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Graduation Dress Angst

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Jennifer Ginsberg: I recently had the privilege of taking my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Haley, out shopping for her graduation dress. On the way to the mall, she gave me her list of requirements: nothing flouncy, bouncy, or poofy, no bows, no ruffles, and certainly, no pink! OK ... I get it. She doesn't want to look like a Disney Princess. But I was not prepared for the black, slinky number she picked out.

graduation

"I love it," she said, holding up the spaghetti-strapped cocktail dress to her pubescent body. "What do you think?"

"It's cute ..." I replied euphemistically. "Cute" is not the word that came to mind when I looked at that dress, which came straight from the tween "junior-hooker" line, inspired by Miley Cyrus and Ali Lohan. Dressing up a 12-year-old girl like a desperate 30-year-old woman in a nightclub is far from cute. I could only imagine what her mother and the other moms would say when Haley gave the graduation speech in that dress. "Oh, it must be something her stepmom picked out!" they would snicker in disgust.

But I have learned a lot about navigating the nuanced and fragile road of stepmotherhood over the years. Knocking down Haley's ideas and attempting to boss her around always backfires. "What about this dress?" I asked, casually selecting an adorable spring dress with a yellow floral print and white lacy trim. I hoped my redirection attempt would not be detected.

Haley made a face (I get a lot of faces these days). "I hate it," she replied, non-euphemistically.

"You never know until you try it on!" I gently coaxed. "Try on both dresses and let's decide."

Of course, she tried on the black dress first and she looked ... amazing. Haley is naturally gorgeous. She is half Chinese and has the most stunning, Eurasian quality to her beauty.

Her hair is jet-black and flows in perfect waves down her back. Her skin is bronzy and she has full lips and almond-shaped eyes. When she came out of the dressing room, she looked like she was walking down a runway.

"I love it!" Haley said, subtly striking a sexy pose in front of the mirror.

"It's cute ..." I said, once again using that ridiculous word to cover up my genuine feelings.

I had a sudden flash of her in the slinky, black dress with spiky stilettos, glowy makeup, and blown-out hair. She was sitting on a bar stool and men were clamoring around for her attention. It was a horrifying thought that needed immediate modification.

"Maybe with a little cardigan and ballet flats it would be OK?" I asked to no one in particular, hoping that my Higher Power would offer me divine guidance. "Try on the yellow one and let's compare."

Haley begrudgingly went back to the dressing room and peeled the black dress off her body. When she emerged in the yellow dress, she looked like a beautiful 12-year-old girl on her graduation day. I tried to mask my enthusiasm, knowing such a display would cause her to reject the dress on principle. "What do you think?" I asked, trying to read her flat expression.

"I like it," she replied cautiously. She twirled in front of the mirror (just like she used to when she was 6 years old and dressed up in her Belle costume) and the dress flared out into a circle. "But I like the black one better."

It was time for the truth. "Haley, you look gorgeous in the black dress. But it is so ... adult. I really like the yellow one better."

She twirled around in another circle and smiled. "Let's get it!"

As I paid for the dress, I wondered if she subjugated her own desires in an effort to please me. Despite my best effort, did I become the evil stepmother by not allowing Cinderella to wear her favorite dress to the ball?

At times like this, my role as a stepmom is difficult to define. More than a friend, less than a mother. I often question if I am doing too much, or not doing enough.

But on her graduation day, I will sit next to her biological mother and father and feel equal joy and pride for the beautiful girl in the yellow dress.


next: Heidi's White Trash Wedding
30 comments so far | Post a comment now
Stan May 13, 2009, 8:28 AM

Miley Cyrus and Lindsey Lohan did not dress like hookers at twelve. If be-littles your opinion when you have to put down other to try and prove your point. Miley always dresses age appropriate. In fact when she was 12 she loved Pink. If your child wants to dress like a hooker, thats your problem adnis a direct reflection of your parenting skills. Stop comparing your childs dress choices with those of a 14, 16 18, or young adult girl. They are at different stages in thier life and there dress choices aren’t going to be that of a 12 year old. They are differnet and they should be different as a girl matures. I have a 12 year old daughter and she doesn’t like Pink either, but she also has no desire to dress like Miley, Lindsey or any other star. In fact she perferrs a much more conservative look despite the fact that some of her friends sometimes try to get her to dress “sexier”.



Lynn May 13, 2009, 8:56 AM

Jennifer, I with you all the way fellow step-mother “Sister”! Stan doesn’t know what he is talking about..That is the problem with todays society we are allowing “Little Girls” to think that they are women of the world and make decisions and choices that they shouldn’t even be making. I commend you with the way you handled the situation. If there were more parents like you, there would be less girls like Miley who at 16 has a live in boyfriend at times, and Ali, who is following in her sister’s foot steps. Oh, and Stan, I wouldn’t dream of allowing my 18 yr old to dress like Ali and Miley (I never thought hooker was tastefull)…Call me an “Old Fashion Southern Mom” but at least I don’t have to worry about my daughter getting STDs or picked up by some perv because of the way she dresses. Stan, are you going to allow your future 16 yr old to dress like a tramp just because she is 16? I think not, just wait you will change your tune…I just hope your daughter keeps her “Conservative Look” when she gets older.

hillary May 13, 2009, 9:20 AM

Stan seems jaded. Perhaps he likes junior hookers? His commentary is ridiculous. This well written article makes a clear point - young people today (step or biological children) are influenced by the media…and today more than ever they are dressing “older” at a younger age. Don’t take this writing so personally Stan - it wasn’t directed at YOUR child. And, it’s not a reflection on the author’s parenting skills. This story is written to make a point - and it does that in a way that most people don’t even want to talk about. Yet, once someone shares a point of view like this, most parents can relate - except those that are in denial. Stan, as you said - even YOUR daughters friends dress sexier than she does. It’s only a matter of time before she wants that black slinky dress. It’s not a matter of “if”, it’s only a question of “when”. Great Article!

annonymous May 13, 2009, 3:23 PM

You are a role model for your children. How you dress is how they dress. How you act and behave is how they will act and behave. If you smoke, drink or take drugs you dramatically increase the chances your children will do the same. Do you dress in a way that is designed to get the intention of men? Short black dresses? High Heels? Tight pants? Remember that with children you might think they will listen to the “do as I say attitude” - but the reality is they will become the “do as I do” lifestyle. Set a good example for your children and perhaps they won’t aspire to wear clothes that you call the “junior hooker” look. How do you dress when you go out to a club? Do you look desperate? Are you hoping for the attention of men? Set a good example for your daugther…when was the last time you wore yellow?

Jill (the other one) May 13, 2009, 5:12 PM

“Graduation” at twelve? If you have to buy a special dress for her to go from eighth grade to ninth, how much are you going to have to blow for prom and high school graduation?
For my eighth grade promotion (they couldn’t call it graduation because strictly speaking they couldn’t hold anyone back) I wore the same short-sleeved, knee-length shirtdress I had in my closet for church.

I guess times have changed, haven’t they?

ame i. May 13, 2009, 6:31 PM

Your pain = I feel it.
My 11 year old is,um,physically mature for her age. I’ve had to give 15 & 16 year old boys the Stare of Death at our neighborhood pool.
She’s not a girly-girl, dresses in athletic wear if not in her school uniform.
She graduates from 5th grade in a week and needs a dressy skirt & blouse or a dress.
It is hard to find something that fits a 5’4” 120 pound 11 year old that is appropriate for an 11 year old. She doesn’t really like the petite section with clothes more fitting for someone’s short grandma.

Chrissy May 14, 2009, 1:17 AM

Stan is right Lindsay Lohan didn’t dress like that when she was twelve. She was doing “The Parent Trap” and was looking like a 12 year old. And Miley continues to dress her age. Mainly jeans and tees.
As a parent, it is your job not to give your children everything they want. You are not suppose to subujate your judgement to please your child.
If you thought the black dress was too hooker-ish, you should have taken the time to explain to step-daughter why you disliked. If you find this to be too difficult, allow her mother to take her or better yet both of you go. This way you can’t be blamed for an inappropraite purchase AND you get the benefit of back.
If you have been involved with this child since age 6, you need to stop being insecure about being a stepmom. That doesn’t do her any good.

jennifer May 14, 2009, 11:17 AM

Wow…this article was about how I helped my step-daughter make the appropriate decision herself. “Stan”, you seem to have major issues with all of my posts. I am not sure what this is really about- but it seems to be personal. For the record, I can’t remember the last time I went to a nightclub, nor do I dress like a hooker. And I also wore yellow just yesterday, no joke!

N May 14, 2009, 12:14 PM

Stan is probably a pervert who likes to look at the adult dressed girls, bc his comment are ridiculous and something i can’t imagine a father saying

Skylar May 14, 2009, 7:53 PM

To all readers,

Please try to remember what you were taught in school about main points of an essay. Many are quick to write snide and unjust comments based on minor details of Jennifer’s writing. Grow up and leave comments that are appropriate and directly related to the main topic of these essays. I am sure that critique is welcome, but please be mature and educated about what you post.

Anonymous May 15, 2009, 10:32 PM

Stan and Chrissy - the article says nothing about Lindsay Lohan. Read again. It mentions ALI Lohan. There’s a difference. Learn to read, then maybe comment with your big opinions!

Yrtpemyq June 22, 2009, 10:08 PM

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lamarre marie michele June 10, 2010, 6:34 AM

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Golf September 14, 2010, 10:37 AM

In related news, Gatorade recently cut off its sponsorship agreement with Tiger Woods along with dropping the saying, “Is it in you?” Nike will keep Tiger as a spokesman and continue with the motto, “Just do it.”

Sami September 27, 2010, 6:16 PM

Hi, I am 12yrs old and I am looking for my graduation dress but I don’t know where to buy it! Does anyone know where to buy a nice dress? Thanks in advance…….. From Sami

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