Of course, as always, my kids bring me back to reality. I can see Katie’s underpants, my 4-year-old yells, loud enough for everyone to hear. All the conflict of a moment ago shatters, and a look passes over the sitter’s face. She’s embarrassed, I realize. She shuts down, doesn’t want to acknowledge what just happened. She had no idea that anyone could see her panties. I take the kids aside and tell them to be quiet, remind them not to talk about other people’s private areas.
So, who was wrong here? The sitter for wearing the skirt? Me for not somehow stopping her? For liking it? The dad, who just got an eyeful? The kids for pointing it out? I’m not sure anyone was wrong. It was just a brief period of discomfort, mostly mine. I don’t beat myself up for thinking things that are shameful or conflicting. I just think, and I am thankful that no one can hear my thoughts. I have to admit that it would have helped to catch the dad’s eye for a second, just to connect, to admit without words our discomfort. That’s all I need.
As for the sitter, she’s testing uncharted waters, trying out an identity. Yes, she’s toeing the line, but she also works hard to look great. She works hard to earn the money to buy the nice, although teensy, clothes. She’s told me that she feels that she has to wear certain types of clothing around her friends, to be liked, to be accepted. She doesn’t question why. I don’t sense that she dresses for the boys. She dresses to please herself and her girlfriends. Adults are still invisible to her. The fact is, she’s still a kid. An unsettlingly sexy kid.
And as a mom, I’ll need to remind myself one day, too soon, not to judge my daughter’s outfits. Teach her to be self-aware, to be conscious of her environment, to make choices for herself, and mostly to have some fun.
Now, I’m beginning to wonder about the flip side – how do I teach my sons to be respectful of girls while still encouraging them to like what they see?