A Letter to our Teenage Daughters About How They Dress

Dear Girls,

Can we have an honest conversation about something that might be a little awkward? It’s not about sex . . . at least directly. But it is about boys and sex and what they think when they see girls, and all the images that swirl around in their brains. It’s an especially important conversation because, as I was scrolling through social media the other day, I couldn’t help but feel a burden for you when I saw picture after picture from a recent school dance—and there was one common factor in all of them.

Girls wearing short, short (short, short, short!) skirts and dresses. As in “don’t bother trying to pick up anything on the floor if you drop it” kind of outfits.

Oh, girls, I know you might not want to hear this. And I can understand why your first gut reaction may be to think, “I can wear whatever I want and it’s no one’s business but my own.” I used to think that, too. But I need to let you in on a few discoveries I made when I interviewed thousands of men and teenage boys for my books For Women Only and For Young Women Only. And I think the results might surprise you a little (or possibly A LOT!)

Ready or not, here they are:

Discovery #1: A Guy Can’t Not Be Tempted By The Sight

Picture the most honorable guy you know; someone who is kind, mature, and really respects girls. Do you have him in your mind?

When he sees you, all done up with great hair and makeup and heels—and THAT dress—he’s going to automatically want to look at you. Nearly all guys admitted that they couldn’t “not be attracted” to a girl near them who had a great body (only 4% said they were unaffected).

“What’s wrong with that? I want to look attractive. Who wouldn’t?” you might be thinking. I get that. But read on. Because here is what is actually happening in his brain.

When that guy sees you—this attractive girl who is drawing attention to her figure (even though you may not think of it that way)—a part of his brain called the nucleus accumbens is automatically stimulated. Instantly, even the most honorable guy is instinctively tempted to want to visually take in, linger on and fantasize about all the details of this great body he’s seeing. That doesn’t mean he does that (we’ll get into that in a moment), but he is instantly tempted to.  

Even if he doesn’t want to be tempted. Even if he wants to be honorable and not think of you that way.

And he’s not the only guy in the room. So if you dress in a barely-there outfit, not only your date but every other guy in the room (and not to freak you out, but EVEN the dads who are there at the picture party) sees you, notices how little you’re wearing and has the same temptation.

After taking pictures before a dance recently, a friend reached out and said her husband was still reeling from how short the dresses were in the group of about 30 kids heading to their event. As a father, he was horrified that the boys were going to be having to fight that visual temptation all night. And because he’s a man, he understands exactly what that visual temptation is. Let’s tackle that next.

Discovery #2 A Guy is Automatically Tempted to Sexually Fantasize About the Good Body He’s Seen

Take a deep breath, ladies, because this is what we are most clueless about: even the most honorable guy is tempted to imagine what you look like underneath that dress. Or that low-cut top. Or those leggings.

If the dress is a bit longer, the top less revealing, or you’re wearing something that covers more of the leggings, that center in his brain isn’t biologically triggered, and that temptation doesn’t arise in the same way. But if he is seeing that super-short dress over your beautiful body, he is tempted to picture just your body, totally unclothed. On our survey, 85% of the anonymous guys surveyed admitted they might be imagining the girl naked. And let’s just say it: the guy is tempted to picture you that way, with him.

Also, keep in mind that this is not just your date or your boyfriend. This is any guy—all your guy friends from school, your friend’s brother, his father, and the total strangers at the restaurant while you’re eating dinner before the dance. One told us, “When we see a hot girl, the first 10 seconds of a guy’s thoughts are pretty raw. We go straight into fantasy mode. And we have to really work to pull things back.”

Now, the fact that this is a temptation is no excuse for a guy giving into it! There is no excuse for a guy’s poor behavior. Hear me on this: I am not blaming you for anything. What you are wearing is not the cause of a guy’s poor choices. Those choices are his alone. But as the mom of a teenage girl, who has interviewed and surveyed thousands of teenage girls and guys, I want you to be aware of this knowledge that you probably didn’t know before.

Discovery #3: There IS a Difference Between Temptation and Sin

I know not everyone shares my Christian faith. But let’s go to how God describes all this for a minute.

You may be surprised that most guys (including guys you like and trust, who are honorable, kind, and sweet) are tempted in this way. It’s important to remember that these involuntary temptations are not sins. It’s how their brains are wired. But what is done with these temptations is the issue.

And this is where we go back to thinking about the most honorable guy you know.  He probably wants to honor you and respect you—including in his thought life. The problem is, the sensual images and the sensual temptation arrives involuntarily in his mind even though he probably doesn’t want it there. And at that moment, he has to make a choice: he can either enjoy and dwell on the feelings associated with these thoughts and images, OR do the necessary work to get rid of them. And many, many guys do.  

One guy told us how difficult it is when they have these images popping up in their heads and how much he wanted to respect the girls around them. He said, “Entertaining the naked image of a girl I know would do injustice to her.”

One young man from our church seemed to withdraw into himself as he was talking about it. “I hate this temptation,” he said, quietly. “I wish I could turn it off. But it’s on every Netflix show. Every class. And I like the girls in my class. I don’t want to be a jerk to them.”

While few guys can stop these involuntary images from popping up in their heads, they can exercise the strength and discipline to stop themselves from continuing to think about them.

So here’s the question for you, ladies: Is it safe to say that with these guys we care about, who are working to respect us, in a culture that is already quite difficult for them, maybe we should consider how we might help them in that process?

How You Can Help #1: Put Yourself In His Shoes

So what can you do to help the guys with this issue? Go to Prom in a turtleneck and overalls? Of course not! But there are a few things you can do:

Put yourselves in a guy’s shoes. What must it be like to have to constantly be concerned about dishonoring the girls you know and care about? A teacher once told me that in order to help the girls in her high school class realize how difficult it was for the boys to avoid looking at the girls this way, she placed a bunch of candy in front of the room. She told the girls it was there but they were not allowed to look at it and if they did, they would have to write sentences as a consequence. As a result, many of the girls received the assignment of extra sentences and all the girls eventually put folders in front of their faces to avoid seeing the obvious stack of candy at the front of the room. She asked, “How many of you had a hard time not looking at the candy? How many of you wanted some candy?” And all the girls raised their hands. It gave them a tangible example of what boys go through every day when they saw girls wearing revealing clothing—even the nicest boys have to fight that temptation.

How You Can Help #2: As You Choose Clothes, Keep In Mind The Difference Between Beautiful And Sexual

Now that you’re trying to put yourself in a guy’s shoes—especially thinking about that honorable guy who wants to respect the girls around him!—just keep that in mind as you are choosing what to wear each day. If you’re not calling overt attention to your body, that center in a guy’s brain isn’t automatically triggered. Instead, you look cute, you look beautiful—not sexual.

For example, it makes a major difference if the skirt isn’t quite as short, or if you add a cute cami under that shirt that doesn’t quite reach your jeans. There’s no need to go into detail: you can figure it out just fine. The key is to simply be aware.

(Also, now that you know this: give your school or your parents a break for their dress codes! Dress codes may be clumsy and annoying, but they usually exist—at least in part—to try to help girls and guys on this issue.)

How You Can Help #3: Pray For The Guys You Know

Girls, now that you’ve put yourself in a guy’s shoes, how do you feel about it? Some of you may be annoyed, and are determined to misunderstand what I’m saying. (If you think I’m giving guys a pass, saying “boys will be boys, they can’t help it”, or that I’m shaming you, then go back and read this article again!)

But I believe many more of you are now aware of how hard the honorable guys are working to respect girls and honor God in their thought lives. And you’re probably angry on their behalf that they are having to work so hard. I’m sure the guys you know would appreciate your prayers.

Thank you for caring. Thank you for treating the guys you know with the same honor that you want from them.

It’s so hard to be a teenager these days, isn’t it? But you have the ability to make a huge difference. Go and do it. Be brave by being compassionate. Be smart and beautiful and kind. Be yourself. And be the kind of young woman who loves others by respecting how God created them.

Your friend,


Looking for encouragement for your life and relationships? Learn about the little things that make a big difference in every relationship, from marriages to parenting. Subscribe to updates from Shaunti here!

Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).

Her latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.

Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

This article was first published at Patheos.

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  1. Girls (and women) need to understand that there should be a difference between “attractive” and “alluring” in the way they dress. I would even go further. “Attractive” indicates a desire to attract. Attract whom? And with what intended results? Women can be pretty without crossing the line into “attractive” (usually a poorly defined word) or into “alluring.”

    1. To be blunt, this comment tells me you are not a safe person to be around. You do not see women as made in God’s image first, but as temptations always “crossing the line”. Yuck.

  2. So glad I only have a son in high school at this time so I don’t have to worry about people fretting and making judgmental comments about my daughter.
    I live in a fairly liberal area and went to a “picture party” to see my son and his date. Almost all of the girls were wearing floor length dresses. I was in high school once. Prom dresses were almost matronly back then. Men still had lustful thoughts and were dishonoring thoughts about women. There were still busybodies back then who would point out the girls who weren’t modest. Contrary to what I see you right in your books, young women can have lustful thoughts about the most good looking guys in their tuxes.
    Your candy example does not relate here, because only the girls themselves are responsible for taking care of the temptation. And if they don’t they will be shamed as gluttonous or letting themselves go when they they are older.
    Wearing an extra cami doesn’t automatically make thoughts go away.
    Instead of grown men fretting over what teens wear, why don’t they just pause and say to themselves “That young woman is created by God” and move on. So glad my husband hasn’t ever made comments like the grown men in your post.
    And we wonder why women don’t want to breastfeed later or have trouble with sex when we want to shame them for the parts God created them with. Its funny that only the men in your post are to be respected for how “God created them”.
    As a person who wore a school uniform, dress codes often have a women are less than element to them. Not saying there shouldn’t a dress code, but use caution in how you explain them. Treating young women who have done nothing wrong as would be Jezebels usually doesn’t work out well in the long run.
    Its funny how your post is all about the men. As a woman who was heavily encouraged to dress modestly as a young woman, what you write about modesty doesn’t really work how you say it does. Men can and will treat women like objects no matter what they are wearing.

      1. She’s right on. This message would be much better delivered as an encouragement to dress with dignity. It is not a young girl’s individual responsibility to manage the thought life of every male around her. Women generally feel better about themselves anyway when they dress in a way that is beautiful or cute, instead of a sexually explicit outfit. However, they have no way of controlling the personal temptations of men who see them. If men are tempted by physical ratios (hourglass), then even a cover-all outfit will be tempting. If women are to be encouraged to not tempt men, then burkas seem a better option . . .
        And, by the way, Christians are faced with temptation every day. Some of these are very strong for both men and women (drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling addictions, ect . . .). The responsibility to resist is still on the Christian who is being tempted, not the source of temptation (corner drug stores, alcohol sitting out at another person’s house, advertisements for the lottery, ect . . .). Granted, if there is a situation where one Christian is aware of another specific Christian’s struggle with a specific sin, then the brother/sister in Christ definitely shouldn’t intentionally tempt the weaker Christian. However, this can’t be extrapolated to strangers and people who don’t know each other and aren’t even interacting in any way (such as the high-school dance). Love and sympathy for girls who don’t know how to dress in such a way as to present themselves as ladies seems like the better way to approach this situation.

    1. I agree! I’m dumbfounded that this article is still out on the Internet, causing harm to young girls. So saddening. I am at a loss for words as to how harmful this is!

  3. There is a tie in here to one of your other themes, kindness. Girls today are remarkably unkind to the men around them. I work on a college campus, and I realize all that guys have to go through to just learn something. It would be like if guys carried around bluetooth speakers with the volume turned up, and walked into class, the dining hall, or the library. Girls would be the first to say that was rude to be so distracted. So, it is time for guys to start telling it like it is. It is not kind to wear something revealing, and if you are so self-centered, unkind, and inconsiderate, I don’t want a relationship with you, no matter how you look.

  4. Let me be honest…. I’m a man nearly 60 years old, and I work at a high school….. in the spring time I’m either embarrassed, or made to feel like I’m a pervert (in my mind)…… I hate being put into either……… thanks for this column, please don’t push us into these kind of feelings, young ladies……..

    1. Sounds like the blame is yours then. Jesus himself said if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. He doesn’t say anything about the young ladies causing you to have perverted thoughts. That’s on you. Perhaps you need a different line of work in order to protect those high school, minor aged girls. Thanks for outing yourself, though.

    2. Pushing you? Whew. Sounds like you’ve flushed personal responsibility down the toilet. How about look the girls in the eyes and see them as humans with souls, not just a body?

    3. Wow – where’s your personal responsibility? Perhaps you may be a 12 year old living in a grown man’s body? The girls are not pushing you into this – you get to choose!

  5. Wow! There are no words to describe just how far off base you are with this demoralizing letter to young women. To even consider blaming them for causing boys and men to “stumble” is ridiculous. Seeing is not the same as lusting. “Dads” are not ogling young girls and undressing them in their minds and if they are there is a bigger problem here. This is one letter that I definitely will not let my daughter read! Males and females were created in the image of God. God did not inherently make men not be able to look at females without lasting nor did he make females a stumbling block to men. Let’s teach our young women that they are full of worth in God’s eyes and that men, Christian or non-Christian should look at females as humans and that females are NEVER at fault!

    1. I agree! This letter infuriates me. I, too, would never allow my daughters to read it. They dress modestly because they know they are worthy and loved, not for the sake of the boys around them.

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