I remember being in middle school and testing out my sexiness. Did you? Or is your child dressing sexy?
Some of my clients never did this, and some don’t remember that time of their life very well, so let me share my memory with you. Maybe it will give you a window into your own child.
This is vulnerable to share, even more so than the blog I wrote on how I lost track of my boundaries.
At 12 or 13, I definitely became interested in tighter clothes.
I’d accept friend’s hand-me-downs, stuff they couldn’t fit into, and I’d squeeze myself in. I am smaller than most people, but one particular set of pastel marbled jeans sticks out in my mind (ha! so not in fashion now!). My parents never would have bought them for me because they were simply too small, and I never would have asked because I couldn’t have put it into words how important it was to me.
I’d squeeze into the jeans and wear some top that I thought was either fashionable or nonchalant, maybe tying the shirt ends into a knot at my belly button.
What was I saying with this look?
I wanted to be desired, without seeming like I was trying too hard to be desirable.
Good god, why?
I certainly wasn’t ready to be sexual with anyone. I hadn’t had my first kiss, didn’t know anything about dating, and was actually quite scared of how powerful sexual feelings are. I remember being absolutely terrified of a boy who insisted I kiss him.
Partly, I was imitating what I saw in my Rolling Stones Magazines, using sexiness to be a powerful young woman. This was the image of success, everybody wanting you, turning heads, thinking about you.
Very Madonna. Just like Janet Jackson.
And so, (here I’ll stall and take a deep breath before writing this – it’s embarrassing!)
I would actually stand at the bus stop as the cars whizzed by, striking a pose like a pole dancer.
Yup. I did that.
Like every day.
Every day after school, waiting for the bus to take me home. Arms up, hip cocked, pouty face, leaning against the metal pole, imagining that everyone in the cars that passed was noticing me.
I didn’t want real sexual attention, just the fantasy of it.
It’s very important to mention here that this felt anonymous to me. Had anyone in my real life ever said, “hey I see you every day at the bus stop looking like a pole dancer,” I would have died of embarrassment.
That fantasy was an outlet of some kind. It was really important. I needed to imagine that I was wanted, when in reality, I didn’t have a boyfriend, no one had a crush on me, I wasn’t sexually active, and I didn’t feel popular at school or anywhere else. When I was an awkward adolescent, screwing up left and right, feeling downright powerless, most of the time.
This was a fantasy of being powerful.
I understand now how being wanted sexually and being wanted by the group are very different things.
Somehow they were smooshed together and indistinguishable when I was 12.
Being disconnected, ostracized from a group is an adolescent’s worst nightmare.
There are strong evolutionary reasons for our brains to be wired that way, at just that time in our lives, and you can read about that here, but if you just keep that one piece in mind, maybe my actions make more sense.
Since I didn’t feel secure socially, I could at least have it in fantasy, and the most accessible way to get attention and turn heads was by changing how I dressed. I saw and understood that my peers were doing the same thing I was, but by dressing Goth or by wearing lots of makeup.
It’s a way of saying, I’m special, pay attention to me.
So now that you have this story, what can you do for your own child?
Well, you could share this with them – really, I don’t mind. I’ve just sent it out into the world! – and see what they say.
Or, if you sense it’s spot on, go straight to the core and satiate that hunger for attention and connection. Demonstrate that you “get it.”
If it’s specifically how they’re dressing that’s bothering you, you could try having a deeper conversation about it, but at 12, I don’t know that I could have articulated much. You might have to simply model setting healthy boundaries.
Is any of this useful? Let me know in the comments below!
In support of you,
P.S. If you’d like help doing any of these, or if you’d just like my thoughts on a situation happening in your home, let’s find a time to talk.
P.P.S. Looking for more? Check out the Talking with Preteens about Sex and Relationships webinar, or any of our other products for important conversations you can have with your kids.
Thanks for making yourself vulnerable! I dressed similarly. My parents — dad especially — would look disapprovingly, but didn’t say anything because I think they figured it was a phase and would pass (they are right, but being curious and sharing their concerns may have helped me). There were things they didn’t see too that I knew should be kept private from them. My older sister even told me the way we were supposed to walk so that the cars passing by on the very busy street would notice our butts. Anya, it’s helpful when you put these things into words because it’s easier to not acknowledge it, but if we want a better way for our kids, we must acknowledge it in our own minds at a minimum (I think)! Thanks!
Powerlessness. A common issue with women, with many societal factors involved. So understandable that people try to get some power in any way they can.
Also I guess if we don’t get enough positive attention/connectedness with those closest to us with whom we have developed long standing bond of trust and connection, we will try and get negative attention, (or limited form of attention in the form of physical attention. recognition for our physical attributes only) or seek it from those not so close to us.
but yes attention to boundaries is important to embrace when young. We don’t do a lot of recognition of young people, i guess it needs to start when they are born. Tricky job to do when we are much busier these days.
I very much agree with you. That it’s such a tricky jobb in this busy technology Era.
Anya, Thank you for sharing this for all of us to use with our kiddos. I remember those times well too. Such a learning curve for teens and we need to be there to help guide them while we challenge the culture that continues to shame women for how they dress. If that isn’t a brain twister for an adolescent, I don’t know what is.
Thank you so, so much for this. Every time you share your vulnerability I feel stronger and less alone. As a kid and teen I was totally ostracized and bullied and wanted to fit in. I got attention for my “sexiness”, which felt powerful but left me in the end very powerless, because the people who noticed were the men who abused me, and I had no idea how to say no to them in the face of my intense need for validation. I didn’t want and wasn’t ready for sex; I wanted to be part of the group and powerful. So few have understood this. THANK YOU for making this distinction so beautifully.
I definitely did this. My mother both discouraged it (hitting me and saying I looked like a whore when I wore eyemakeup in middle school) and encouraged it (buying me low cut shirts– I developed breasts early). My father was completely fixated on how I looked and clearly wanted a “beautiful” daughter although he did not actually want me to be involved with boys. So complex.
Thanks so so much Anya. It is good that you are able to express yourself so clearly in this piece. I may say boldly that I did not wear such sexy clothes nor act such, but at 9 years old, my daughter is already telling me that she wants those tops that leaves the bellybutton open…. The ones that could have 2 ends that you can tie…. Very short skirts…. Can you imagine? Nevertheless, all I told her was that she will understand later, that she shouldn’t wear such clothes. She wasn’t satisfied, but after much talk in a loving and clear way… She doesn’t want such clothes again…. Now 11years soon. It is always a good thing to let them understand. Thanks Anya.
This is a great piece. It really lays out all of the complexities of these issues. And add today the images that girls see constantly on social media. It’s crazy. I have a question though,how to raise this with my daughter without her getting super defensive and shutting down! Anyone?
Meghan, I have several ideas! I’d love to discuss with you some options and see what you think would work for both you and her. The best way to do that is to schedule a call together. Here’s the link for free consults: https://meetme.so/AnyaManes