Three times this week on social media I saw memes or commentary discussing girls’ Homecoming dresses today. What I saw beneath these posts in the comment section was even worse.
It was filled with commentary about how the girls looked like sluts, how they were immoral, how they presented themselves to the world in a negative way. There was speculation about why they dressed that way, who they were dressing for, and of course, what those dresses did to young men.
And nothing makes me more uncomfortable than when I watch the way women talk about other women.
For a sample of the commentary, check out this article from last year: Dad Goes Viral for for Defending Daughters’ Homecoming Dresses.
It bothered me a little bit that these sites and social media accounts were supposed to be about helping parents raise their teenagers, but at that moment, they just served as an opportunity to beat up on teen girls.
Why do we feel it’s okay to shame teen girls online?
Yes, it’s that time of year when we belittle and shame young girls for the length of their dresses. We question their morals, wonder how their parents can let them out of the house looking like harlots, and say they are attention-seeking, insecure, and boy-crazy.
The kids call it HoCo, but I feel like it’s a season when I watch women talk about other women in the worst possible way.
I don’t know why we think it’s a good idea to disparage them, you know, with the fact that teen mental health is at epidemic levels, eating disorders, and self-harm are on the rise, and the world is in chaos, yet that’s what we choose to do. It’s not like teen girls are online or anything. I’m sure they aren’t seeing these comments (said with intense sarcasm.)
As the mom of three young women whose hemlines I am sure have been questioned, I have to laugh.
Here’s a photo of me in my tea-length formal from 9th grade. I’m sure most of my friends wore similar-length dresses because that was the style that year. We all smiled for family photos, just as our teens do for us. And then I went out and probably lied to my parents about where I was, who I was with, and drank a few too many Bartles & James wine coolers.
But thankfully, my dress was not too short.
Why do we think one Homecoming dress defines a girl?
There are many surprising things about adolescents today. Teen pregnancies are significantly down across all races and ethnicities. Drunk driving is down. Today’s high school students volunteer more, are civically active, and are more apt to care for their sick parents and relatives.
But you know what data is trending up? Violence and sexual assaults on teen girls.
It must be the length of those dresses. (more sarcasm.)
You don’t have to like short Homecoming dresses. You don’t have to allow your daughter to wear one. In fact, I encourage everyone to talk to their teens about YOUR family’s values, how they measure self-esteem, what is important to them.
But let’s remember this about teenage girls. They are in the middle of figuring out who they are and who they want to be. They are trying to fit in. They want to wear what THEY FEEL makes them look beautiful. They are trying stuff on each day to discover their best self. (Read: Dear Mom: Please Stick With Me as I Find Myself (parentingteensandtweens.com))
These dresses they wear? They are often one small snippet of their high school journey that is also filled with outstanding accomplishments.
They won’t get it right in high school. I know I certainly did not.
They will make mistakes and bad choices, but it won’t be because of their clothes–it will be because that’s what teenagers do.
We can ostracize them, shame them, belittle them, and judge them.
Or we can shut our pieholes, scroll by, and send a little good juju their way to keep them safe in this challenging world.
Chances are the next photo you see of them will be in sweats and a big t-shirt.
I get it. There is an argument to be made about clothing manufacturers and how they seem to push younger girls into more adult-centric apparel. We should hold them accountable with lobbying and our purchasing decisions. We should write these companies and retailers and ask for more options for girls of all shapes and sizes.
We also don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Sometimes a girl picks a dress because of the color. Sometimes they pick it out because it goes with a theme. Sometimes they pick it out because it feels comfortable to them.
Sometimes the ones sexualizing a dress are the ones who are commenting on it.
But the teen girls I know wearing those shocking short dresses have big dreams and even bigger hearts. They want to be educators and doctors and environmentalists and engineers. They babysit younger siblings and cheer on their friends and care deeply about the world around them.
Why are we putting them down more when the world does this enough to them already?
We can love these kids hard or we can make it harder for them.
You get to choose.
But let’s stop speculating about them online. No one–NO ONE–deserves that.