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‘I’m a teenage girl and my Dad’s friends keep commenting on my outfits’

Ask Roe: These adults who are making comments about a teenager’s body are wrong

Dear Roe,

I am a 15-year-old girl (obviously not your intended audience, but anyway) and during lockdown I have been wearing shorts and crop tops as they are comfortable and the weather is hot.

However, recently adults have been criticising me for wearing these things, though my dad has no issues with it (he is a brilliant father and my mum passed last year.

The adults in question are friends of my parents with a daughter my age.) This has badly affected my mental health and I am extremely self-conscious now. Do you have any advice for what I could do to help things?


A girl trying to navigate a world where people feel entitled to comment on her body, make her feel uncomfortable, damage her mental health and then tell her that she, and not their objectifying, controlling, misogynistic behaviour is the problem? Honey, you are absolutely my intended audience.

Other people may believe that this column’s subject matter is not suitable for teenagers, but I firmly disagree. I believe that all forms of education and discourse about sexuality and consent and boundaries and relationship skills should be ongoing and pro-active – not reactive.

If you wait until people are adults to discuss these issues, you have already gone wrong. You have let someone reach adulthood without firmly ingraining in them the belief that everyone’s bodies and boundaries need to be respected, without giving them the emotional and critical tools to deal with situations as they arise. You have forced the role of education around bodies and sexuality and consent to become a two-part job of, firstly, dismantling years of damaging messages from misinformed peers and problematic pop culture, and then giving a crash course on an entire new philosophy regarding people’s bodily autonomy.

Of course there is resistance. Of course the message won’t get through to many people. And it’s those people who endanger others.

It should not be your job to emotionally endure and try to combat people objectifying you and making judgments about your body and clothes

Case in point: the adults who are commenting on your body could have done with being exposed to more conversations about respecting people’s bodies and boundaries earlier, instead of being so influenced by misogyny and shame that they feel entitled to judge a teenage girls’ clothes. Which is why they’re also my intended audience.

Sadly, I doubt that people who spend their time commenting on the bodies of 15-year-old girls are reading a sex-and-relationships column by one of those scary feminist killjoys, so let’s look at what you can do.

But know this: You should not have to do anything. It should not be your job to emotionally endure and try to combat people objectifying you and making judgements about your body and clothes. These adults who are making comments about a teenager’s body are wrong. They are exposing their own fear and shame regarding girls and women’s bodies and the sexuality they feel is inherent in that body. They are demonstrating their own misogyny, believing that certain clothes make girls and women less worthy of respect, more deserving of judgement.

They are revealing themselves to be bullies, using their power and position as adults in your life to belittle you, humiliate you, make you feel self-conscious; knowing that as a teenage girl, it’s hard for you to defend yourself.

And they are doing this to a girl who has recently suffered a tragedy, who has lost her mother, who has one less person in her home protecting her and being there for her and telling her on a regular basis that she’s brilliant and strong and brave and worthy of respect and love, no matter what she wears. Instead of taking your devastating loss as the chance to step up for you, to show that they’re there to offer you support, to be good forces in your life, they’ve chosen to do this.

What you can do is clearly state your boundaries and what you're willing to put up with

So please hear me when I say that you are amazing and brilliant and brave and strong and worthy of respect and love, no matter what you wear. And these adults are utter garbage people.

As to how to deal with these people, have you told your Dad what’s going on? I don’t know how aware he is of this situation and how much it’s affecting you, but please tell him immediately. Your Dad can set boundaries with his friends, telling them their constant comments on your clothes are deeply inappropriate and are making you feel uncomfortable, and need to stop immediately.

If they don’t stop, these people don’t get to see you (and preferably your Dad would stop seeing them, too). Because people who habitually sexualise and objectify and belittle teenage girls shouldn’t get to be around teenage girls. It’s that simple. They’ve already damaged your mental and emotional health, and they do not get to do that.

As for you, you cannot control these adults’ behaviour, you cannot force them to change. What you can do is clearly state your boundaries and what you’re willing to put up with. You can control your presence in their lives. If anyone makes a comment about your clothes, simply say “My clothes aren’t up for discussion.” If you want to be more specific, you could say “It makes me very uncomfortable when you comment on my clothes, please stop”, or “Adults commenting on a teenage girl’s outfits is very weird and uncomfortable, please stop doing that to me.”

And if you want to go full nuclear, “Wearing shorts during the summer is normal. Sexualising and commenting on my outfit is not.” Practice in the mirror so you feel more confident.

If they keep commenting or start to argue with you, leave. Go inside your house, or your bedroom, or if you’re having a socially distant walk, put headphones on. This is not being rude. This is you enforcing your boundaries – you do not have to engage with people who constantly disrespect you. If you can, check in with their daughter. It’s highly likely she gets a lot of their judgment, too, and could use a brilliant friend telling her that she is worthy of respect no matter what. Let her know you’re in her corner.

And know that I’m in your corner, as are the countless girls and women who have been through the exact same thing, who fight the same battles against misogyny every day. We’ve got you, we’re proud of you, we can’t wait to see how powerful and inspiring you become – and we’ll tell you how cute your outfit is. That’s what support is. Don’t let these people make you believe that you deserve anything less.