Jennifer Moses wrote a recent and much-discussed Wall Street Journal essay titled “Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?” It opens with the writer listening in on a clutch of 12- and 13-year-old girls in the ladies room at a bat mitzvah party as they discuss other girls. The girls are, as you might expect, dressed in too-short dresses, long earrings and Kardashian-esque eye makeup.
It was a different bat mitzvah party than the one I recently attended where a 13-year-old guest wore what appeared to be 6-inch stilettos and a skirt so tight and short that she literally couldn’t sit down without giving the 7th-grade boys even more to see than she had planned. But it could have been any one of a countless number of such parties where the girls dress like hookers.
Now, I’m no advocate of the Jewish burqa look either. On the way to do some pre-Passover shopping at Pomegranate today, I saw this store, “Tznius Princess,” where the wedding gowns in the window had more fabric than Carol Burnett’s take on Scarlett O’Hara’s in “Gone with the Wind.” I’ve written here about turning to Mormon shopping websites in my attempt to find dresses that are neither overly bare nor overly burqa-esque for my daughters to wear.
Even allowing for the fact that good taste and judgment are relative, I, like Moses, wonder where these girls’ parents are when their daughters go out dressed like this – and, of course, why they are paying for those dresses. And yet I disagree with Moses when she says, in a Wall Street Journal podcast, “If my daughter wants to use my Amex card to buy something I think is incredibly cheesy and inappropriate, I won’t pay for it…I can’t stop her from using her babysitting money to buy something if she wants it, but I won’t pay for her to look like a hooker.”
I’m not sure how old her daughter is now, but I think she can stop her daughter, or at least influence her so that she realizes that the clothes send messages that she probably doesn’t want to. The problem is rooted in our discomfort in saying “no” to our kids — as in “No, you can’t use your babysitting money to buy inappropriate clothes.”
I’m routinely a little surprised and relieved to see how much influence I have on my kids. Granted, my 17-year-old son isn’t a rebel, and his sisters, at 10 and 12, are too young yet to do any radically provocative pushing back. But I also see, and am still amazed by, the power of what I say to them when it comes to influencing their choices (though also frustrated by my own powerlessness when it comes to putting an end to their bickering, or getting them to hang up their coats when they walk in the door).
Still, when it comes to what matters most, I think we mothers have more power than we sometimes want to wield.
We went to a bat mitzvah this weekend at an Orthodox shul and it was a breath of fresh air amid all of this craziness. The bat mitzvah girl gave an excellent d’var Torah from the bimah to both the men and the women present; her dad made a few emotional remarks praising his wife as the eishes chayil and excellent role model for their daughter that she is; the kiddush luncheon was delicious (and impressively cooked by the mom). Above all, the day was about the girl, her family and their community of friends. It wasn’t about having the glitziest, most excessive party. Instead, it was focused on what all bar and bat mitzvahs should be about. And the girl at the center of all this, along with her friends, looked like … actual girls.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen is an award-winning journalist who covers philanthropy, religion, gender and other contemporary issues. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York magazine, among many other publications. She authored the book “Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant.”
Insisting That Young Girls Dress Like Children — Not Kardashians