Can someone please tell me why my five-year-old wants to dress like a pole dancer? I have nothing against the profession of an exotic dancer, necessarily, I would just prefer that my daughter not dress like one.

The other day Lucille was getting ready for school and she wanted a particular dress that happened to be packed away with her spring clothes. In Montana, we’re still hoping for spring but at 7:30 a.m. most mornings it’s still a little hard to imagine. I tried to convince her to wear a long-sleeved shirt, some pants. Something sensible. She wouldn’t listen.

Her spring clothes were close so I dug out the dress she desperately wanted to wear and she put it on. Backwards. The back of the dress has a little U-shaped cutout with straps crisscrossing it. She wanted to wear the “pretty part” in the front which meant her little nipples peeked out on either side of the U. This did not seem to bother her nor did the fact that the skirt was an inch or two too short. When I suggested that she turn the dress around and put on a pair of shorts under it, all hell broke loose.

“I don’t want to wear it that way! These shorts are stupid! I’m not going to school!” She crossed her arms and stomped her feet.

“Lucille it’s cold outside,” I said trying to find some reason she would understand. “And we can’t show our panties.”

“Why not!” she yelled.

“Well…we just need to have our bottoms covered,” I said.

Really, is it too much to ask?

I was reaching. Stretching. I didn’t want shame her because, really, she is just beginning to learn social nuances of propriety but somehow wanted to convey what my grandmother had always taught me: we keep our business to ourselves. Business being the catchall term for private parts. For example, we don’t wear our skirts too short or our shorts too loose because we wouldn’t want anyone to see our business. We don’t wear our shirts too tight or too low because we’d hate to draw attention to our business. You get the point. Your business is, well, your business. Now my grandmother is a good God-fearing Southern Baptist who my uncle used to joke had a bathing suit with a hole in the knee but when it comes to my five-year-old showing skin I can hear her voice in my head reciting a phrase from a generation or two younger than she: we respect our bodies, we respect ourselves.

It doesn’t help that Target (one of two places to shop for kid clothes in Missoula) has some of the skimpiest kid clothes around. Why do we need little girls walking around in lacy tank tops and short, short shorts? Or with anything written on their bums? Can someone please tell me why? I’ve sworn off the big red circle when it comes to clothes for my daughters but Target is not the only culprit. The sexualizing of our daughters is around every corner but I’m not backing down. It’s a battle I’m willing to fight even if it means sometimes it looks like I’m fighting my own kid.

The other day I finally convinced Lucille to turn her dress around. And put on a pair of shorts. She chose a pair of leopard print shorts under her polka dot dress. She finished her outfit off with just-below-the-knee fringe boots and a faux suede jacket. I suppose this is what compromise looks like. Girl’s got style on the speed dial. You have to give her that. But as her mother I want to protect her from our dominant culture in so many ways.

Lucille isn’t 100 percent fluent in Southern speak, at least not yet, and sometimes she looks at me as though I am my 83-yaer-old grandmother when I make suggestions about her outfit. I want her to cover her bum. She has no idea why this matters. She just wants to be comfortable. She wants to wear a skirt because it has butterflies on it. This is really where it starts and stops for her. For now, I think her stubbornness is actually more about being five than anything else. But it won’t always be this way and soon enough I’ll have even less say in the clothes she chooses to wear. I’m just hoping I can figure out a way now to let her know she is beautiful, that her choices are creative and lovely, that keeping her bum covered is a good idea before the choice of what she wears is all hers.