She doesn’t always dress like that, but it’s more often than a Friday or Saturday night. She works in fast food so it’s okay there except for the nails. I’m worried about the money she spends but since she lives independently of me, it’s her choice. I’m concerned about the treatment she gets when she looks like this, but her peer group embraces that image, so I don’t think my wavering comments about negativity ring true for her. When she sends a picture of a new look, I usually reply with “I love you”. I don’t want to encourage her but I know she’s looking for my approval.
Second concern: Next year my fiancé and I will be getting married in another state where she will meet her family for the first time. I haven’t seen anyone who remotely dresses like this (in this condition). I’ll be embarrassed and I’m afraid she’ll be very uncomfortable with her welcome.
Embarrassed parent: It’s not an easy thing as a mom, but I think most of us grew up with the message ingrained in us that the way we dress reflects our morality. It’s not, and the younger generation is changing the culture about it. I’m a mother – my daughter is under 10 – but sometimes I have times when my first reaction to holding a young person is a pearly gasp. It’s not necessary.
If you think she’s looking for your validation, you might say something like, “That’s not what I would choose, but you look better when you’re confident in what you’re wearing.” With the groom’s family – if they have a serious problem with your daughter’s clothes, it affects them, not her. If you think this is a serious issue, you can ask your bride to point out that she may not be wearing conservative wedding attire, but don’t let that stress you out. The children dress differently, but they are doing very well!
Embarrassed parent: As a young woman who was bullied and body-shamed high in our endemic rape culture, I was constantly reminded that my clothes and appearance reflected my worth and would lead to certain consequences: friends, boys, success, let it be positive or negative. My mom and I did this dance while I lived at home and I often strained our relationship as I needed support and validation for the person inside who was looking to appear and feel comfortable in the world.
I think your approach of not dictating what your daughter wears at 21 and giving the “I love you” is the right way to stay connected and show support. Let her be herself and you can witness her journey of self-confidence as a woman in a society that plays the cards against us.
Regarding the wedding, I think it is reasonable to share the general dress code that can be expected on a formal and special occasion. Keep the advice high: certain colors or certain styles of dresses, because she will be a prominent member of the wedding party. Do NOT tell her she needs to be less herself. Maybe choose special jewelry for mom and daughter together? This will give him the opportunity to make choices and express his personality and will allow you to feel supported and less stressed during your marriage.
— Girl with some tattoos
Embarrassed parent: It sounds like your instinct to let your girl know you love her no matter what is right. Twenty-one is a tough age to have a brand new blended family; the most important thing is that she knows mom’s love is not going anywhere no matter how many body parts she pierces.
As for your concerns about how your fiancé’s family will react, it may be worth doing some soul-searching – what is your concern versus fear that she will be uncomfortable versus fear that they judge you as a parent on the basis of his appearance? If it’s the latter, remember that how your daughter perceives you as a parent is MUCH more important than what others think. If it can ease your pre-wedding anxiety, maybe ask your fiancé to share some photos that include your daughter (makeup, piercings and all). If someone says something, they can say, “It’s important to us that [daughter] knows she is welcome and loved no matter what she looks like. We appreciate your joining us in conveying this message with a warm welcome.
Each week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read the latest episode here. New questions are usually posted on Fridays, with a Monday submission deadline. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.