A Letter to our Teenage Daughters About How They Dress
Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Can we have an honest conversation about something that might be a little awkward? It’s not about sex . . . at least directly. But it is about boys and sex and what they think when they see girls, and all the images that swirl around in their brains. It’s an especially important conversation because, as I was scrolling through social media the other day, I couldn’t help but feel a burden for you when I saw picture after picture from a recent school dance—and there was one common factor in all of them.
Girls wearing short, short (short, short, short!) skirts and dresses. As in “don’t bother trying to pick up anything on the floor if you drop it” kind of outfits.
Oh, girls, I know you might not want to hear this. And I can understand why your first gut reaction may be to think, “I can wear whatever I want and it’s no one’s business but my own.” I used to think that, too. But I need to let you in on a few discoveries I made when I interviewed thousands of men and teenage boys for my books For Women Only and For Young Women Only. And I think the results might surprise you a little (or possibly A LOT!)
Ready or not, here they are:
Discovery #1: A Guy Can’t Not Be Tempted By The Sight
Picture the most honorable guy you know; someone who is kind, mature, and really respects girls. Do you have him in your mind?
When he sees you, all done up with great hair and makeup and heels—and THAT dress—he’s going to automatically want to look at you. Nearly all guys admitted that they couldn’t “not be attracted” to a girl near them who had a great body (only 4% said they were unaffected).
“What’s wrong with that? I want to look attractive. Who wouldn’t?” you might be thinking. I get that. But read on. Because here is what is actually happening in his brain.
When that guy sees you—this attractive girl who is drawing attention to her figure (even though you may not think of it that way)—a part of his brain called the nucleus accumbens is automatically stimulated. Instantly, even the most honorable guy is instinctively tempted to want to visually take in, linger on and fantasize about all the details of this great body he’s seeing. That doesn’t mean he does that (we’ll get into that in a moment), but he is instantly tempted to.
Even if he doesn’t want to be tempted. Even if he wants to be honorable and not think of you that way.
And he’s not the only guy in the room. So if you dress in a barely-there outfit, not only your date but every other guy in the room (and not to freak you out, but EVEN the dads who are there at the picture party) sees you, notices how little you’re wearing and has the same temptation.
After taking pictures before a dance recently, a friend reached out and said her husband was still reeling from how short the dresses were in the group of about 30 kids heading to their event. As a father, he was horrified that the boys were going to be having to fight that visual temptation all night. And because he’s a man, he understands exactly what that visual temptation is. Let’s tackle that next.
Discovery #2 A Guy is Automatically Tempted to Sexually Fantasize About the Good Body He’s Seen
Take a deep breath, ladies, because this is what we are most clueless about: even the most honorable guy is tempted to imagine what you look like underneath that dress. Or that low-cut top. Or those leggings.
If the dress is a bit longer, the top less revealing, or you’re wearing something that covers more of the leggings, that center in his brain isn’t biologically triggered, and that temptation doesn’t arise in the same way. But if he is seeing that super-short dress over your beautiful body, he is tempted to picture just your body, totally unclothed. On our survey, 85% of the anonymous guys surveyed admitted they might be imagining the girl naked. And let’s just say it: the guy is tempted to picture you that way, with him.
Also, keep in mind that this is not just your date or your boyfriend. This is any guy—all your guy friends from school, your friend’s brother, his father, and the total strangers at the restaurant while you’re eating dinner before the dance. One told us, “When we see a hot girl, the first 10 seconds of a guy’s thoughts are pretty raw. We go straight into fantasy mode. And we have to really work to pull things back.”
Now, the fact that this is a temptation is no excuse for a guy giving into it! There is no excuse for a guy’s poor behavior. Hear me on this: I am not blaming you for anything. What you are wearing is not the cause of a guy’s poor choices. Those choices are his alone. But as the mom of a teenage girl, who has interviewed and surveyed thousands of teenage girls and guys, I want you to be aware of this knowledge that you probably didn’t know before.
Discovery #3: There IS a Difference Between Temptation and Sin
I know not everyone shares my Christian faith. But let’s go to how God describes all this for a minute.
You may be surprised that most guys (including guys you like and trust, who are honorable, kind, and sweet) are tempted in this way. It’s important to remember that these involuntary temptations are not sins. It’s how their brains are wired. But what is done with these temptations is the issue.
And this is where we go back to thinking about the most honorable guy you know. He probably wants to honor you and respect you—including in his thought life. The problem is, the sensual images and the sensual temptation arrives involuntarily in his mind even though he probably doesn’t want it there. And at that moment, he has to make a choice: he can either enjoy and dwell on the feelings associated with these thoughts and images, OR do the necessary work to get rid of them. And many, many guys do.
One guy told us how difficult it is when they have these images popping up in their heads and how much he wanted to respect the girls around them. He said, “Entertaining the naked image of a girl I know would do injustice to her.”
One young man from our church seemed to withdraw into himself as he was talking about it. “I hate this temptation,” he said, quietly. “I wish I could turn it off. But it’s on every Netflix show. Every class. And I like the girls in my class. I don’t want to be a jerk to them.”
While few guys can stop these involuntary images from popping up in their heads, they can exercise the strength and discipline to stop themselves from continuing to think about them.
So here’s the question for you, ladies: Is it safe to say that with these guys we care about, who are working to respect us, in a culture that is already quite difficult for them, maybe we should consider how we might help them in that process?
How You Can Help #1: Put Yourself In His Shoes
So what can you do to help the guys with this issue? Go to Prom in a turtleneck and overalls? Of course not! But there are a few things you can do:
Put yourselves in a guy’s shoes. What must it be like to have to constantly be concerned about dishonoring the girls you know and care about? A teacher once told me that in order to help the girls in her high school class realize how difficult it was for the boys to avoid looking at the girls this way, she placed a bunch of candy in front of the room. She told the girls it was there but they were not allowed to look at it and if they did, they would have to write sentences as a consequence. As a result, many of the girls received the assignment of extra sentences and all the girls eventually put folders in front of their faces to avoid seeing the obvious stack of candy at the front of the room. She asked, “How many of you had a hard time not looking at the candy? How many of you wanted some candy?” And all the girls raised their hands. It gave them a tangible example of what boys go through every day when they saw girls wearing revealing clothing—even the nicest boys have to fight that temptation.
How You Can Help #2: As You Choose Clothes, Keep In Mind The Difference Between Beautiful And Sexual
Now that you’re trying to put yourself in a guy’s shoes—especially thinking about that honorable guy who wants to respect the girls around him!—just keep that in mind as you are choosing what to wear each day. If you’re not calling overt attention to your body, that center in a guy’s brain isn’t automatically triggered. Instead, you look cute, you look beautiful—not sexual.
For example, it makes a major difference if the skirt isn’t quite as short, or if you add a cute cami under that shirt that doesn’t quite reach your jeans. There’s no need to go into detail: you can figure it out just fine. The key is to simply be aware.
(Also, now that you know this: give your school or your parents a break for their dress codes! Dress codes may be clumsy and annoying, but they usually exist—at least in part—to try to help girls and guys on this issue.)
How You Can Help #3: Pray For The Guys You Know
Girls, now that you’ve put yourself in a guy’s shoes, how do you feel about it? Some of you may be annoyed, and are determined to misunderstand what I’m saying. (If you think I’m giving guys a pass, saying “boys will be boys, they can’t help it”, or that I’m shaming you, then go back and read this article again!)
But I believe many more of you are now aware of how hard the honorable guys are working to respect girls and honor God in their thought lives. And you’re probably angry on their behalf that they are having to work so hard. I’m sure the guys you know would appreciate your prayers.
Thank you for caring. Thank you for treating the guys you know with the same honor that you want from them.
It’s so hard to be a teenager these days, isn’t it? But you have the ability to make a huge difference. Go and do it. Be brave by being compassionate. Be smart and beautiful and kind. Be yourself. And be the kind of young woman who loves others by respecting how God created them.