Ask Julia: My teen is wearing short shorts – HELP!

3 min read

Dear Julia,

My 17-year-old has been wearing really short shorts all summer, and every time I’ve brought it up with her has ended in a fight. I need help. I made a mistake early on by blaming her really messy room on why she can’t find her clothes that fit. I think of myself a progressive parent and have never said these shorts will cause her to be objectified. Heck, I would even be OK if she wanted to wear a thong to the beach, but she’s had these shorts since she was 15, and now there’s a squeeze going on at the lower edge of the shorts. I think it looks cheap, and must be uncomfortable. She says she can move and sit and feels comfortable in them, but I don’t buy it.


Hi El:

This is a tough question and situation, especially given her age and forthcoming independence. The length of girl’s shorts has been controversial for years. Parents have contested the “fingertip” rule in schools, and compared the lengths of shorts designed for girls versus boys. You can read more about this herehere, and here. The topic has also rendered a contentious debate about school dress codes and sexism. For example, last fall, a group of middle school girls in Maryland protested their school’s dress code by designing t-shirts that read: “I am more than a distraction.” I applaud their advocacy; our society is quick to shame girls for what they wear, which never solves anything.

Reading over your question, it sounds like there is a lot more to this story.

It’s tricky to ask a teen if she’s comfortable in her clothes without implying something negative about her body size. She may be perfectly comfortable in her shorts and feel confident about her body. If that is the case, hooray. In fact, most teens will not wear something if they think it looks terrible on them. She may feel pressure to dress like her peers, or wear the same clothing brands which may not offer a lot of variety.

Whatever the reason (if there is one), if you want to discuss this further with your daughter, timing and tact of broaching the conversation is critical. Try to refrain from talking about it in a public dressing room, or when she’s wearing said shorts, or walking out of the door to go somewhere – as this will almost certainly cause a fight. Perhaps you could pull up one of the aforementioned articles during an inconspicuous time and ask for her opinion. If she attends a school that does not require uniforms, inquire about the dress code policy and how it is enforced. Or, ask what she would do if accused of being a “distraction” to guys. Sometimes provoking focused anger in a teen can lead to advocacy and change. Other times, they could care a less about what you are saying. It’s the nature of the beast, right?

Finally, I suggest you spend some time reflecting upon your reactions to this situation and where they might be rooted. Are you uncomfortable with her body size and/or what she is wearing? Ponder what is bothering you the most about your daughter’s clothes and what might be underneath. Keep digging. That may give you further insight and help the situation more than picking a fight about her room…


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Dr. Julia V. Taylor is a Counselor Educator at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. She is author of The Body Image Workbook for Teens, The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Salvaging Sisterhood, G.I.R.L.S: Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development, and a children’s book, Perfectly You.  She can be reached at

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