Parents Need to Step Up in Style Wars

Kathryn Lopez

3/26/2011 12:01:00 AM - Kathryn Lopez

"Dad may try to ruin your style, but dry stains won't."

The revealing dress code of the American 'tween may be best dramatized by yet another pop-culture slap in the face of fatherhood: A Tide commercial.

Dad knowingly wipes off dirt on his daughter's way-too-short skirt. Mom is all too happy to get things clean with the product being advertised.

Why are moms sometimes all too happy to let their daughters walk out the door looking like prostitutes? It's a question that was recently asked by Jennifer Moses, author of "Food and Whine: Confessions of a New Millennium Mom."

First, Moses surmises: "It has to do with how conflicted my own generation of women is about our own past, when many of us behaved in ways that we now regret."

Further, Moses admits: "What teenage girl doesn't want to be attractive, sought-after and popular? And what mom doesn't want to help that cause? In my own case, when I see my daughter in drop-dead-gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill -- especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads."

Some moms might be as lost as their girls, worries Miriam Grossman, author of "Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student." Grossman says: "Sure, when girls look like sluts they turn heads. They are 'sought after.' But is that the sort of attention she wants for her daughter? The mom's feminism prevents her from saying 'over my dead body will you wear that!'" She adds: "And by the way, where is the girl's dad? He knows what turns the heads of young men. Is he even around to protect his daughter? Does he have a voice?"

Perhaps the dejected dad whitewashed by the Tide of popular culture could answer that latter question.

"We, I'm sorry to say, are scared to death," Meg Meeker, author of "The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers," says. "Mothers are afraid to follow our instincts. When our intuition tells us that our daughters really shouldn't leave the house scantily clad, we assuage our guilty conscience with cheap excuses such as 'we were young and wild once and we did OK, so they will too.'"

Two generations, in other words, are feeling the pain of the feminism that has wreaked havoc on the sexes, leaving us with a boundary-free horizon where teens don't even have an authority to rebel against.

"It's high time we got over ourselves and face up to reality for teen girls in 2011. We need to be adult enough to realize that the sexual landscape for teens is radically different than it was in the 1970s, '80s, and even the 1990s," Meeker, a pediatrician, emphasizes.

Dr. Meeker paints a blunt medical picture for any mom or dad being coy about parenting: "In 1979, when I graduated from college, there were two (common) sexually transmitted infections. Herpes 2 broke upon the scene in a fierce way, increasing 500 percent from 1980-1990. By the time 2000 rolled around, there were over 30 STIs in the then 15 million Americans who contracted a new STD each year. Now, in 2011, the CDC reports that 20 million Americans contract a new STI each year and almost 50 percent occur in young people (teens and college students)."

Meeker's tough-love motherly advice? "For all of the mothers out there too afraid to tell their children -- that's what 12, 13 and 14-year-old girls are -- that's it's acceptable to parade around in clothes which announce to any young man that they are sexually available, it's time that we grew up. Our daughters aren't living our lives -- theirs are tougher. That means they need tougher moms."

In truth, a mom trying to get her daughter to adopt a little modesty doesn't have a lot of help, from TV shows such as "Glee" or in the pages of Seventeen magazine, or at the mall. If you're shopping with your daughter this spring for a prom dress, it's a sea of "plunging necklines, built-in push-up bras, spangles, feathers, slits and peek-a-boos," as Moses writes. But, as the ad agency that created the Tide commercial doubtless knows, it's not like there are protests in the streets or at the cash register about it.

But what if mothers and women managed to summon a moral authority that could make an impact? A dignified authority that would teach girls to have higher expectations for themselves and the men they attract; a protective authority that would celebrate the father who wants only the best for his daughter; a motherly authority that finds authentic freedom in femininity and modesty.

Somewhere in all the female empowerment of the last decades, the feminine was lost. Regrets, we have a few. Sometimes our lives are a witness to this. But we're older and could be wiser, too; we're teachers and models now.

It's time to step up to the fashion plate.