Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Parenting | The male gaze

My 15-year-old daughter, who used to dress very boyishly all these years, has suddenly become fashion-conscious, and has started dressing in a very feminine way. This is quite a change, and everyone in the extended family remarks on it. She is also exposing a lot of skin, wearing short skirts and shorts, and wants to wear low necklines. She says you just don’t get T-shirts with high necklines, unless you buy “guy-clothes", and she says very firmly that she is through with guy-clothes. We live in a city where the average man on the street has a dirty gaze, as do some of our relatives. How do I get her to tone down?

Your daughter seems to have had some internal shift in her self-image—she has moved from not bothering about what she wears, or actively wearing “guy-clothes", to wearing more feminine clothing. During this process, she has redefined herself and, in some way, it must have been extremely liberating to change from being a “tomboy" to taking joy in her body, opting for clothes that other girls her age wear, and becoming trendy. This is a good thing, especially if she was hiding inside “guy-clothes" because she felt awkward or unsure about her body.

From what you describe, however, she seems to have swung to the other extreme, and has perhaps gone a bit over the top. Does she have any friends who dress in “girlie" clothes, but more appropriately for the city that you live in and the social/family milieu around them? If she does, perhaps you can get them to help her shop for and dress in clothes that are not so revealing?

While assuring her that her new avatar is a welcome one, and that you are happy she feels like dressing well and keeping up with fashion, you should probably talk to her (as well as her friends) about how to find a balance between wearing clothes that you like and clothes that do not draw so much attention to the body in public. Shrugs, leggings, winter pullovers and scarves, you could encourage her to throw on that something extra when she is out there, or in family situations when it is not advisable to show skin. Perhaps you could get some sympathetic fashionista in your city to come chat with your daughter and her friends on how to dress trendy but appropriate, wear clothes that can be revealed only once you are indoors in the presence of friends, etc.

Make it clear, whenever you speak to her about this, that you are not suggesting she bundle herself up in shapeless, gender-less clothing again; you are only talking about dressing differently for different situations. Simply going on about “cover-up", “don’t show skin", “this looks obscene", etc., will make her feel as if you are snatching away her new-found sense of self. You could also quite frankly take her into confidence and mention not just the random males in your city that have a dirty gaze, but also the specific relatives you have mentioned. No doubt, a lot of such people will look upon young women dressed even most chastely in a dirty way, but making your daughter aware of who they are may drive home the point about dressing appropriately for some situations.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting (Random House) and ABCs Of Parenting.

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