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(Not) Dressed for the Prom

June 15, 2017 | by Emuna Braverman

What message are we giving our daughters when we pay for revealing dresses that objectify their body?

Proud parents have been posting on Facebook pictures of their daughters dressed for prom, photos that – to paraphrase a song from My Fair Lady – “would make a sailor blush.”

Yes, the girls are beautiful. They’re stunning and gorgeous and fit all the superlatives being applied to their physical appearance. And they are also wearing very revealing dresses that suggest that we have not in fact come a long way baby.

Perhaps we’ve even regressed. After trying for years to teach our daughters that the external should be a reflection of the internal, that it’s inner beauty and character that really count, there is apparently a backlash. Or they’re just not listening. Or our delivery needs work. Or perhaps we’re even confused ourselves. But judging from the pictures, they seem to have embraced the philosophy of the song in The Producers, “If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It,” only there it was meant tongue-in-cheek.

Well, it’s become real, and it’s a real shame. Because these young women are selling themselves short. Of course we all want to look beautiful but when our external presentation gets all the emphasis, it becomes the focus – to the detriment of the internal.

If you don’t want to be treated like an object, don’t dress like one.

Our daughters are getting mixed messages. On the one hand, we want more women in the sciences, in the STEM subjects, to take their studies more seriously and develop their academic talents. And on the other, to put their whole (and I barely exaggerate) physical self on display and show the world how attractive you are. (One of my children told me of a model who recently quit her job. Apparently she was upset that people were only focused on her physical self! Does this disconnect require any comment?)

If you don’t want to be treated like an object, don’t dress like one.

What’s a young girl to do? How can she confidently wade her way through this morass?

Many of them simply don’t really know better. They don’t understand the ramifications and consequences of the choices they are making. But unfortunately they may still be harming themselves. Because when people (especially men) look, they don’t see the thoughtful, kind intelligent, caring person underneath – the one who listens to her friends’ problems and volunteers at a homeless shelter, the one who gets A’s in math and tutors her challenged fellow students, the one who’s accepted to MIT and who visits her Bubby every Sunday. That side is hidden when the physical is overemphasized and highlighted.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not excusing the men for their shallow, animalistic behavior. They should control themselves and work on seeing beyond the physical to the more important stuff within.

But the men are not the only ones responsible for their actions; women are too. We need to ask ourselves if we are dressing in a dignified manner that reveals our real inner selves or in a way that lowers our self-respect and emphasizes our body.

And the parents are the most responsible – because we know better. But for complicated reasons of our own – lack of moral compass, societal pressure, unwillingness to take a stand, fear of fighting with our teenagers – we allow it, and most of the time we even pay for it!

It’s time to put the credit cards away and teach our daughters to be proud of who they are – internally. It’s time to help them understand that a lifetime of self-respect is more important than a night of accolades for our beauty. It’s time to give them honor for the human being they’ve become and not their ability to accessorize. Everyone wants to look pretty. It’s human nature. But we have to evaluate the cost. It shouldn’t be so high that we lose our essential selves in the bargain. There is a difference between being attractive and being attracting.

It’s hard not to be confused in today’s world. We ask to be valued for our character and then show off our figures. It’s up to us, the supposed adults here, to reverse the trend and to teach our daughters to live a dignified, principled life, to dress like a soul and not like a body.


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