So there I was, scrolling through Amazon to find a dress suitable for my daughter to receive the body and blood of Christ in.
Because of The Thing We Are All Tired of Talking About, her First Communion was delayed a year, and I suddenly realised the lovely, very suitable dress all her older sisters had worn won’t fit her. With little time to spare, we started online shopping.
“Let’s see if we can find something a little bit old fashioned, you know what I mean?” I suggested gently.
I have seen some of the monstrosities out there: First communion dresses that look like slinky club wear; first communion dresses that look like not even wedding dresses, but wedding cakes, bristling with ruffles and petticoats and little sprays and fountains of fabric.
I wanted my child to wear something pretty and special, but also tasteful and maybe even demure. Something that would signal to her that it was a significant occasion, but not something that would make her the center of attention, because that honor ought to belong to Jesus.
Forty minutes later, I said, “LOOK, THIS ONE HAS A DETACHABLE CAPE WITH RHINESTONES AND BUTTERFLIES ON IT AND IT’S IN YOUR SIZE, OKAY?!”
We didn’t buy that one. We did buy one with butterflies and sequins on it, though. It’s not demure or tasteful, but she loves it to death, and as long as the Chinese factory doesn’t screw up the order, it should arrive on time. And that’s that.
This is what happens, more and more. I still have standards, but I give them up so easily. I let go of the things that once seemed to matter so much, and it barely makes a ripple in my conscience.
It’s not just the strain of trying to shop with one particular kid; it’s the cumulative strain, the decades-long piling-up of aggravation and compromise and defeat and loss that wears you down, until suddenly you realize that the things you were super hung up on are only as important as so many rhinestone butterflies fluttering on the cape on a nine-year-old’s shoulders, and the only thing you should truly be pursuing is the sweet, sweet relief of being done with a task so you can get back to the things that really matter, such as going to bed.
Is this wisdom, or is it giving up? I truly do not know. If you wanted to illustrate my mid-40’s, you’d just have to draw a fist letting go, over and over and over again.
So many things being let go, if not forcibly removed from my grasp: Trivial things, and heavy things, silly things, precious things. Things that felt vital and irreplaceable for decades, only to reveal themselves as disposable, and not worth replacing.
I hope I’m not the first one to break this to you, but life is very fleeting and full of loss, and if you deal with its fleetness by grabbing on and trying to hold it back, you’ll just end up hurting yourself. Better to relax into the speed.
Let me tell you a story about old t-shirts, and I promise I have a point.
Several weeks ago, I had a spurt of energy and decided to tackle the laundry room. When there’s some article of clothing nobody wants to think about, they stuff it in the laundry room, and have done so for years. So I girded my mental loins, took a decongestant for the dust, and dived in.
I’ve been something of a hoarder in the past, partly because I’m sentimental, partly because anxiety makes it hard to make decisions, and partly because we were so poor for so long, it really was reasonable to hold onto iffy stuff in case we needed it someday, somehow.
But on this day, I was ruthless. I got rid of stained tablecloths; I tossed out bedsheets with sub-par elastic. I said goodbye to stacks of once-adorable onesies that several of my little ones had worn, and had thoroughly, irredeemably worn out. I called people over to give me a definitive answer about whether or not they would ever wear all these overalls and cardigans and leotards, and I filled several bags and marked them “give away.” And I turned up dozens of t-shirts with corporate logos on them, and these I threw away.
Even though there was so much more I could have done with them, I just threw them away! Nobody in my house wants these shirts. We have clothes we like, and don’t need to wear t-shirts advertising an insurance agency that sponsored a long-ago softball team, or commemorating a marathon we didn’t actually run in. We already have plenty of comfy pajamas, and I already have plenty of rags. There is no chance in hell I will recycle them into some shabby chic rag rug or boho wall hanging. I want them out of my tiny, overstuffed house, and I want to get on with my life.
When you want to get rid of stuff, you have choices, of course. I could put them in a local clothing collection bin, whence they will be collected, shredded, and sold by the pound, and the proceeds will go to an organization that helps the poor in third world countries by pressuring them into getting sterilized.
I could put them in the back of my car and drive around with them for months until I remember to put them in the one bin three towns away that doesn’t have ethical problems, but by the time I get around to it, my children will have stepped on them so many times, they will be literal garbage. Or I could donate them to a local thrift shop, which, because it’s already so well-stocked, would entail making an appointment with someone, who would sort through everything and accept some but not all of them, and would add them to the already vast assortment of cast-off t-shirts with corporate logos on them, which the poor can buy for a dollar or even take for free.
Or I could throw them away.
Maybe this wouldn’t feel like a radical act to you, but that’s how it felt to me. Americans have been trained to believe that, because our world is drowning in garbage, we should always search for some other solution besides throwing things away, and if we do throw things away, we should at least offer up a pinch of the incense of guilt. But there’s more to the story than that… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.
What if they decided against sleeves? Can they were[sic] those 90’s style cropped tuxedo jackets with a tail? What if they wear flip flops? Will that work? Oh, you don’t care?
Nope. Those clothes would look silly, but they wouldn’t be immodest. And that’s the purpose of the dress code: Not to crack down on girls, but to crack down on anyone dressed immodestly. It is almost always girls who are turning up dressed immodestly; therefore, the manual is directed mainly toward girls.
Now, I can easily imagine a future where boys start turning up at prom in skin tight, shiny pants that cling to their testicles, or filmy skirts that barely cover their butt cheeks, or strapless bodices made up of transparent netting, or pants with cut-outs designed to draw attention to their penises or asscracks. These styles could become popular, and when they do, I suppose there will have to be guidelines addressing that kind of thing.
But, folks. Boys don’t have as many sexy parts as girls do. Even if a boy did turn up wearing a stripper costume, he just wouldn’t have that much to show off. A man’s exposed or semi-exposed chest may be sexy, but it’s not sexy in the same way as a girl’s exposed or semi-exposed breasts. File under: How Does One Explain Things That Any Cat Would Understand?
Second objection: They want girls to dress modestly, and that is stupid because modesty is stupid!
The writer assumes all right-thinking people agree that immodesty itself is an arbitrary standard people apply to girls just because they like jerking girls around, and not because modesty is an actual (if subjective) standard we ought to expect from our kids and ourselves.
Here’s a screen shot that Scarymommy shares as evidence of . . . something or other.
Scarymommy is incredulous that girls are not supposed to show cleavage, because, it snarks, “God doesn’t like cleavage.” I don’t see the school bringing God into it, actually. (I suspect the military also disallows cleavage, and it’s not because it will upset God.) And anyway, if a religious school does design its rules based on what God likes, where is the freaking problem with that? If you think Catholicism is oppressive and God is lame, maybe don’t go to a Catholic school? I promise you, a ban on thigh-high slits is not the hardest thing you’ll encounter in God’s law.
As I read through the guide, I was amazed at how permissive it is. A top shouldn’t be cut below the navel, and we’re supposed to be outraged? They allow spaghetti straps and strapless dresses. They allow slits and mid-thigh skirts. They even allow two-piece dresses that expose midriff skin. I’ve seen far more restrictive dress codes. Scarymommy is just upset there is such a thing as guidelines at all. And that is bonkers.
Objection #3: They are bringing actual inches into it! This objectifies girls and reduces them to bits of meat that can be measured and weighed! More sexism!
Scarymommy shares the next section of the guide
NO NAVEL. And we’re bringing a ruler, so don’t even try to show more than two inches of your midsection. Dresses should not be excessively tight, so good luck if you’re girl with actual curves. And no cover-ups are allowed over dresses that do not meet dress code. You can’t hide your immodesty with a sweater, ladies!
Let’s pick this one apart, thereby giving it much more thought than Scarymommy did.
Using rulers, or even giving specific numbers of inches for this and that, can be a tricky game. There is something intensely dehumanizing about laying even a hypothetical ruler on a girl’s body. But if they don’t get specific, then girls will claim they had no idea their little scrap of sequin-encrusted lycra could possibly be considered inappropriate.
So the school is in a bit of a bind. If they get too specific, they look petty, and appear to be objectifying girls, as if their fittingness as human beings can be reduced to how many inches of flesh they reveal. But if they don’t get specific, some girls will show up dressed like strippers. Or, even worse, if they don’t get too specific, some overzealous monitor will tell a specific girl that, in his or her judgment, her dress has crossed a subjective line — leaving everyone to conclude that (if it’s a man) he has the hots for that girl, and is a pervert, or (if it’s a woman) she is just jealous because she’s old and fat.
So that’s why the school gives these specific guidelines. It can lead to heartache for girls with very long legs or girls with especially big busts, but what is the alternative? Subjective standards? No standards?
That is Scarymommy’s soluation, I guess. Many kids and parents and readers will say that it’s always wrong, always sexist, always objectifying, and always body shaming to apply standards to girls’ clothing.
I can only ask you to ask my cat, which I don’t have, to explain these things to you.
(I don’t understand the part about no cover-ups. Probably they have noticed that girls wear a little jacket to get past the door, and then take it off to dance, and then someone has to worm him way through the crowd and shout over the blaring music, “Marissa! Marissa! Principal Horace J. Patriarchy says you have to put your jacket on! I said put your jacket on, Marissa! Your jacket!” and then next thing you know, the Huffington helicopters of outrage are circling the gym and Marissa is crying because it’s really hot in the gym, which puts a damper on the party. )
Objection #4: The same dress can look very different on different girls! This is body shaming, and just proves how ridiculous it is to even try to impose objective standards!
Scarymommy riffs, “Dresses should not be excessively tight, so good luck if you’re girl with actual curves.” (I’ll just proactively deploy my meta-anti-shaming comment here and say that girls without curves are “actual” girls, too, okay, Scarymommy? Check your reverse body positive privilege, sheesh).
Guys, I am a bona fide fatty, and I have an enormous bust. A lot of the clothes I try on are too tight. What I do then, see, is I get the next size up. 21st-century America is actually a really, really good time and place to “have actual curves.” There are options for proportionately-sized clothing that were unheard of when I was shopping for my own prom dress, where you had to travel (by car! No internet!) to a specialty store to find clothing above a size 14.
All they’re saying is, different dresses look different on different girls.
My potential cat is getting exhausted here, with the explaining.
Translation: if you weigh a little more, there are a lot of dresses you can’t wear. Because, curves. Sorry. They don’t make the rules. God does. Oh, wait. They totally make the rules. Never mind.
Um? The guidelines are pretty clear that it is, indeed, the school making the rules, and they’re trying to do so in cooperation with the kids and parents. And the school didn’t even mention weight. Maybe they’re talking about girls with short legs and long torsos, or girls with huge boobs and tiny hips. My cat thinks the Scarywriter is projecting a little bit, but my cat is, well, kind of catty.
And now we’re getting down to what is actually the best part of this dress code.
So many dress codes behave as if you’ll be fine if you just follow some very specific, numerical guidelines; and so many others behave as if you’ll be fine if you just decide to be less of a slutburger for once, what with having not one but two breasts and all.
Instead, this dress code acknowledges that any modesty guidelines are going to have shortcomings, because of what a subjective thing modesty is, and it does girls and parents the favor of asking them to “not put school administrators in the difficult position of upholding school standards.”
In other words, it asks them to think about and uphold those standards themselves. To behave as adults, and not to throw a temper tantrum over their sacred civil right to have a cut-out heart on their ass. “We’re all in this together,” is the basic message, “So please help us have a nice time at the dance, rather than turning this into one more exhausting battle over stupid stuff.”
No dice, Boylan Catholic. The internet chooses temper tantrum every time.
Now, let’s talk about why the internet is mad about the idea of a dress code. There is actually some reason for it.
In some places, especially in some religious circles, modesty really is something people only care about if they are interested in making girls feel bad, or if they believe that boys are ravening beasts who just can’t stop themselves from rapin’ everything that insists on exposing its – gulp – knees.
There are really are people, including some Catholic institutions, that say “teach modesty” when they really mean “teach girls that their bodies are dangerous and shameful, and any time a boy does something bad to a girl, it’s because the girl wasn’t following the Very Clear Rules.”
There are people who really do believe girls and women are, by their nature, always at fault, because if they didn’t want their pussies grabbed, then why’d they have to go out in public with female bodies? What did they expect?
I get it.
I know that people abuse the idea of modesty. I know that some dress codes are sexist. I know that some people treat girls badly. I know that, every year, nice girls show up to prom and get harassed by weirdos with hang-ups, even though their dresses are perfectly modest and pretty. I know that there are problems with many dress codes.
But it does not follow that any dress code is, by definition, sexist and oppressive and worthy of jeers and outrage.If girls are going to turn up wearing intensely sexual clothing, then the school is going to have to respond in some way.
And boy, is it tough to get it right.
If they make objective rules, they’ll be mocked for reducing girls to inches.
If they make subjective judgments, they’ll be excoriated for shaming individual girls, or for projecting their own personal issues onto girls.
If they tell girls to use their common sense, girls will show up wearing inappropriate things.
If they set down rules and turn away girls who don’t follow the rules, they’ll be raked over the coals for humiliating kids who paid for the right to be there.
If they ask girls to submit photos of their dresses ahead of time, so there’s no embarrassing surprises, they’ll be vilified for holding an inquisition and not trusting girls.
We’re really doing a great job inspiring confidence in our young women, America. As if being a teenage girl isn’t hard enough — now they have to shop with a manual in their hands to make sure that dress that shows their back (the horror!) doesn’t show too much of their back.
It is hard to be a teenage girl. I remember. And I have three teenage daughters. It is hard. But we’re not going to make life easier by telling them anyone who helps them make decisions is just out to get them. That’s not how you train people to be adults; that’s how you treat people to be perpetual victim babies. Girls should be shopping with a manual, in their heads and hearts, if not in their hands.
That is part of growing up: learning that there are boundaries. There are some things you want to do that are not acceptable in certain settings. I refuse to be outraged that there is such a thing as boundaries, even when those boundaries are called “modest dress.”
Another objection: But what if this dress code is just a symptom of a larger problem, and girls really are being treated unfairly?
I know nothing about this particular school. I hope with all my heart they are also teaching boundaries about other sorts of things, especially to boys, who tend to lag behind girls in figuring out where boundaries are.
I hope they are teaching boys there are clear standards of behavior toward girls (and toward other boys). I hope they are teaching boys it’s okay to say certain things but not okay to say certain other things. I hope they are encouraging boys and their parents to do their part in learning how they behave, so they can have a prom (and a locker room, and a science classroom, and lunch) without being perpetually at war with each other.
And I hope they are teaching all these things to girls, too. I hope the kids don’t graduate thinking that anything goes, except when it comes to prom dresses.
For all I know, these modesty guidelines are the tip of the iceberg, and the school is positively riddled with sexism and injustice and oppressive patriarchal garbage. Maybe it is. But this modesty guide is not evidence of something wrong. It’s just evidence of a school trying to teach kids how to act decent, because no one else is telling them.
Final objection: But it’s so hard to find a dress that meets these guidelines.
If it’s really so hard to find dresses that fit these not-excessively-strict guidelines, then why be angry at the school? Be angry at fashion designers, who are hell bent on turning girls into sparkly little buffets.
And be angry at the nitwits at Scarymommy, who are teaching girls to think that sexy is the only kind of pretty, and that rules are inherently oppressive.
Good luck building a happy life after learning those lessons from hell. I’d rather take my chances with a dress code.
There is a huge difference between sporting a blue mohawk because you think it looks cool, and sporting a blue mohawk because you want to horrify and offend everyone you meet. Trying to set yourself apart from your peers is morally neutral and should be tolerated, even if it makes adults cringe a bit. But trying to give the world or your family a big “F you” is a problem.
It’s behavior that matters, and so it’s the behavior that parents should focus on. This is just as true for kids who wear exactly what their parents want them to wear. Just as there’s nothing especially virtuous about dressing in a modest and conventional way while being a snippy, catty, arrogant little twerp, there’s nothing especially vicious about dressing like a weirdo if you’re reasonably courteous and responsible.
One year, deep in the throes of some emotional complex about femininity, I wore dresses all summer. At the time, I had no car, and walked several miles a day. At the time, I also had (and still have) a rather meaty physique. That, plus heat and humidity, plus all the walking, equaled one of the most foul, painful chronic rashes I have ever seen or suffered. Just horrible.
But they are making such nice dresses these days! What to do? I was so pleased to discover that I’m not some kind of extra-damp freak of nature, and that lots of women have a hard time dealing with thigh chafing under those pretty skirts that everyone claims are so light and airy.
Here are a few solutions people have recommended. I haven’t bought anything yet, so I can’t personally vouch for any of these products, but they look promising. Note: these aren’t supposed to make you look skinnier — they’re just for cutting down on chafing.
Here’s the most minimal. It comes in lace, but I’m leaning toward the plain ones: Bandalettes – about $12-$16
Most reviewers say they don’t slip around. This looks like the lightest option, as long as that thigh spot is the only spot that gets chafed.
Lots of VERY VERY BEAUTIFUL WOMEN manage to chafe in other spots, too, though. For that situation,
These appeal to me mainly because the model looks like she only does sit ups when she damn well feels like it.
There are also dozens of variations made with more fabric — bloomer-style short pants, pettipants, divided slips, gaucho pants, etc. I, for one, am hoping to find something with as little material as possible, to preserve the impression that I’m just wearing underwear like a normal human being.
Whatcha got, chaferoos? Have you had any luck with any of these products, or with something else?
(You’ll note that most of these links are to Amazon products. That’s because I’m an Amazon Associate. If you arrive at Amazon by using one of my links, then I get a percentage of the price of whatever you buy — even if it’s not something I originally linked to. These bits and pieces add up tremendously, and help us keeping our big family afloat!