Woe Is Me! “My Conservative Parents Restrict What I Wear. What Do I Do?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
I’m so tired of my conservative parents. I’m 17-years-old and I can’t tolerate my parents at all. I’m restricted to wear sleeveless at home because 1) my armpit hair disturbs them (I stopped waxing due to lockdown, so I just trim the hair); 2) the bra can’t be visible even a bit or they start giving me moral lessons. I can’t go and stand on my balcony in shorts or sleeveless [clothes]. My dramatic dad even said he feels like “dying” when someone comes home and sees me dressed like that. All my T-shirts are either “pocha kapda” or too nice to wear at home, or else I wouldn’t have to wear sleeveless every day. Also, it’s super hot here in Chennai almost throughout the year. What do I do?
— Stuck In a Corner
KB: I feel like I’m usually the one giving measured advice about putting things in perspective, and that things aren’t as bad as they seem. But honestly, this sounds terrible. This goes beyond the little tussles that parents and teenage children have about kids’ appearance; it really feels like your parents are being unreasonable restrictive and, frankly, annoying. There is only one way out of a relationship this one-sided and judgmental: moving out and becoming financially independent as soon as possible. Because you’re only 17, you’ve still got a few years to tolerate their preferences.You’ll have to handle those the same way most teenagers do (e.g., fight about it, dress how you want when they’re not looking, change after you leave the house, etc.). But after a few years of grinning-and-bearing it, you will want to find your own footing, your own space, and your own autonomy from this level of parental micro-management. Otherwise, I fear you will have a lifetime of arguing with two judgmental parents about your armpits.
RN: Hey, we’ve all been there and this is difficult to navigate — especially when you’re 17 and not likely to be taken seriously as an adult. If you share a better relationship with your parents outside of this aspect, it might be worth sitting down and having a conversation with them about this and asserting your independence. They should especially know that whatever their feelings are about this, there are certain things they cannot say to you — make your feelings known to them, if you can. If things aren’t that great, then do you have a trusted older sibling, cousin, aunt, or close family or friend whose help you can enlist? There could also be a middle ground here — find out what’s really bothering them? Is it the idea of you dressed in a certain way, period, or is it that they want you to be “presentable” for anyone who comes home? Knowing what the problem is may help you have a better conversation with them. The other strategy is of course to just do whatever you want anyway and go the rebellious route, if you’re prepared to take on the additional friction that might come with that. It is your body, after all, only you should be able to decide what to do with it!
AS: I’m sorry that you feel so trapped and frustrated. I wish I had advice that could immediately solve the problem, a quick fix to help you change your parents’ perspectives. But given the extremity of their reactions, it seems like their biases on “proper” dressing will be very difficult to root out. One approach you could take is to tone things down, and have a calm, relaxed conversation with them about this — about how times have changed since they were young, how dressing does not impact how safe/unsafe you may be inside or outside the home. You could pick a moment when they seem in a good mood, and make sure to draft sound arguments beforehand, so you don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Doing that will give you the assurance that at least you tried your best to understand their point of view and to make them understand yours. If things still don’t improve, it might be useful to just develop some thick skin towards their comments, and carry on dressing the way you want to. Because, what’s the worst that can happen? Carry on the resistance for long enough, and they might just give up on the lecturing. You’re a minor at the moment, but it won’t be long before you’re able to move out for higher education or employment, so, do your best to hang in there.
SK: Ah, this sounds oddly familiar to most Indian households and so unique at the same time. I sympathize with you — oddly enough, in the history of Indian families, no one has come up with a solution for how to navigate power dynamics within family. This is something very common in Indian households. You can try talking. Tell them you have your own autonomy, preferences, will to do what you like. This definitely warrants larger conservation and can be a good learning curve for your parents and also help improve your relationship with them. If not, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to wait it out. Some things to keep in mind tell then: arm pit hair, or any kind of body hair, are super normal and you shouldn’t feel ashamed irrespective of the disdainful looks you might get; sleeveless t-shirts or shorts are fun and airy and feel like a necessity in this heat, so even if makes your dad want to “kill” himself, don’t give up on them. Get a college experience, discover your independence, and hopefully, this experience won’t mar your understanding of yourself, your clothes, or the world.
OG: It’s a tough road ahead. Unfortunately, you’re not technically an adult yet and as much as I hate to say it, you may have to stick it out at your house for at least one more year. Dealing with families can be tricky because you are still financially dependent on them. So this is what I suggest, get through it for one more year. While you are home, use this time to chalk out a long-term plan of where you can go to study so that you can go off to college in a different city. Also, choose your course carefully, it should be something you are good at and something that you are fairly sure you will be able to make a living on. The first step towards tackling any kind of oppression is to have the financial strength of your own. It may not be a lot but you will need to have enough to pay your own bills and as soon as you can, move out of your parent’s place. While you are at home, choose your battles very carefully. Don’t throw fits but try reasoning with them as an adult and not about everything, some things you are just going to have to either give in to or go against them anyway and develop a thick skin. Be careful not to antagonize them to the point where they feel they can’t let you go to a different city or that they aren’t ready to fund your tuition. During your years at college make the most of it by taking up relevant internship opportunities. Sometimes the organizations can end up giving you a job by the time you graduate and that’s a huge step towards your way out. Sadly I can’t think of an immediate solution but in a year’s time, you may just be able to turn things around for yourself. Wish you the best!
DR: The ideal solution to this is to educate your parents about not associating a woman’s “worth” or “values” with what she wears — but that process could take years. Social conditioning isn’t easy to shake off. The easiest solution to this, on the other hand, is to move out. But given that you’re just 17, I’m guessing that isn’t really an option. I’m not sure if you’re in college, but even if you were, you’d probably be stuck at home with your parents under lockdown, just like most college-going, hostel-dwelling students right now. But in case you’re already in college, hopefully, classroom learning will resume soon and you’ll get a respite from staying at home. If, however, you’re not, I would suggest you start applying to colleges far away from home — so that you get out of your present living arrangement when things open up. If that’s somehow not possible, and you absolutely have to stay with them for a few years, I’d suggest you start educating them that what you wear is none of their business — if not directly, maybe, slyly direct them to videos and articles, or even memes, explaining these. In the meantime, you can try to figure out ways to get a job far, far away from them once you’re graduate college.