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.