I’m a feminist who believes girls should be able to wear whatever they want. So why does my daughter’s crop top obsession make me want to pull my hair out?
At 12, she was dismissive. “Cassie is so different now, mom,” my daughter sniffled after school. “She’s wearing crop tops.” I sighed and nodded, glad we were on the same page about the inappropriateness of belly-revealing tee shirts that I didn’t think belonged in school – or anywhere. ‘elsewhere.
But as she moved from seventh to eighth grade, the hemlines of her shirts began an upward climb. At first, just a flash – only noticeable if she had to, say, raise her hand in class. But as eighth grade gave way to ninth grade, there was no denying that a change was afoot – hemming became more cheeky, occasions more frequent. When I balked, she would come up with her common excuse: “Our school is so hot!” she said, ignoring my reminder that it was January. In those early days, she had the good sense to throw an oversized plaid shirt over it. “I keep it on all day,” she assured me. But after comparing notes with other clueless mothers, I realized the likelihood of this happening was slim to none. And then, one morning in the middle of tenth grade, my daughter walked into the kitchen in all her glory, without the extra shirt, and casually asked what we were having for breakfast.
I get the call. The belly is powerful real estate and crop tops are everywhere (including Old Navy, in size 4T). But that doesn’t suit me. I’ve tried to gently talk her out of it in a million different ways, most of which involve me dragging her through the house in mild panic as she collects her books for school. “Honey, you don’t even realize it,” I said urgently, “but you’re wearing that top because society has convinced you that your worth is determined by the male gaze.”
“Uh, no,” she replies, hastily closing her backpack. “I WEAR it because it’s CUTE.” Door slam signal.
Other times, I take a “Just so you know, you could never wear that to a job interview” approach. “I’m not going to a job interview,” she clearly states. “I go to school.”
“But, but, the school East like a job, I mumble. “Right now, it’s your job!” (Clap.)
Why should we stop teaching girls to be nice?I hate feeling the need to nag her so much. But what I hate even more is being in the world with a bare belly makes it inherently less safe than if it were more covered. I don’t like to think of her at the mall or on the subway wearing a crop top. “Most girls wear them a lot shorter than me,” she informs me, which makes me wonder if they go to school in their bras.
Maybe the problem is me. Am I afraid of her mature body? Her budding femininity? Is this the fierce new independence I do not care ? I wish it were that simple. I just want her to be safe. To not be targeted. Not to be ogled by the creepy replacement who only got half a background check.
I shouldn’t complain. At least once a week she is covered head to toe in hockey gear. She wears no makeup, high necklines, or thongs. Her weapon of choice is the crop top, and the shorter the better. Once she brought home a bunch of t-shirts from the thrift store and my heart flew, until she pulled out a pair of scissors. Snip, snip – she cropped to the very last. “I just don’t like the feeling of them touching my belt,” she explained. I sighed and assured him that none of his shirts were likely to come near his belt.
It’s exhausting, and at 17 and almost taller than me, I’ve clearly lost the battle. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever change my stance: crop tops belong at summer camp and cabins, and maybe at parties (when she’s 30), but they don’t belong in class. The last time I weakly said, “OK, this one is too anyway,” she just rolled her eyes, grabbed an apple, and left.
I know I have to pull myself together. Soon she will move around the world, maybe go to college in another city. She’s almost a woman. I wish it made me feel better, but it doesn’t. ‘Cause even though all my sermons make me look like a feminist gone bad, and even though my daughter swears she dresses to please herself, the fact is I think society tells girls that their worth is derived from their appearance and attire. But I guess that’s something my daughter will have to decide on her own, in her time.
For now, I’ll take comfort in knowing that high waisted mom jeans are back in fashion, so cropped tops just can’t reveal as much – although I’m sure she’ll find a solution for that too.
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