09/23/2013 04:34 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2013

Damn You, Skinny Jeans: How to Survive the Dressing Room with Your Daughter

Michelle Cove

Recently, my tween daughter and I were in a dressing room at a department store, and it was clear right away that skinny jeans have taken over the world. (I mean, we're talking no other options, at least not in this big-name store.) My girl tried on pair after pair, size after size, of those aptly named skinny jeans, and I grew increasingly irritated as it became apparent they were all a no-go. My daughter is a "normal" size (neither skinny nor heavy), and I'm telling you: buttoning those jeans was not an option. I got a sinking feeling that she'd feel shamed and dismayed by her body. I got teary myself and tried to think of just the right words to soothe her. But when I looked up into my daughter's face, prepared for the worst, I saw she was... fine. I mean, she was tired and annoyed but there was no trace of sadness. That's when I realized the first rule of dressing rooms...

Rule No. 1: Leave your own baggage at the door.
What I was anticipating -- overwhelming tears and sadness -- was my old baggage. I wasn't a heavy kid, but I do remember all too well the heartache of a waistband digging into my belly, and t-shirts clinging to my developing chest. I shed many a tear in dressing rooms throughout the '80s, and begrudged my skinny friends (who, little did I know, panicked about being "flat"). But my daughter wasn't in that head space; she just wanted to find jeans. So I switched gears, taking a deep breath and asked, "Isn't it annoying when clothing designers only make one style?" My daughter agreed whole-heartedly, and we headed to a new store where we eventually found pants that not only fit, but looked great -- or will once they are hemmed. The moral of the story: don't project our insecurities onto our girls.

Rule No. 2: Overdo it on the options.
One lesson I learned from my mom is to bring as many styles into the dressing room as possible, and in various sizes. If your girl is feeling demoralized, the last thing she wants to do is sit around in a cramped and brightly -lit room with a giant mirror reflecting her image. Keep things moving. If a particular item is a reject, say "no problem," and hand her the next one. If she announces, "I don't like that style," have her try it on anyway, saying, "Got it. I just want to get an idea of the fit." Many times, the style she didn't like on the rack will look flattering once it's on her body. Plus, the more she tries on, the better sense you'll both get of what looks good on her. Explain that the sizes (whether it's petite or XL) on the label don't matter. All that counts is finding clothes that flatter her body. (This is something most women I know could stand to learn.)

Rule No. 3: Bring a little goofy into the dressing room.
Recently, I was in a dressing room with my daughter and I was the one doing the trying on. I pulled on a pair of jeans, which already felt snug by the time I got them over my thighs. It took all my energy to force up the zipper, and I could barely breathe after buttoning them. I felt my daughter's eyes on my face, searching to see how I'd react. "Well," I said with a straight-face, "I think these look GOOD!" and then I proceeded to break into a zany dance around the dressing room. I intended to throw in some deep lunges and jumping, but the jeans were so tight that I couldn't swing it. Still, I almost blacked out from the exertion. But my daughter burst into giggles, and we laughed together for many minutes. (I have a feeling she'll remember that story for life.) Our daughters, for better and worse, learn how to think about their bodies based on the way we think of our bodies. If we well up with tears in the dressing room, curse our thighs, our muffin-top or our too-big or too little breasts, they are likely to do the same. If, however, we treat our bodies with respect -- and, yes, a little humor -- our girls will pick up on that, too. Let her see you beam when you try on something flattering, or yell "next!" when it isn't. Clothes don't make the girl; resilience does.