Last week, our seventeen-year-old daughter sang at an Eisteddfod. She’s in Year Twelve and hopes to pursue classical singing after school. She always takes care with how she presents herself for a performance, and for this item, she chose a pretty strapless dress (no cleavage) that came to just above her knee, with a pair of heeled sandals. I thought her frock suited her age and the song, and that she looked lovely.
Our daughter sang, and at the end of the section, we waited for the adjudicator’s comments and decision. Almost immediately, she launched into a diatribe about how girls should dress when performing. Her list of what to wear included that their dresses should cover their knees and shoulders, and they should wear stockings because, ‘We don’t want to see your flesh’.
‘This is classical music,’ she said. ‘Not Lady Ga Ga.’
On and on she ranted, while my daughter sat beside me, shrinking with humiliation as the only contestant not in stockings and not wearing a dress that covered her knees or shoulders.
I wanted to stand up, then and there, and say, ‘Hey, can you just talk about the singing?’
Actually, that’s not what I wanted to say at all—I was seething. I wanted to tell this woman to stop publicly humiliating my daughter. That my daughter had put thought and care into her appearance, and would she stop criticising her in front of everyone—if she had an issue with my daughter’s dress, could she do it privately.
I wanted to ask her, too, why she was so offended by a bit of flesh. To tell her that, as far as I’m aware, no one has died from seeing a bare shoulder, or a naked knee, or even some cleavage at an Eisteddfod.
I wanted to ask her had she been to the Concert Hall lately, and seen what the soloists are wearing. To tell her that the image of Classical music is changing.
I wanted to tell her to stop putting her older woman values onto my teenage daughter. That the girls feel frumpy in calf-length skirts with their shoulders covered, and that they don’t want to stand up on a stage in front of an audience looking like an old woman.
I wanted to tell her that when they feel good about how they look, they sing better, too.
I particularly wanted to say, Stop telling young women they have to hide their bodies. I grew up hearing it, hearing judgements made about girls who dressed like ‘tarts’, and I thought society had moved on, that girls could now bare their flesh without being judged.
But I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut and, before my daughter’s next performance, I dragged her shopping to find something ‘appropriate’ for her to wear, something that met the guidelines. She hated everything she tried on and we came home empty-handed. Afterwards, we had our first ever argument over clothes, which ended when she said, ‘Why haven’t you said any of this before?’
‘Because I really don’t care what you wear,’ I said. ‘I’m just trying to please someone else.’
It’s taken me a couple of days to shake it all off.
For the first time, it’s hit me that people will be only too willing to judge my daughter not by how good she is at what she does, but by what she looks like. That upsets me a lot. My daughter studying Medicine will be able to wear whatever she likes, and will only ever be judged by how well she does her job.*
The other thing that’s crawled under my skin is how older people feel they have a right to judge the clothing of younger people. And how, when they do, they feel the need to tell the younger person their opinion, to force that younger person to dress according to their standards. For goodness’ sake, what is so offensive about seeing someone’s knees? Or stockingless legs?
I’ve never heard of the boot being on the other foot: of a younger person telling an older person how they should dress.
‘Undo that top button and show us your cleavage?’ Or ‘Hitch that skirt up, we want to see your thighs.’
Imagine how uncomfortable an older person would feel up on stage in a short skirt, strapless top and heels.
It goes the other way, too—young people don’t want to dress like old women.
A few decades’ ago, I watched an interview with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa on ’60 Minutes’. I’ll never forget her saying she wished she could be like Tina Turner and strut about onstage in a miniskirt and high heels.
I have great difficulty tolerating intolerance, and I can’t abide the public shaming of anyone. Quite apart from the fact it was unnecessary, this woman had no right to criticise my daughter’s, or anyone else’s, dress publicly.
Every now and then, something happens that jars with a core value of mine, and I feel the need to write about it. All young women have a right to dress how they please, and express themselves through their clothing. They shouldn’t have to dress to please prescriptive older women with delicate sensibilities.
To any young woman reading this: If people judge you based on your appearance and can’t hear the beauty in your voice, or see the passion in your soul, or how good you are at what you do, because all they can see is a short, tight dress, then they’re the ones missing out.
And if I ever become an older, bigoted lady, please tell me to mind my own business, that I have no right to judge, that it’s only clothes, and that the world has changed since I was young. Encourage me to keep up with the world of tomorrow because if I don’t, I’ll be left behind and I’ll be the one who misses out.
Above all, wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop judging others, particularly girls and women, by their appearance?
I may look like a frumpy, middle-aged lady, but know that inside my conservative appearance is a teenage girl who wanted to wear a short, tight skirt and stilettos, but never had the confidence or courage to do it.
*Unfortunately, this statement doesn’t appear to be true. I’m hearing how comments about the way women dress are rife in the Medical arena, too.
I can’t believe that we haven’t moved past this as a society, and it’s so important that we still have eloquent writers, brave writers, like yourself in the world to draw our attention to it. I am outraged on your daughter’s behalf, as I always thinks she looks like a star!
Thanks, Em. She looked beautiful, completely appropriate, and the whole rant was totally unnecessary. But more than that, adjudicators’ comments shouldn’t be directed towards the girls’ outfits anyway.
Those adjudicators can sometimes be appalling, Louise. My daughters performed in public speaking gigs at times and although they were never challenged on their dress code they were sometimes challenged on ridiculous things like not being funny, when their topic was serious. It’s a strange world, but this incident you describe here certainly takes the cake. Things like this set feminism back, and from a woman too. Shame on her.
I know what you’re saying, Elisabeth, and it just goes to show that we women still have a long way to go. I think, too, that it’s the women who are the toughest on other women. A funny anecdote from this performance, is that a group of older men from a choir were sitting in the front rows, and when Alex finished, they wolf-whistled—her song was meant to be seductive! I suppose that’s another ‘No-No’ for a ‘Classical Music’ audience, but at least they enjoyed it!
What?? When are they going to stop raising corpses from their graves to adjudicate Eisteddfods? Silly old bat. Your daughter has an exquisite voice (I heard her on the video you put up) and is gorgeous. Take it with a grain of salt. Aren’t blogs wonderful for releasing frustration at outrageous stupidity. I find mine to be very therapeutic and I hope you feel better now. An out-dated prude, that’s what the adjudicator is.
Thanks, Michelle! Blogs are wonderfully therapeutic, aren’t they, and I do feel much better now. Thank you!
If there was a dress code re bare shoulders, knees, whatever, it should have been stated clearly BEFORE anyone took the stage. Even so, a tirade like this is inappropriate, unprofessional and downright disappointing. I feel for your daughter and hope she knows that there are legions of us older women who don’t agree with that harridan’s opinions or behaviour one whit!
Yes, that’s true, but I don’t think you’d be able to state a dress code, as the lines are blurring all the time. I think it would be better to tell the adjudicators they are not to comment on anyone’s clothing. I went to write appearance instead of clothing, but posture, hands, etc., are important in singing, and it’s appropriate to comment on that.
I hear you, Louise. I thought she looked sophisticated and elegant, certainly nothing to incite a diatribe like that. But even so, the comments should have been directed towards the singing. That’s what was being judged. And your included photos said it all – the poor adjudicator would probably swoon if she watched BOND in action – they certainly don’t hold back when it comes to mixing classical with sensuality and sexuality. Bring out the smelling salts!
Thanks, Monique. Yes, the image of Classical Music has changed and is still changing, and most people think that’s a good thing because it’s losing its elitism and pomposity, and all the things that scare audiences away. It’s become acceptable to clap between movements, for example, and to stamp your feet at the end, and yes, even wolf-whistle!
The adjudicator should never have mentioned clothing, particularly in the manner she did.
This sour, embittered woman should be ashamed of her tirade directed at a talented young woman. You have to wonder at anyone who feels the need to humiliate someone who doesn’t hold the same position of power. If your daughter’s outfit breached some dress code, then it should be brought to her attention in private. I don’t blame you for being outraged. I hope your daughter can shrug this unpleasant event off and that she doesn’t believe that all older people share such anachronistic views on how a person should dress.
Yes, the adjudicator needs to be more careful with what she says and how she says it, I agree, to avoid publicly humiliating someone. There is no dress code for these things, particularly for Under 18’s, when they’re still at school and can’t possibly have a wardrobe for performing.
The adjudicator obviously has her own beef with the way young performers dress and, in my opinion, she needs to get over it. My daughter’s dress didn’t offend anyone or breach any code, nor did anyone else’s, and even if they had, this is not the way to deal with it.
I’m so sorry you and your daughter had to go through this experience. On the other hand, I’m so glad you spoke up. OK, maybe not in the moment, but voicing these feelings is very liberating – for you and others who have a chance to reflect on what they might have done in the moment. I’d probably did the same and fumed a lot afterwards. I’m still learning to speak up in the moment…
Thanks, Gulara. I wish I’d spoken up in the moment, too, but sometimes it pays to wait and think before opening your mouth! I did complain about it to the organiser—body-shaming girls is not on!
Great, Louise, I’m sure many girls will benefit from you speaking up!
I couldn’t stay silent over this one!
Brilliant post Louise, I am sorry your daughter and you were subjected to this inappropriate behaviour. Clearly that woman has no interpersonal skills. I hope she falls off the stage into the instruments, that’s all I’m saying. I hope you send her an email stating your concerns and her inappropriate behaviour. Your daughter rocks tell her that please from us x
Oh, Rae! I complained to the organiser of the Eisteddfod, and let him know that body-shaming young women is no longer acceptable.
You crack me up, Rae.
Something is awfully wrong with this woman the adjudicator, and everything is wonderful right about your daughter and her choice of dress for the Eisteddfod—womanly, flattering, and attractive. For heaven’s sake, your daughter was performing on a stage; she wasn’t at a job interview or being an attendant at a funeral.
Being on stage, does demand a certain kind of dress. All the great female singers throughout history have typically worn clothes that celebrate the fact that they’re women. To name a few: Ella Fitzgerald, Jessie Norman, Bessie Smith, Sheyn Regis, and on it goes. Your daughter was dressed most appropriately. As for the adjudicator….sounds to me like she felt she could with impunity give a lecture on dress regulations somewhat reminiscent of the late 19th century.
I wish your daughter all the best with her singing career. Tell her from me to wear what she feels is best for her. And thank God, she has you in her corner, Louise!
Thanks, Marlish! I thought she looked lovely. She wasn’t even dressed in a way that could possibly offend anyone, except someone who has an aversion to any visible ‘flesh’.
Like you, I love seeing women onstage celebrating their loveliness, and those you named knew how to do it. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating your sex—for goodness’ sake, the composers wrote some pretty saucy stuff to celebrate it with!
I probably should have told people about the song my daughter sang that night, ‘Vedrai Carino’ by Mozart. It’s from Don Giovanni. Don Giovanni, womaniser that he is, has been beaten up and Zerlina, a young peasant girl, is singing to him. She tells him she has a special balm for him that will cure him, if he’ll let her. It ends with her asking him: ‘Do you want to know where I keep it? Feel it beating, put your hand here.’ It’s actually very seductive, yet she’s meant to wear neck-to-knee and stockings while singing it! Ridiculous!
I feel as outraged as you (and all these other lovely, supportive readers you have) …I’m not sure I would have had as much self control as you.
As a side note I remember very clearly being publicly humiliated on a ward round by the charge nurse who told me my shorts (tailored and dressy) were inappropriate for an intern to wear (interestingly the boys shorts were never an issue)
It’s very hard to make a fuss in public like that. I tend to bite my tongue and think before I react, and only complain if it’s still troubling me after a couple of days. Sometimes, I’ve even waited weeks!
It’s telling that it was a woman who told you about your shorts being inappropriate—we’re our own worst enemy sometimes. I’m hearing that although as a doctor I was never spoken to about the way I dressed, a number of female doctors were. No one needed to speak to me, I was always so drab and conservatively dressed anyway!
What a beautiful, provocative post. My eldest is only eight, so I have all of this to look forward to, but it must be a terrifying dance between convincing girls to respect and love themselves, to dress for themselves or to dress for the occasion, to be aware of others and to play to their own tune. Sometimes these will fall into alignment, othe times they will be at odds. That judge was in the wrong, not your beautiful daughter, but I see how she might just think she was trying to help. The entire debate is fraught.
You’re right—you do have to think about the occasion when dressing. But I think most girls understand that, and there has to be a bit of leeway. Girls’ tastes mature naturally, too, as their bodies change—as ours did.
If you think someone dresses inappropriately habitually, you have a tactful word in their ear in private. There was nothing inappropriate about the way the girls were dressed this night, nor was the advice given in a helpful, constructive, sensitive, or private way—it was a full-on rant, and she was on her soap box! There was a sense that the sight of their flesh was mighty offensive. She was also getting quite nitpicky. When talking about stockings, for example, she told them they had to wear them but not flesh-coloured ones, because ‘We can tell you’re wearing them!’ Damned if they do, damned if they don’t!
The irony is that this adjudicator has one quite defining feature, which I won’t name because it will give away her anonymity. But it’s how she chooses to express herself, and I applaud her for it. I don’t like hearing disparaging comments behind her back. No one has the right to judge her for how she chooses to look—she should be able to express herself this way if she wants. Unfortunately, she can’t see that although she’s free to express herself how she likes, she’s judging the girls for doing the same with their clothes.
Louise, I’ve just re read this and although I’ve already commented, I’ve gotta say again how brilliant it is!!! I’d love to see it in the newspaper because you have articulated an important message magnificently! Helen
Thanks, Helen. I’m really chuffed to read your words! I’ll let it settle, see if that’s all I want to say, and maybe send it off somewhere …
I totally agree with most of what you say. Sounds like your daughter dressed appropriately for the occasion – and if perchance she didn’t the adjudicator should have mentioned it later or in her report. Focussing on her dress, and humiliating her the way it sounds like she did, is just not on. I hope your daughter understood that it was that woman’s problem, not hers – particularly when her dress sounds perfectly appropriate for a classical young soloist.
But, I think there is an issue about dressing appropriately, so I’m sorry but I wouldn’t agree with a carte blanche “All young women have a right to dress how they please, and express themselves through their clothing”. For example, I don’t think cleavage, particularly a deep cleavage, or a very brief miniskirt is appropriate in most types of workplaces, but I’ve seen it. In other words, I think we do have some dress codes?
It’s hard to know, Sue! Personally, it’s the shaming thing that irks me, so I don’t make judgements about appropriateness of clothing, unless it’s for health reasons—not wearing a hat in the sun, for example, or wearing short-sleeves on a cold night, but that’s it.
If someone was a good worker, I’d hope that would be more important to their colleagues, clients, or patients, than anything they wore.
Yes, I completely agree in principle, which is why it’s hard to talk about this without sounding reactionary. I’m a feminist from way back. Shaming is wrong, catcalling women who are minding their own business walking down the street is wrong. I never judged people I worked with. Their decision was their decision as far as I was concerned. I was interested only in their work and them as people, but rightly or wrongly, that’s not how everyone felt. As one of your commenters said, the situation is fraught.
Also, looking at it with rational eyes, wouldn’t you agree that there are clothes you’d wear to a night club that you wouldn’t wear to work? And that there are reasons for this? That there are clothes you wear to the beach – like a bikini (I’m being extreme here) – that you wouldn’t wear to work? It’s all about degrees don’t you think? There are no hard and fast rules – it can depend on the micro as well as macro culture you are in – but I do think the best message is dress appropriately for the occasion/circumstance. As long as you feel it is appropriate you are probably right, but do be sensitive to the situation.
Sue, I’ve always been a conservative dresser, and I wish I’d felt more comfortable in my youthful body and not hidden it away under Lady Di collars and calf-length skirts. So I look at young women today and applaud them for having the courage and confidence to wear clothes I would have liked to.
Taking the extreme scenario of someone wearing a bikini to work, I’d really want to know why someone would do that, and that’s what I’d be looking into rather than judging them. There would be a reason for flouting social conventions so rebelliously, and I’d really like to find that out! Maybe they’re sick of not being noticed, or challenging strict social conventions in their workplace. Once that person had been heard and their reasons listened to, then I wonder if the problem would still exist. I’ve found that listening and discovering the real reasons for a behaviour is often enough to resolve an issue.
This situation is a lot different—these girls were on a stage performing. The song my daughter sang was ‘Vedrai Carino’ by Mozart. It’s from Don Giovanni, and she was playing Zerlina, a young peasant girl, who is in love with Don Giovanni and sings to him after he’s been beaten up. Here are the lyrics in English:
You will see, my dear,
if you’ll be good
the cure I have for you!
It won’t give you disgust
though no apothecary
can prescribe it.
It’s a certain balm
I carry within me
which I can give you,
if you’ll try it.
You want to know
where I keep it?
Then feel it beating,
put your hand here.
It’s very sexy and seductive, and I don’t think Mozart intended it to be sung while wearing prissy clothes.
Oh, Louise, as I think I said in my first response, your daughter’s dress sounds perfectly appropriate for classical singing at an eisteddfod. If she’d been performing hip hop, I’d happily see her in, say, a midriff. My point was really about a carte blanche statement that suggested you can wear whatever you want. I’m not the sort of person to take affront if people dress inappropriately – but I do think it’s best if people understood the culture they were in and dressed accordingly. Your daughter dressed accordingly it seemed to me.
So my question is, is it appropriate to wear a sexy seductive dress to an office? I say no. Yes, to a nightclub, no to an office. We women are lucky that we can dress very differently, unlike men, for different situations. We can wear a short sleeve blouse or a light dress to work on a hot day whereas men, in most workplaces are allowed very little flexibility. (That’s their issue though, but I feel for them.) However, I also feel that in our flexibility, we women should be sensitive to the occasion and the role we are playing at any one time. Dress, I suppose I’m saying, for the role. Wear the bikini to the beach cafe, but not to the upmarket cafe in the city!! That’s me drawing an extreme example to make a point!! I recognise the lines are murky in every situation – just look at what’s an acceptable bikini now – but that doesn’t mean, I think, that there aren’t some useful lines to consider?
I guess what I’m saying is I don’t care if someone’s in sexy nightclub gear, a bikini, pyjamas, or a wetsuit and gumboots, as long as they do a good job. As I said, it’s their business and not mine, and not up to me to make a judgement. They can talk about it with their employers.
I just want people who are offended by a bit of skin to realise times have changed, and they’d better keep up or they’ll be left behind not enjoying anything or anyone.
“…My daughter studying Medicine will be able to wear whatever she likes, and will only ever be judged by how well she does her job…” How I wish this were true: as a female doctor- now specialist- I can tell you women in medicine are *heavily* judged for their appearance. Not saying that is a good thing, mind: women in medicine as in any profession should be able to wear what they bloody like.
Can you write to the Eisteddfod ruling body and put in a complaint?
Thank you, Mummybot, for your comment. I hear what you’re saying and you’re not the first doctor to bring this to my attention. Personally, I never encountered it, but as I say, I am and always have been a very conservative dresser. I’m beginning to see it’s widespread in the Medical profession, too. Unfortunately.
Also, I emailed the Eisteddfod organiser and complained. He phoned me back, saying he understood and that it shouldn’t have been said.
Hi Louise, I hear what you’re saying. I also hear a proud mother standing up for her daughter in a way perhaps you would have liked to receive. From what I gather, this didn’t happen for you. I am proud of you Louise, you didn’t scream from the balconies, embarrassing your daughter as you have been embarrassed in the past. Your daughter knows your love, knows her mother will protect her, like your family cocoons you in their protective veil. Well done.
Totally agree Nicola, that Louise handled this perfectly. And it’s good to hear that she got an apology from their organisers. I would hope that the apology wasn’t just lip service and that the adjudicator was advised.
Thanks, Sue, for your kind comments. I hope so, too, and that comments like that are never made again.
My daughter knows she did nothing to offend anyone, and that she was dressed appropriately, as she always is. I think it comes down to trust, and I trust her to choose her own clothes and that it will be something appropriate, but something she feels comfortable wearing. She knows I’m here to ask if she wants an opinion, but even then, I usually say, ‘Which one do you like best?’ as I despise choosing what clothes to wear!
Thanks for your warmth and kindness. x