I watch my daughter walk into the room with her long, straight chestnut hair swaying side to side. I love watching her enter our kitchen each morning.
At ten, her sense of self is strong. She knows how to put together an outfit and creates just the right hairstyle to go with it. I am always impressed with her ability to match her older sister’s fur vest with a pair of leopard leggings or a jean jacket with a plaid skirt meant for the holidays. She does not get this trait from her style-challenged mother, who has worn her hair the same way for nearly two decades.
Her greatest accessory, however, is the confidence that exudes out of her tiny frame. She walks with her head held high as her voice booms against the walls of our home. She is a force.
I see her from behind as she bends over to pull out a waffle from the bottom of our freezer. When she stands up, I notice her shorts don’t move much. They lay perfectly still, roughly one inch under her buttocks. I think to myself that J-Lo would be envious of that perfect bum.
But then I remember that she is in fourth grade and not on a tour with backup dancers.
“I think you put on an old pair of shorts, the ones from last year. They are too small, but I bought some new ones the other day. They are in the guest room, I think,” I say this off-handedly as I pour a cup of coffee.
“Awwww,” she whines. “But these are my favorite pair. They are so comfortable.”
“Honey, they are too small!” I say more forcefully. “You have to change.”
“But why? They don’t feel too small to me.”
I know the reason, but I don’t say it. I don’t want to be the person who makes her uncomfortable with her body. I don’t want to be the first woman to judge her appearance. I don’t want to be the mom who doesn’t respect her for who she is.
So I simply say, “Please. Change your shorts. It’s not a big deal. You’ve outgrown them.”
And I sigh with relief as she turns and stomps slowly up the stairs. I hope she is more annoyed with the time it takes to change then with her mother’s clothing rules.
The truth is, it’s my issue. I don’t want my daughter viewed in an overtly sexualized way. I already notice the curves appearing on her slight frame and her legs lengthening by the minute. Her dark, thick eyelashes often cause people to ask if she is wearing makeup and I see puberty just around the corner.
I am not ready for the painful conversations forthcoming, the ones where I inform her that clothing (or lack thereof) can lead to unwanted and inappropriate responses from men, even though it shouldn’t be that way.
I am not prepared to tell her that big brands are preying on young girls’ insecurities and their desire to feel “grown up.”
I do not want to address that what she puts on her body, whether it is shorty shorts or a t-shirt with demeaning language or even a simple logo, matters.
But I will. Because I know that all the stimulation from video games and social media and fashion magazines makes it difficult for her to hear me. All that titillation affects our children who are already battling hormones earlier and with more intensity.
I will shout above all the noise to ensure she knows that she is enough, exactly as she is, in every moment. I will tell her that while it feels good to fit in and it feels good to be liked, she will find that being accepted only when you are pretending to be something you’re not is an exhausting, unfulfilling experience.
And I will try to convince her that growing up takes courage. It takes courage to try something new, but even more courage to decide you are not ready for something — like clothing that leaves little to the imagination.
I hear her bound down the stairs and watch as she slides across the wooden floor in her favorite kitten socks. She changed her an entire outfit — including her hair — and I see a little girl again, if only for a moment.
I know these days are fleeting, and tomorrow’s conflict may be more complicated, but I am thankful that today she is protected under the bubble of childhood, so she can play and grow as she should.
I am thankful that I won this battle. I just wish the war wasn’t so damn long.