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Recently, Stephanie Giese made headlines with her effort to
have Target sell girls’ shorts with a longer inseam. Giese, in
an open-letter to Target that ran on the Huffington Post, calls out the
retailer for selling such skimpy shorts for little girls. She compares 2T shorts to 5T shorts, pointing
out that the 2T shorts are longer.
Target responded by working with Giese to incorporate longer
inseams in their children’s department. I applaud all of these efforts, because
I believe that all options of clothing should be open to our children.
However, in a follow-up post to the open letter, Giese cites
the oversexualization of girls as one of the main drivers behind her crusade.
And yet, her arguments are grounded in the assumption that little girls must be
covered up, which is itself a sexualization. Demanding that young girls hide
their bodies to the extent that arbitrary inseam rules must be enforced is to
assume that the body of a girl, even as young as a toddler, is a sexual object.
In her original open letter, Giese notes that her daughter
wears shorts under her skirts so she can be modest at the playground. Her
daughter is only in Kindergarten. Where is the shame in a Kindergartner’s body?
The answer is that there isn’t shame. There isn’t sexual intent. It’s just a
body. It's Giese’s perspective that is sexualizing a monkey bar flip in a skirt
at the age of 5.
Of course, all parents must walk that fine line between
promoting safety, positive body image and clothes that our children find
comfortable. And that can be a tricky place. But to assume that a toddler must
attain a standard of modesty at the playground is to assume that a toddler has
a sexual body to begin with. Giese is operating from a place that believes all
women, even girls, must hide their bodies — that flashing some princess panties
at a park is a source of shame. And this assumption falls right back into the
trap that Giese believes she is fighting against. This arbitrary standard of
modesty is just as sexualizing as slapping a glitter thong on a baby.
We shouldn’t teach girls to dress to conform to perception, but to be comfortable. To be who they are and who they want to be.
That is the problem with crusades for modesty. They
teach girls that their bodies are weapons best kept sheathed. They argue that
women bear the full weight for how others perceive them and, ergo, must wear
clothes like a force field. No one ever expects this of boys. Never once have I
heard a mother sigh exasperated by all the boys at the park running shirtless. But
if a toddler girl flashes a pull-up, watch out.
The assumption that an inseam
shorter than someone has arbitrarily deemed appropriate is somehow a “sexualization”
of girls is itself a sexualization. It’s forcing a pernicious interpretation on what is an otherwise innocent pair of shorts. Giese’s fallacy is one
of these interpretations.
The shorts are the Kantian hammer. In Kant’s analogy the hammer is neither good
nor evil. The hammer can be used to build a house or it can be used to murder.
The shorts are the same. Shorts are just shorts. They are just clothing. They
can be used to cover a bum or flash some thigh. But the bigger fallacy here is
in assuming that a Kindergartener is capable of making such a distinction. Or
that the choice somehow implies a sexual evil. So what of flashing a thigh? So
what of a peek of undies? They’re kids.
Shorts are just shorts. Shirts are just shirts. Children are
just children. It’s our adult perspective that forces a sexual intent on cotton
Modesty itself is a dubious standard. Do a Pinterest search
for “modest” clothes. And you’ll see a range of burqas and hip-hugging skirts,
prom dresses with sleeves and bathing suits with the sides cut out. I spent
many of my summers attending a Baptist camp where inseam rules were strictly
enforced on the pretty girls. I was a skinny, scabby girl-boy. No one cared if
my shorts didn’t conform (and they often didn’t). But my curvy friend
frequently found herself the subject of humiliating inseam measurements. She
was even asked to put a T-shirt over her one-piece bathing suit because of
cleavage she couldn’t control. Perceptions are faulty.
We shouldn’t teach girls
to dress to conform to perception, but to be comfortable. To be who they are
and who they want to be.
Of course, I believe children need more choices for clothes.
Longer, more comfortable clothes should be part of that choice. So, Giese’s
crusade is not without its benefit. But ultimately, the goals in dressing our
daughters shouldn’t be to teach them that their bodies are a source of shame.
The goal should be to empower them with the choice.