My 14-year-old shouldn’t dress like this but it doesn’t give bullies the right to torment her’: One mother tells how her daughter fell victim to alarming new ‘slut shaming’ trend

Revealing: Flo poses in her outfit moments before her 14th birthday party

Revealing: Flo poses in her outfit shortly before her 14th birthday party

A few weeks ago, I opened my laptop to discover that my teenage daughter, Flo, had inadvertently left her Facebook and other social networking sites logged on.

Unbeknown to her, I was able to see — right in front of me — everything she and her friends had written in recent weeks. It’s happened before, affording me the rare opportunity to have a surreptitious check on her increasingly private adolescent world. But this time it was different.

In place of the usual banter, peppered with infuriating teenage acronyms, was a stream of comments crystal clear in their meaning. They were vicious and cruel observations attacking Flo for what she’d worn to her 14th birthday party in November.

The other girls told her, in no uncertain terms, that she’d dressed like a ‘slut’, a ‘tart with no self-respect’, and that her parents must be ashamed to have a daughter who ‘looked like a prostitute’.

The attacks on Flo were part of a new trend known as ‘slut shaming’, fuelled by blogging websites like Tumblr, in which teenagers post vicious criticisms online, targeting peers they deem to be dressing too provocatively or wearing too much make-up.

But I found myself strangely torn. I was shocked and deeply upset to see my daughter being bullied like this — yet deep down, I couldn’t help feeling her accusers had a point.

For, on the night of her 14th birthday, Flo had dressed too provocatively. The outfit she’d chosen to wear, without my consent, had utterly floored me. Let me explain.

Last year, my eldest daughter transformed almost overnight from a little girl into a leggy blonde with boobs and an amazing figure — which she seems hell-bent on exposing as much of as possible.

In fact, it’s now practically impossible for her to leave the house without a fierce altercation on the front doorstep. I yell: ‘You’re not going out dressed like that, put some more clothes on.’ Flo then stomps upstairs to change, before shoving the offending outfit into her bag — no doubt to put back on the moment I’ve vanished from sight.

I should have been firmer about her birthday outfit, but the problem is Flo has become clever about getting her own way, and on that occasion she manipulated a set of circumstances that made it incredibly difficult for me to put my foot down.

She had invited three of her closest friends over in the afternoon to get ready for her party — which was to be a disco in the village hall across the road from our house.

Listening to the endless blasts of hairdryer, giggling and feverish teenage excitement that permeated the household, I remember feeling a rush of maternal love and pride that my little girl — who not so long ago was still playing with Barbie dolls — was on the brink of womanhood.

Then she came down the stairs looking exactly like everything we all loathe about Barbie dolls. She was wearing a pair of tight gold shorts I’d never seen before, a skimpy top with panels revealing her midriff and skin-coloured tights. In her hand she was carrying a pair of 6in heels she was intending to slip on to greet her 40 guests — a mix of girls and boys from local schoolI’m a 52-year-old divorcee and men in their 20s can’t get enough of mes.

‘I should have warned her to cover up – but the comments were so cruel’

Quite simply, my daughter looked like she was far more sexually aware than she actually is. But I just didn’t have the courage, or the heart, to lecture her about the dangers of dressing this way just 30 minutes before the start of her long-awaited party and in front of her friends.

Instead, I reassured myself that she was just experimenting with fashion and that — thank God — on this occasion, it was to be in a controlled environment where I would be present. Then I had a large glug of wine, fixed a smile to my face and took a photo of her in her birthday outfit.

Looking at that picture now, I can see the expression on her face is part defiance, part uncertainty.

She wanted my approval and for me to tell her she looked lovely (which I just couldn’t manage). At the same time, she was pretending she couldn’t care less what I thought.

That’s teenage girls for you. But I know she cares — more than anything — what her peers think. Which is why, despite my own reservations about her clothes, I was horrified to find that she had become a target for ‘slut shaming’.

This alarming new form of online bullying comes hot on the heels of the ‘Hey Girls, Did You Know?’ Facebook page, which was formed last year and seems to exist purely for teenagers to point out the shortcomings of their peers.

In these posts, girls — and sometimes boys — condemn other teenagers for their body shapes or wardrobe choices, often with ruthless scorn in the process. One blogger writes with accompanying pictures: ‘Hey girls, uhm did you know — your boobs go inside your shirt.’

Terrifyingly, the number of people who have said they ‘like’ the page now stands at 37,000.

Maternal concern: Shona was shocked to discover the level of online abuse directed at her daughter

From these beginnings — and the emergence of another social media site called — has come ‘slut shaming’. It was on my daughter’s page that the vicious remarks were left. I’d never heard of it before, but more clued-up mothers might already have this website — launched in 2010 — firmly on their radar. is a social networking site where teenagers can connect through their Facebook accounts but which allows them to remain anonymous while engaging in online conversations through a question and answer format.

Because nobody has to give their identity away, teenagers are free to write anything they wish without fear of being discovered.

As you can imagine, the temptation for cyber-bullying and harassment is huge and the multimillion-pound company behind the site — whose headquarters are in Latvia — has already come under massive criticism after two teenage girls committed suicide, one in 2010 and one in 2011, as a result of suffering abuse on it.

‘There’s something sinister about knowing there are people who hate what you look like but you’ll never have any idea who they are’

The attack against Flo was terrifyingly brutal. One comment read: ‘Are you dressing like that so boys will want to sleep with you? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You think you’re sexy but actually you’re just a cheap slut who should no (sic) better.’

And on and on it went. Flo, to her credit, tried to defend herself by posting replies saying: ‘Do you expect me to dress like a nun at my party?’ And ‘You don’t know me, so you can’t judge.’

As I read the comments, I was horrified my daughter had not only been subjected to such harsh comments, but had also chosen not to tell me.

For three weeks she had carried the burden of this vicious criticism silently, and it terrified me what that must have done to her self-esteem.

Flo says she doesn’t care. Perhaps I should know my daughter better but I honestly can’t tell if this is bravado or a genuine lack of regard for their opinions.

When I asked her for her response this is what she said: ‘I don’t see this as bullying. This is just normal for Everyone is horrible to everyone else. I wouldn’t make rude comments about other people but there are girls out there who will because they know they can get away with it.

‘It’s the same as the people who comment on your articles as a journalist. They are rude about you because they can remain anonymous. They’d never say half the stuff they do to your face.

‘My friends know who I really am. I wouldn’t dress like this to walk down a street. It was an outfit for a party. I thought I looked nice.’

Growing up… too fast? Shona with Flo aged just eight months, left, and as she is now as a 14-year-old

Even though I disagree with Flo about this, I respect what she says. Indeed, I remember similar showdowns with my mother who refused to let me leave the house wearing a denim mini skirt (it was the Eighties) and blue mascara.

I, too, remember thinking she was a prude — out of touch with fashion and what other girls my age were doing.

Now, of course, I understand she was only showing maternal concern in the same way as I am with Flo.

Usually I don’t have to worry. Flo is a typical eldest sibling — sensible, cautious and wise beyond her years. She is also unfailingly polite, sensitive and kind. And, to my utmost surprise, she’s a real beauty. I say surprise because, at her age, I looked nothing like her and was teased mercilessly in the playground for having a squinty eye, buck teeth and a gawky figure.

I sometimes find myself staring at my daughter and not quite believing I gave birth to her. She has an inner confidence I never had at that age — I suspect as a result of the fact that she is pretty and she knows it.

Which is no bad thing. I’d much rather she felt confident rather than crippled by her body image — which I was when I was 14.

WHO KNEW? Nearly 43 percent of teenagers say they have been bullied online

Looking back, I can see I was bullied about my appearance in a very different way to Flo. But at least I knew who my persecutors were and I could avoid them. There’s something far more sinister about knowing there are people who hate what you look like but you’ll never have any idea who they are.

Even I can see Flo is maturing physically far quicker than she is mentally. She may have the body of a woman, but she has the desires of a child. She just wants to be like all her friends — and all her friends dress the same, in as little, it seems, as possible.

I only have to walk through Guildford town centre on a Saturday morning to realise my daughter is not alone in her desire to wear strappy tops and tight leggings in sub-zero temperatures.

So we argue about clothes — or the lack of them — and I ask her constantly why she wants to show off her body so much. Is it a teenage rite of passage she’ll grow out of? I certainly hope so.

Perhaps there are many mothers out there who are reading this and sympathising. Others might feel that by writing on this topic — and putting Flo in the paper — my actions are no better than the people who ‘slut shamed’ her. That I am exposing my daughter to even more scrutiny.

To this I would say that Flo agreed to let me write about this because she agrees it is a teenage phenomenon that should be highlighted. Perhaps the most troubling thing about it is that neither Flo, nor I, will ever know who decided to so publicly shame her in such a cruel way.

Because of how the site works, the perpetrators must be friends of hers on Facebook. They might even have been at the party. Yet, by hiding their identity, these girls have got away with being unforgivably nasty and destructive. While their remarks made difficult reading for me, it must have been much more difficult, I imagine, for Flo.

While I have to be honest and admit that I also thought: ‘Thank God. If she won’t listen to me, maybe she’ll listen to them’, it’s not the way I want my daughter to learn about modesty and self image.
‘Slut shaming’ Flo might have done me a favour in the long run, but at what cost?