Messages to Boys about Girls' Fashions

May 23, 2013

By Dan Coulter

I recently wrote an article about the challenges parents face helping their young daughters make appropriate clothing choices in the face of increasing fashion industry pressure to look and dress “sexy.”

     Another side to this issue is the effect this pressure has on young boys.

     It's not just from the fashion industry. Boys get messages from advertising for non-clothing products, such as commercials where girls in bikinis fawn over young men who drink the right beer or wear the right cologne. And from raw comedians who dive headfirst into politically incorrect humor that treats women as objects. Even as women are making tremendous strides toward equality, many fashions for women – even for professional women – trend toward “sexy.” In itself, this clothing trend is not necessarily negative. Women and men should be able to make their own judgments about what clothing is appropriate for them.

     However, young girls have a natural tendency to want to dress like older girls and women, and some clothing companies are happy to turn this to their advantage. Even parents who would prefer more modest clothing for their daughters may make compromises based on current styles and what girls want to wear. This can make it especially confusing for boys with Asperger Syndrome to understand how they're expected to relate to girls.

     What do we tell our sons?

     The truth.

     Here are some suggested messages to share:

     Companies that sell clothing try to influence people to buy their products in many ways. One way is to associate clothing with sex. You can see advertizements for both men and women that feature revealing clothing. The word “sexy” has developed a broader definition that means, “exciting or interesting.” Over the last few years, companies have been marketing sexy clothing to younger and younger boys and girls.

     Wearing certain clothing can send non-verbal messages. Men and women who wear a nice suit might be sending the message that they are successful. But they also might not be intentionally sending any message. They might be wearing a nice suit because it's expected in their workplaces.

     It's currently fashionable for younger girls to wear sexy styles. But you can't assume that a girl or woman who dresses in revealing or sexy clothing is sending messages about sex. When I was in high school, it became the fashion for boys to wear a nice shirt and old, beat-up blue jeans. It would have been a mistake to assume that all the boys who followed this fashion did so because they couldn't afford nice pants. It was just the style.

     Sexuality is complicated. Even people who do not have Asperger Syndrome can have a difficult time figuring out how the non-verbal messages people of the opposite gender are sending in the way they dress and act. A girl dressed in sexy clothing may simply be wearing the current style and not be sending any messages at all. Or she might be sending a social message to impress a specific person she wants to date, or to fit in with a circle of friends.

     But you can't assume that message is intended for you. You certainly can't assume the way she dresses tells you how she thinks or feels or expects to be treated. Making comments or jokes about how a girl dresses puts you at serious risk of alienating her and others. Even if you want to compliment a girl on how she dresses, it's best to get counsel from your mom, an older sister, or some other experienced female about what is and is not okay to say. Something you intend as a compliment might be taken as an insult. Checking it out in advance is good insurance.

     If you want girls to relate to you, interact with you, and – at some point – start to date you, your best approach is to treat them as you want to be treated, as a person who deserves respect. This applies no matter how a girl is dressed. Finding ways to get to know girls, like talking to them about something that happened in a class you share, or joining clubs where you can meet people who share your interests, is a good start.

     It's natural to take notice of people who wear sexy clothing. But that doesn't tell you who they are. Putting yourself in a position where you can meet people and get to know them gives you the opportunity to be attracted by who they are, and not just how they look. And being attracted by who a person is makes it a lot more likely that person will also be attracted to you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the producer of 11 DVDs about Asperger Syndrome and autism, including, "Asperger Syndrome for Dads," and the "Intricate Minds" series that help classmates understand students who think differently.  You can read more articles on his website: coultervideo.com.

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