Growing up, I remember my mother’s disapproving look. It usually landed on some outfit I’d chosen that her eyes couldn’t adjust to – whether it was too fancy, too casual, too old, whatever. Oftentimes, she was right. But that look packed a punch. It could send me into a tailspin of flying hangers and mounds of clothes on the bed. And guess what? My freaked-out fashion anxiety still happens to this day – when my own eyes see myself as not put together quite right.
Today’s moms are good at nurturing their little one’s inner fashionista. “He picked it all out himself!” YoungMom will brag. Hey, if her five-year-old thinks a vomit of orange, purple and green works, then who is she to clean up the mess? So how does this same mom, a decade later, find herself in a tug-of-war over her daughter’s heels?
Teens are understandably obsessed with looks. With the ability to post and comment on a thousand pics online, what do you expect? (When I see a camera, I run. When they see a camera, they pout – in a happy way.) With all that focus on what you look like and what you’re wearing, the worry is that teens might forget it’s what’s inside that counts. But are adults really that different? I, for one, am downright delighted when I look in the mirror and like what I see. It bolsters my confidence for when I’m out there in the world, when I’m walking down the street and I’ve got no time to charm the pants off everyone I meet.
No, I’m not thrilled by the short skirts that populate the pages of Teen Vogue and therefore the dance floors at Bar Mitzvahs. I don’t think girls need the Victoria’s Secret push-up bras that are all the rage in order to look beautiful. And yes, I would prefer that teen boys thought enough of their appearance to wear jeans to school – and enough of their feet to wear boots when it snows. I do have a ho-line – a tripping point at which I will send the too-nude girl or too-torn boy up to change. I’ll explain the reasoning first, however, which tends to have to do with how you want to be seen in the world and the types of people you want to attract (ie, not pimps, thieves or absolutely no one).
But do I really think the layers of mascara make my daughter a skank or the ratty sweatpants make my son a hobo? It may not be my choice, but isn’t that the point?
Despite wagging fingers from some of my friends, who remind me that since I buy the clothes, I control what’s inside my teens’ closets and therefore what makes it onto their bodies, this is not a battle I choose to fight 99% of the time. For me, a few purple streaks, an extra pierce or a semi-transparent top falls into the category of healthy self-expression. Instead of wielding ultimate clothes control, I try to remind myself that whatever I think of my teens’ fashion, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Above all, I’m convinced that the inside has to like the outside – even as it grows and develops its own unique, ever-changing sense of style.