At 12, she was disdainful. “Cassie is so different now, Mommy,” my daughter would sniff after school. “She wears crop tops.” I’d sigh and nod, thrilled we were on the same page about the inappropriateness of belly-revealing tees that, in my opinion, had no place in school—or anywhere for that matter.
But as she moved from grade seven to grade eight, the hemlines of her shirts began an upward ascent. At first just a sliver—only noticeable if she were to, say, put up her hand in class. But as grade eight gave way to grade nine, it was impossible to deny a change was afoot—the hems became more brazen, the occasions more frequent. When I’d balk, she’d pull out her stock excuse: “Our school is so hot!” she’d say, ignoring my reminder that it was January. In those early days, she had the good sense to throw an oversized plaid shirt on top. “I keep it on all day,” she’d assure me. But after comparing notes with other distraught moms, I realized the likelihood of this was slim to none. And then, one morning midway through grade ten, my daughter strolled into the kitchen in all her midriff-baring glory— minus the extra shirt— and casually asked what we were having for breakfast.
I get the appeal. The midriff is powerful real estate, and crop tops are everywhere, (including Old Navy, in size 4T). But that doesn't make it OK with me. I’ve tried to gently dissuade her a zillion different ways, most of which involve me trailing her through the house in a mild panic as she collects her books for school. “Sweetie, you don't even realize this," I say with urgency, "but you’re wearing that top because society has convinced you that your worth is determined by the male gaze.”
“Um, no,” she replies, hastily zipping up her knapsack. “I’m WEARING it because it’s CUTE.” Cue door slam.
Other times, I take a, "Just so you know, you could never wear that to a job interview" approach. “I’m not going to a job interview,” she states plainly. “I’m going to school.”
“But, but, school is like a job,” I sputter. “Right now it’s your job!” (Slam.)
I hate that I feel the need to hassle her so much. But what I hate even more is that being out in the world with a bare midriff makes her inherently less safe than if she were more covered up. I don’t like thinking about her at the mall or on the subway wearing a crop top. “Most girls wear them way, way shorter than me,” she informs me, which makes me wonder if they’re walking to school in their bras.
Maybe the problem is me. Am I afraid of her mature body? Her emerging womanhood? Is it the fierce new independence I chafe at? I wish it were that simple. I just want her to be safe. To not be targeted. To not be ogled by the creepy substitute who only got half a background check.
I shouldn’t complain. At least once a week, she’s covered head-to-toe in hockey gear. She doesn’t wear make up, or low-cut tops, or thongs. Her weapon of choice is the crop top— and the croppier the better. One time she brought home a bunch of T-shirts from the thrift store and my heart soared—until she pulled out a pair of scissors. Snip, snip—she cropped every last one. “I just don’t like the feel of them touching my waist band,” she explained. I sighed and assured her that none of her shirts were in danger of coming anywhere near her waistband.
It’s exhausting, and at 17 and almost taller than me, I have clearly lost the battle. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever change my stance: crop tops belong at summer camp and cottages, and maybe parties (when she’s 30), but they do not belong in the classroom. The last time I weakly said, “OK, that one is too short,” she just rolled her eyes, grabbed an apple and left.
I know I have to get a grip. Soon she’ll be moving through the world, maybe going to university in another city. She’s almost a woman. I wish that made me feel better, but it doesn’t. Because as much as all my preaching makes me sound like a feminist-gone-bad, and even though my daughter swears she dresses to please no one but herself, the fact is I do think society tells girls that their worth is derived from how they look and dress. But I suppose that’s something my daughter will have to decide for herself, in her own time.
For now, I’ll console myself with the knowledge that high-waisted mom jeans are back in style so crop tops simply can’t reveal as much – though I’m sure she’ll find a solution for that too.