She wore an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny… on feminism and being mum

If you are walking around Exeter City Centre today, you may spot a slim 16-year-old girl, 5ft 9 with legs up to her armpits. She is very gorgeous. She is also wearing a very short pair of turquoise shorts with hearts on them, with tights, pumps and legwarmers. I would like to say that as her mum my shock at her outfit related to the rather leaden October skies and the possibility of hypothermia, but if I were honest my first concern was that the young men of Devon would be hard pushed to keep their hands off her.

Now, I am a great believer that a woman should wear what she feels comfortable in without fear of molestation. Imposing yourself on a woman cannot be excused because she is wearing something a man might find irresistible, or which shows a little more than usual. There are, in my opinion, just two exceptions to the ‘wear what you want to’ rule:

1) At 16 I can only express an opinion, but when Evie was younger I steered her well away from clothes that were smaller versions of adult wear. Children are children and should be dressed like children. Not like little adults. Full stop.

2) No-one likes flabby bits hanging out of clothes. Just because the shorts are there it doesn’t mean everyone should wear them. Bits of bum or belly oozing out can never be a good look, whatever your age.

But back to my original concern. As girls grow up and become (far more beautiful) younger versions of ourselves how do we balance the ‘wear what you feel comfortable in’ argument with the natural parental concern that they are in some way putting themselves at risk by being provocative? I asked Evie why she wanted to wear the shorts. She said it was because she likes them and is bored with wearing jeans. Fair enough. But then the old ‘everyone at college is wearing shorts’ argument came out. I countered that with ‘always be true to yourself and don’t follow the herd’, but the cliché ridden discussion soon started going round in circles, albeit very amicably.

I have on occasions had quite lengthy conversations with Evie about issues I feel are important and aspects of society that I feel should be challenged:  the exploitation of women; page three girls; WAGS; equalities; being respected for your brain not your breasts; women’s rights in the workplace and the home etc etc. I am sure she would say the list is endless. And that is possibly the problem. She doesn’t want to think about the world in these terms – if these are problems they are for others to deal with and it is none of her business. She is confident, she knows what she is good at and knows what she wants out of life. So far so good.

It is disappointing that I can’t instil some feminist values in my daughter or a feeling of ‘sisterhood’; but looking back I wasn’t a feminist at 16 either, even when faced with a careers mistress who gave me two options – nursing or secretarial work. And now it seems, when it comes to the young woman closest to me, my own values are called into question.

Should we impose our views as older women in the world on our teenage daughters, if they don’t come to them of their own accord? If they feel it is not their battle to fight, should we insist they take on responsibility for the lives of women they have no contact with? Am I failing Evie if I don’t? As parents should we still have the right to determine what they wear even at 16? What was my real reason for wanting her to put her jeans on and become one of the crowd?

Digging deeper, am I just really envious of the opportunities she has, the life she can lead – and her legs?

Photo credit Paalia

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15 Responses to She wore an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny… on feminism and being mum

  1. fi drew says:

    Funnily enough when I was at college a, erm few years ago, I wore denim shorts and thick black was funky then too. I wore them because I liked the way they looked, but more importantly I liked the way my boyfriend looked when I wore them…!

    • keatsbabe says:

      There is something about thick black tights that protects your modesty a bit. E wore flesh coloured 10 denier so her legs just looked even better than they usually do1

  2. Louise says:

    Don’t worry and just be proud you have a beautiful daughter. I didn’t view things the same way at sixteen as I do now.

  3. Joanne Earthy says:

    Both of my girls wear shorts, and when it’s colder, with tights or leggins. They don’t look inappropriately dressed even though No 1 is developing a womanly figure and as tall as me. However I wilt as I buy the regulation school skirt and it mysteriously seems to get shorter!! I tackle this issue with humour – I tell my daughter that she has comedy legs and a mini skirt should only be worn by those with legs like a racehorse! (Coco Chanel) Fortunately she has a sense of humour but as you can probably tell I’m not a very good parent!

    • keatsbabe says:

      Sound like a great parent to me! I think it was because evie’s shorts were very short and she was wearing very sheer flesh coloured tights so they were almost invisible. Legs like that proverbial racehorse i suppose…

  4. Virginia Murray says:

    I was driving onto Exeter today, and couldn’t help but notice the amount of leg that was being exposed by all and sundry. Some were dressed up and semi-slimmed down by black tights, whilst others were proud to be “au naturel” and happily rounded. Some girls seemed to look harshly at the drivers like me stuck at the lights, as if daring us to criticise. Others rushed by with their heads down in rather a defensive way, which flattened the impact. None of them looked great, somehow. Baring all your legs in a pair of tiny shorts is not an easy fashion to master, it seems.

    Imagine my relief to find our girls, Suzie, walking up the stairs into Fopps as if they owned the place. Gen looking round cheekily in her new hat (not a fashion disaster, this one) and glowing with the pleasure of a good day’s shopping. And then there was Evie, looking “absolutely fabulous”, having walked straight out of a fashion shoot to join her friend for a joyful jaunt. Fearless, radiant and dazzling us all with her smile. Her legs were THE only pair of legs worth admiring in the whole of the city centre and the whole ensemble eminated her very personal style and natural good taste. The shorts were electric.
    You are right, Suzie, Evie knows what she is good at and it seems she is good at looking good and so we just have to sit back and be good and supportive parents! She evidently doesn’t deserve to be one of the crowd.
    ps Luckily it wasn’t raining, but I bet she had a stylish brolly packed into her tiny bag!

    • keatsbabe says:

      Evie had the most FAB time with Gen and has bought some great vintage stuff. Looks like a preppy pink lady. At least bending over in shorts you can’t see her knickers. Thinking positive!

  5. Jane Earthy says:

    In Weatherspoons on Fri evening while we were waiting to collect your stunningly dressed daughter, there were some truly horrendous sights. Skirts weren’t even 1 inch below the proverbial sea level and when one bent over to say hello to her friend we said hello to her you know what! However, although only about 1 in 10 pulled their look off to any degree of success, all seemed oozing with confidence and clearly didnt give a fig. How I wish I had been like that 25-plus years ago!

    • keatsbabe says:

      I am so over this now. She does look stunning in whatever she wears. Shorts can look so tarty, but at least you wouldn’t see her whatever if she bends over I suppose

  6. TheMadHouse says:

    What a great peice. I wouldnt know what to do either. I have boys and I try to instill in them to be their own men and to follow their hearts too rather than me sheep, but it is so hard. I agree on little girls dressing like girls, but do think that it has aternally been this way, just think of mini skirts in the 60’s and hot pants in the 70’s and I do remember having a ting for pencils skirts and very short tshits in the 80’s. I am not sure that I looked all that in them, but I sure felt it!

  7. keatsbabe says:

    You are right I think. We all go through phases of wanting to look older when we are in our teens (although I look back at some photos of me and I think I look younger now – glasses and a perm like Deirdre in Corry was not a good look…)

  8. the dotterel says:

    I’ve got all this to come… in precisely four years time! We’re practicing at the moment.

  9. Genevieve Murray says:

    Hello Suzie, 🙂
    Just wanted to say carry on writing this is fantastic stuff that you’re doing, I love reading it! Really orginal and heart felt.
    As I was with Evie when we were in exeter together, I thought I might be allowed to write my own opinion, as I have to too many not to share as you know my darling suzie 😉
    Evie looked fantastic in her heart patterened short shorts, unfortunately this fantasticness made me feel a little bit like a normal person next to a America’s Next Top Model. Anyone can sympathise with this I’m sure.
    I don’t think theres an issue with Elspeth going out like that, as Mum said she was the only pair of legs worth looking at, beautiful shape and length. Perfect.
    As her attracting the wrong attention from the boys, she was with me and I won’t let any boy disrespect – unless he WANTED verbal abuse hurled at him,.
    Secondly, no male, who would be worth anything, apart from to ask if she was a model and would like a modelling contract. No other male would bother to talk to her because he would know immediatly that she was out of his league.

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