> Current Issues > Q&A for Teens

Q&A for Teens: My Clothes, My Body

December 7, 2011 | by Lauren Roth

How do you want to present yourself to the world?

Dear Lauren,

I keep fighting with my parents about the clothes I wear. They think it's far too revealing, but to me it's stylish and fun. How can I get my parents to understand that fashion today is not like it was in their day?

Thank you for your fantastic question, which allows me to make a Very Important Point: “How can I get someone else to believe, think, do something other than what he or she believes, thinks, does now?” Answer: YOU CAN’T. Pure and simple. You can NEVER “get” someone else to do anything. It’s not up to you. Your trying to control other people’s thoughts, opinions, actions, behavioral patterns will inevitably be an exercise in futility.

In other words, the simple answer to your question, which will save you countless agonies, frustrations, broken relationships, and general misery, is this: the only person you can ever, ever change, in this whole wide world, is YOU. If you try to control someone else, try to change his or her opinions, thoughts, beliefs, actions, goals, ideals—you name it—you’re bound to alienate them and frustrate yourself with your Sisyphean endeavors.

Sigh. What I want to say now I wish your parents could read also, and not just you! Maybe print this out, and leave it somewhere strategic and SUBTLE…like taped to their bathroom mirror with red arrows pointing to the text and “READ THIS” printed in bright orange block letters….

It seems the convince-fest is going both ways in your family: it seems your parents are trying to convince you that their opinion is the right one, and you’re trying to convince them that yours is. They’re trying to convince you to cover up, and you’re trying to show them that, by God, I will NOT.

Calmly and respectfully talk to your parents.

Let me offer a solution. But I won’t force my solutions on you—I practice what I preach! You can take my suggestion or leave it: it’s up to you. This solution, if done correctly, can stop the convince-fest, stop the fighting, and instead create an informative, respectful, enriching, constructive exchange of ideas.

Here it is: calmly and respectfully talk to your parents. Tell them your opinions about your fashion style. After you’ve told your parents how you feel about the issue, ask them, “Please tell me your opinion. I’m interested in hearing a different perspective on this.” Then listen respectfully to what they have to say. Really listen with an open mind. It’s possible that they’ll make some points you hadn’t thought of before. It’s possible that some of the things they say might make sense to you. Maybe they’ll understand needs and wants of yours that they hadn’t realized before.

The only way to learn in this world is to be open to hearing opinions which might be different from our own. Once the discussion is over, honestly think about all the ideas presented and make a mature, rational, informed decision.

Regarding the content of your question: what message does your choice of clothing relay about you to the world? When people see you, what message will they think you’re trying to send about yourself? How do you want to be seen by other people? Think about what message your clothing is sending, and what message you want to send, every time you get dressed, as you look in the mirror.

Every time you get dressed think about what message your clothing is sending.

Make sure that the message you want to send is the one you’re actually transmitting. As part of the respectful discussion with your parents, ask them what message they think you’re sending when you wear different outfits. Then consider whether you think their assessment is correct, and consider whether you want to be perceived in that way or not.

Also, does your choice of clothing allow those around you to focus on your real qualities—your personality, your thoughts, your spirit? Or will they be distracted from that deeper quest by your revealing your body? When passing an alluring billboard, no one says to themselves, “I wonder what that model is THINKING. I wonder what her PERSONALITY is like. I wonder if she’s a GOOD PERSON.” They just say to themselves, “Nice teeth. Nice hair. Nice legs….”

How do you want to present yourself to the world?

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