When the first picture of Barack Obama and the four kids chosen to read their letters at his face saver gun control press conference appeared on my computer screen, my first thought was What mother would send her daughter to a meeting with the president in a red cocktail dress designed for women on the prowl? Sleeveless with a dropped waist and a draped neckline – and RED? Such a dress needs a martini to complete the outfit (and in this country we don’t let eight year olds drink martinis).
It could just be an oversensitivity to fashion on my part, as all semblance of taste, style, appropriateness and modesty has been shelved by the common fashion world and haute couture, but jeemeny Christmas, people, THINK. Aside from being out of place at a state occasion, what does allowing a little girl to wear such a thing on international television tell the kid about herself?
I do not like to be the one to have to say this, but ladies, it is time to not just relearn the art of feminine dressing, but to pass that on to the next generation. That means having a certain amount of consideration for the people, men and women, who will be with us be it at work, at church, at the store, at the symphony, etc., and their sensibilities. Not all clothes are suitable for all situations, and the rules of modesty and professionalism still apply. (Covered shoulders to elbows and above the cleavage. Skirts to below the knee, not too tight. No undergarments showing. And nothing clinging. Simple version.)
The human body is a beautiful creation, whether or not one sees it as God’s image. There is no argument from this quarter on that. Both men’s and women’s forms have been represented in art for as long as art has existed to demonstrate attractiveness and appeal, and some genius artists have executed stunning pieces in all artistic media over the centuries. The standard norms of beauty have changed, but the basic premise that revealed bodies are arousing (a turn on, if you will), for both men and women has not. And due to the nature of the human condition, will not.
Simply, all that skin from the bust up and the form fitting spandex and denim from the waist down, not to mention the clinging along the ribcage and other parts in proximity to the chest, causes distraction from purpose, unless the purpose is leisure and picking up a potential mate (which hopefully doesn’t happen at worship, funerals and state occasions). It’s selfishly attention drawing. And sends a signal, no matter if it is intended or not, that one is available with no strings attached. A sexual object. To be honest, it’s somewhat rude to dress to be the center of attention for an occasion or situation where someone else is honored (i.e., church).
As daughters pick up appropriateness first from their mothers, and mothers are among the gatekeepers of their daughters modesty, chastity and virtue (hopefully), teaching young girls to dress as if their lives and happiness depended on it, is a responsibility that women have both abandoned and subverted. (Gee, thanks a lot feminists. NOT!)
Having grown up on a pool deck and having taken ballet and gymnastics as a young girl, I will admit to not really thinking twice when some of the more scooped tops came out. But when shirts became downright slutty – something that is not acceptable, believe it or not, in competitive swimming where everyone learns to make a house kilt out of a towel very young and not just for warmth or ballet where we wore skirts or pants over leotards and tights when in public and sometimes in class – being more akin to lingerie than attire, and women were willingly participating in their own objectification, that was when being raised by women who drilled the concepts of how to dress came to mind.
To put it mildly, one of my grandmothers had simple, but elegant taste. Grandma knew just how to present herself with clothing and accessories and be in the first flush of fashion. For a farm girl, that was rare. My mother, normally a preppy, plain jane, was mentored a bit as a youngster by women who were from a “higher” social stratum on how to put herself together for functions that require something other than button down oxfords and khakis (the plain janishness is probably a rebellion against her mother’s fashion-philia, truthfully). When the occasion calls for it and she puts her mind to it, Mom can still dress quite well. She really can.
Mom, and her mother, never allowed my sister and I to truly have full reign over our wardrobes as kids. We were consulted, sort of, and usually overruled. (Even as an adult, my grandmother would look me over from head to toe to give her approval.) My sister has almost pure traditional Talbot’s taste, and I, well, gravitate toward diva. (I had to be tempered in wardrobe choices as a kid. Still have to watch it, actually.) Blouses with jumpers were not uncommon for us, and the colors always matched. Sailor dresses were a staple as were plain skirts and t-shirts. Our shoes were simple and went with everything. Both my sister and I had monogrammed sweaters in middle school and high school, and plaid is not a problem for us. Once we started buying our own clothing, we experimented a bit and have both settled into styles that are very different, but suit us, and are not walking advertisements for hot sex. Both of us have been complemented over the years that we never have to be corrected or “talked to” about our attire in the workplace or at church or social functions. More or less, this is because we were taught how to dress – and keep it up, unlike one of the silver foxes at church who insists on going sleeveless when she used to be a modicum for modesty.
This is where the little girl in the red cocktail dress on Wednesday disturbed me – her mother not only let her have that dress, but let her go to something other than a party wearing it. Red being the color of passion is not so much the issue as the cocktail look. Not long ago, I walked through the girls department of the store where my mother and grandmother used to buy most of my clothes. There were two basic looks – party girl and clinging spandex (leggings). It almost made me happy I have no daughters. Almost. There’s no cultural STOP to the idea that females exist just for a good time. If the stuff didn’t sell, it wouldn’t be so readily available. It’s very sad, and a sign that women really are slaves to what is being sold to them rather than what is good for them when it comes to presentation and the resulting self-esteem. That has to be taught, and if mothers were doing their jobs, it would be. What does it say to little girls who are allowed to dress like tramps? Are we ladies meant to value ourselves for who we are, or do we exist for pleasure? (That’s worse than the Disney princess dresses that some little girls sport. At least the Disney dresses are modest.) I understand where little girls are attracted to pretty things (at least we think they are pretty when we are young), after all, I was a little girl, horse phase and all. But, with guidance, I came to understand that putting myself on display would be a sales pitch.
Yes, using kids as props to further nefarious goals as Obama did this week is reprehensible. In no way, would I ever argue that such a stunt is acceptable unless a just cause was strictly about children, i.e., St. Jude’s and other children’s hospitals. But at the same time, parents need to know that dressing properly for the occasion is a taught skill. No matter how much the kid might protest, fatigues, ratty t-shirts, Disney princess dresses, leggings and sparkly tights are not acceptable for church, weddings, funerals and state occasions. Simple skirts and blouses will do for girls as well as straight dresses with sleeves (as the other little girl at the press conference was wearing) and all young men (and old men) should have a dark suit which is perfectly appropriate for all occasions. Khakis with an oxford will do in a pinch (guys really do have it easy on this front). It is money well spent.
In no way is this an attempt to indict little girls exploring their feminine side. With guidance, that should be encouraged. It’s the guiding forces that need work. Little girls need to be taught how to demand respect for who they are, not to dress strictly for attention. I am quite sure that the little girl chosen to be a part of Obama’s photo op loves her red dress. But her mother is not doing HER job in allowing her to wear it.
p.s. Ladies, consider it a challenge to learn to dress for champagne and caviar on a beer and pretzels budget. It takes work, but so does anything worth having.