Strapless dresses banned: The ugly truth about getting your pretty on

Strapless dresses were banned at a Readington, N.J. middle school dance causing a community debate. A mom of four boys has some advice: Provocative dress may actually scare boys away.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
Strapless dresses were banned at a New Jersey middle school for an upcoming dance because they'd be "distracting" to boys. Here, students and parents attend a school board meeting in Readington Township, N.J., to discuss the ban.

While moms of some girls in Readington, N.J. are furious over a newly instituted ban on strapless dresses at an upcoming eighth-grade dance, moms of boys there are probably reading about it in the paper and learning that there is a dance at all. The truth, according to my sons, is while girls primp, paint, and push-up into strapless dresses to attract boys, the effort is usually more intimidating and counter-productive than a turn on.

My son Avery, 14 and in grade 8, read the Readington story online and responded, “Seriously? We really don’t care unless what they’re wearing is embarrassing. If they’re like not wearing very much, like skimpy stuff, we’d probably try and ignore them. It’s just too weird and uncomfortable.”

It never ceases to amaze me how much effort, money, and sanity I wasted all those pre-teen years as I followed the teachings of my mom, a New York fashion designer. Mom, I love you, but you had it all wrong. I can say this with some authority as the mother of four boys ages 9, 14, 17, and 19. Every day I get an education on how the entire female population is led astray in the name of fashionista commerce.

Yes, sure, boys notice girls who are blingy, stringy, and scantily clad, and may find them “distracting” in the classroom or on a dance floor, but the notion that those things will lead to a date is off-base at the middle school and even early high school levels. It’s a strange and often conflicting set of behaviors boys exhibit where girls are concerned, and that’s why we have to parent both sexes through the mutable laws of attraction.

My sons have always shrugged-off feminine wiles as “weird.”

However, I will also admit my eldest, now 19, fell prey to the body image problem via scent sensitivity marketing done by Axe body cologne. We spent a miserable year fighting the manfume clouds. The younger boys ambushed the eldest two years ago and actually tried to hose him down to rid him of the perfumed pestilence. For the record boys, chicks don’t dig that. You can just shower and use deodorant and we’re fine with that. Nobody’s stripping down to a bikini to chase you when you are the PigPen of perfume.

Leaving the nose and moving back to hitting an optic nerve with boys, I could do with far less commentary in my house about the new red-headed Wendy’s pitch girl they have dubbed, “Hot Wendy.”  The new pitch girl wears jeans, a T-shirt that’s not too revealing, and an almost imperceptible amount of makeup. She's pretty much, bling-free. “Hot” is in the eye of the beholder, but I find it comforting that they would pick her over a Hooters girl, which has about as many commercials as Wendy’s does in our area. I find it interesting to note that both boys have girlfriends they see as “the most beautiful” girls they know, neither girl is a glam girl. For my sons, appearance didn’t rate as high as having something in common to talk about and feeling comfortable together.

Would they approach even the wholesome, modestly dressed “Hot Wendy” if she walked into the eighth-grade dance? According to my boys and others I know, if a teenage boy finds any girl attractive for any reason he’s more likely to seek shelter in a far corner and try to calm himself via Gameboy therapy for the next two hours than approach her.

Quin, 9, has his own take on it all, “Girls who wear makeup just make me remember that clowns wear makeup.”

That’s where the epiphany came from that helped me understand the whole issue of girls and sexy body images in front of immature K-12 minds. Boys may be keenly interested in seeing pictures or videos of sexy looking girls and make bold comments, but when faced with such a creature, the prospect is both daunting and a bit of a turn-off.

It’s a lot like when a child loves Ronald McDonald on TV, but if taken to meet a live version at the store, the screaming and crying begin 50-feet away and don’t stop until you’re home.

I think that girls who go glam in middle and even high school trigger the scary clown instinct in boys and defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. Thus, my boys have always chosen girls they consider both approachable and comfortably within the realm of natural-looking for the objects of their affection.

Back in Readington, parent Charlotte Nijenhuis railed to the Courier News about the ban at Readington Middle School instituted by principal Sharon Moffat and backed by superintendent Barbara Sargent. According to the Courier News, Ms. Nijenhuis and other parents protested Tuesday night at the school board meeting, asking that the rule be suspended.

Nijenhuis also claimed in her interview with the Courier News that Moffat expressed worry that strapless dresses would “distract boys.” The parent said, “Ms. Moffat’s comment about ‘distraction’ to the boys is particularly offensive because it suggests that boys are not able to control — or ought not to be required to control — their behavior when in the presence of girls wearing strapless dresses. It is neither a woman’s nor a girl’s responsibility to control a man’s or boy’s behavior.”

“Girls are a distraction. Period. End of discussion,” said my Ian, 17, when shown the story on the Readington dress debacle. “It’s just basic chemistry.... If a girl’s there, she’s a distraction by nature to us. She could be in a snowsuit. In fact we’d pay more attention to her in a snowsuit because it’d be cool and unusual and not so alien.”

There you have it, the ugly truth about getting your pretty on to attract a boy. Mother Nature has already given you everything you need by simply making you female. Also, teen boys in a chaotic dance environment filled with girls are pre-distracted, by nature.

It’s a win-win situation. Girls can wear what they feel comfortable in with the understanding that a boy running from you doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t find you attractive. Boys — whoo-hoo, pay attention — boys can let us all take a breather from the uncommon scents of cologne. Hopefully moms and administrators can all go out for a burger and a laugh after the dance.  

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