Mom topics

Who wears short shorts? Your daughter ... in P.E. class

April 3, 2013 at 10:56 AM ET

I recently took my 12-year-old daughter to a local sporting goods store to buy shorts she could wear to volleyball practice. What I found would make a Hooters girl blush.

Call me old-fashioned, but a girl’s gym shorts ought to be longer than her underwear. They ought not require a bikini wax. And this was not at the too-cool-for-your-mother mall store. We found these in the aisles of the athletic store.

Title IX was supposed to instill confidence and determination and in our girls. How exactly do shorty shorts do this?

To make matters worse, there is little middle ground in the shorts genre. They are either so skimpy you may as well send your daughter to school in her bathing suit or so long and unfashionable she will be mistaken for Amish. Some moms have resorted to sewing their own. Others provide modesty by pairing biker shorts underneath the trendy short shorts. “Too tight plus too short equals just right,” says Mari Farthing, a family magazine publisher in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Others moms, like Jen Fisher, are so disgusted with the options for girls’ clothing they have given up on pink and purple, shopping in the boys’ department for appropriate coverage. Fisher recently bought a pair of plain black and gray boy shorts for her six-year-old daughter. The girl may not like them, but Fisher says, “She'll just have to deal.”

Rebecca Chanyi is a Chicago mom to two boys and a sporty 13-year-old girl. She’s not happy about the trend for shorter and shorter shorts. “There is some perverted man making girls fashion decisions,” she says. “You would figure they wouldn't skank up athletic wear.”

Some athletic wear emphasizes the "short" in short shorts.
Courtesy of Kavita Varma-White
Some athletic wear emphasizes the "short" in short shorts.

Exactly my point. How is a girl supposed to lunge for a ball in these without pulling an Anne Hathaway?

No one in the apparel industry wants to talk about the trend toward shorter and shorter shorts but one retailer said confidentially that the company would no longer be ordering shorts with longer than a three inch inseam, because those longer styles simply don’t sell. Nike did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

When Bellevue, Wash., mom Laura McKean first went to buy her 14-year-old daughter shorts for dance class, she admits she was taken aback by how small they were. They are commonly referred to as “booty shorts,” fitted shorts worn for dance or yoga, and you see them in the dance studio on girls whether they are size 0 or size 16, she says.

But, she never considered not letting her daughter wear them.

“I love that my daughter feels totally comfortable in her skin while doing something athletic. All the girls in her studio, they aren’t trying to hide their bodies. They are owning it and feeling confident in their skin,” McKean says. “It’s the rest of us who are attaching a sexual undertone to it.”

She adds that the short shorts battle isn’t one she chooses to fight, given what’s at stake.

“These girls are out there running, sprinting, dancing in them. We should be thankful they are on the field or in the studio,” she says. “I’m so happy she is there.”

Fortunately, my daughter and I were able to agree on a pair of shorts with a little more coverage, this time.

But what about the next time? And the time after that? She's 12. My influence still counts for quite a lot, and that won't likely last much longer.

I'm not sure which battles I will ultimately choose, but I suspect we have many fashion negotiations ahead.

What do you think of short shorts for sports?

Lela Davidson is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA and Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? Her thoughts on marriage, motherhood, and life-after-40 have appeared in hundreds of magazines, websites, and anthologies.

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