Hi, Other Mom.
My name is Amy. I’m a mother of 2, an educator, a wife, and another human being. And today, walking out of a big box store, you made eye contact with me and you judged my daughter in hushed tones. And I stared you down, which you didn’t expect. I saw your relief when I dropped my stare, but make no mistake, it wasn’t for your benefit. It was protect my daughter. From you. You see, my daughter, the one you gawked at, she’s three. She’s also an incredibly talented and dedicated little dancer. In fact, we’d just left a master class at her dance studio, where she’s one of the youngest dancers to ever be a company member. It’s rare that she and I have time out by ourselves, so I jumped at the impromptu opportunity to do a little shopping and grab Starbucks with her even though I’d forgotten her coverup. She was wearing her favorite dance attire, a crop top and shorts, with her tights rolled up and her favorite Elsa flip flops on.
I’m not sure why you felt that my little athlete’s body or attire was open for your judgement. Maybe because you see it in the media, in moms groups, in your own life. What I am sure of is that your stare was intended to shame us. But it didn’t. Frankly, it just made me feel sad for the message your own daughter was receiving as you whispered to her about a literal toddler–that her body was a thing to hide, an object for a stranger to rightfully pass judgment on, and that her choice of attire must meet someone else’s standards to be appropriate. See, in my house, we don’t play the body shame game. We call our body parts by their anatomically correct names. We talk about our bodies in developmentally appropriate ways, including where babies come from when her baby sister was on the way. We focus on what our bodies can do, and not what our bodies look like. I’m a plus-sized woman whose body certainly doesn’t fit traditional beauty standards, but that same body can also still do all of my old dance and cheerleading moves with ease, roller skate, give life and nutrition to two human beings, run 5Ks, paint, play musical instruments, and all kinds of incredible things. I can’t wait to see what my daughter’s body will do for her as she grows. We also don’t dress for other people. We dress for ourselves. That’s why I’m a 30 year old woman who may or may not own two different Hello Kitty t-shirts and leggings with hamburgers on them. Sometimes my daughter wears shirts and shorts. Sometimes she wears princess dresses and Converse. Sometimes she wears her Storm Trooper costume with her cowboy boots. No matter what she wears, she’s thrilled to be presenting whatever image she’s crafted for herself that day, and I’m thrilled to let her.
I know that many moms take issue with dance attire–they worry about if it’s appropriate for their child. And I get it, I really do. When I first put my daughter in a sports bra those thoughts crept in–the blog posts I’d read, the comment sections in costume groups I’m part of, the societal belief that women should dress a certain way to avoid a certain kind of attention. But then I firmly sent them right back out. She. Is. An. Athlete. She wears less in public to the pool or beach, anyhow. Most of us do. She is a powerful, strong mind inside a powerful, strong body, and there is no shame in the clothes she puts on that body, especially those she puts on while creating art and movement. They are reflective of the incredible talent and determination she possesses. They allow her teachers to observe her body and help her perfect her craft. There is no shame in her stomach or her arms or her muscular little legs that are capable of so much at such a young age. And most importantly, she is comfortable. She is comfortable because she hasn’t yet aged into conversations about young women being assaulted and the inevitable questions of “what was she wearing?” and “had she been drinking?” that make women responsible for others’ acts of violence. She is comfortable because she hasn’t yet reached school age where dress codes primarily focus on clothing the girls as to not distract the boys from their educations. She is comfortable because she hasn’t met someone like you, other mom.
I know your intentions weren’t malicious. You probably learned it from your mom, just like I did. I still have vivid images of my own mom pinching my back fat while I was trying on my first real bras. I’m still self conscious about that to this day. See, that’s the thing: our words and actions, no matter how small, have power with our children. Collectively, we have to do better for them. Our daughters shouldn’t learn shame as a means of assimilation or prevention. It’s easy for our instincts and years of our own experience to say, “Shield them, hide them, harden them”. But no! I challenge you to instead leave them soft. Let them prance around the store in their dance clothes, filled with self pride and confidence. Let them learn to love themselves for their own reasons and in their own ways. Let us instead turn our attention to society. How can we make this world a safer place for our girls that doesn’t involve them needing to make themselves any smaller than they want to be? How can we change the conversation from what our girls are wearing, to how do we stop perpetrators who want to cause them harm?
Love, This Mom
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