- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

Far be it from me to criticize another mom, especially one I’ve never met, so I’ll say this carefully: Um … Michelle Ebbert? If it were my daughter who had been reprimanded by the flight staff of a Southwest Airlines crew for dressing so inappropriately that her attire was deemed offensive, I don’t think I’d be parading around on the “Today” show making a fuss.

I certainly wouldn’t be engaged in a public relations war or threatening a lawsuit against the airline. In fact, I’m virtually certain I would be hiding under a rock wishing I had done a better job of teaching my daughter how to make more appropriate clothing choices.

You may have missed this story a couple of weeks ago unless, like me, you follow news of the trite yet somehow culturally significant. Apparently, a 23-year-old college student (and Hooters waitress) named Kyla Ebbert, after taking her seat on a Southwest Airlines plane, was asked to deplane because of her overly revealing attire.

Miss Ebbert asked the airline employee specifically what was wrong with her outfit and was told by the attendant, identified in the media only as Keith, “Everything.”

As you might imagine, the media folks who covered this story slanted it sympathetically toward Miss Ebbert — and who wouldn’t? She was humiliated and publicly embarrassed, allowed to fly to her destination only after agreeing to put a blanket over herself.

To be clear, Miss Ebbert was dressed in a way we see most young women attired these days — tight T-shirt, cropped sweater, supershort miniskirt and high heels (though here the words “supershort miniskirt” should be read to mean “microscopic scrap of fabric.”) To be blunt, it was an outfit only a Hooters waitress could pull off.

On “Today,” Miss Ebbert, her mother and her attorney appeared to make the point that she was wronged. The young lady even wore the offending outfit on the air and, to be fair, it doesn’t appear particularly offensive at first. Yet this assumes Miss Ebbert wore her micro-miniskirt on the plane in the same way she wore it on TV. In truth, if adjusted slightly (not for nothing, in the manner the designers, manufacturers and purchasers intend) this particular style of skirt allows for just a hint of fanny to be seen under the exceptionally short hemline.

Now, I can appreciate the defensive posture taken by the elder Ms. Ebbert. Her daughter was embarrassed by an airline employee, reprimanded for her attire and initially asked to deplane in favor of a change of clothing before flying on another Southwest flight. (After protesting, she was permitted to stay aboard.)

By the time young Miss Ebbert reached her destination, she was understandably upset and called her mom in tears. What mother wouldn’t be livid?

And yet … I have daughters. As the mother of three girls ranging in age from pre-adolescence to young adulthood, I’m deeply concerned about the message we send girls and young women when we defend even their most inappropriate choices.

We’re long past the days when people dressed up to fly or go to the movies or a restaurant. Some aspects of our casual culture are a welcome relief from the stodgy, uncomfortable conventions of a bygone era, but some of our commitment to comfort and self-expression has left our culture undone, so to speak.

Comfort and self-expression are great, but they’re not always paramount. When my daughters go out in public, I want them to project their true character and to be perceived as smart, strong, capable and competent young women.

I’m certain they won’t project such an image by strutting through an airport in skirts that rightly might serve as dust rags.

The most disconcerting aspect of the Ebberts’ “Today” appearance was their righteous indignation, their moral umbrage that someone — anyone — might challenge the appropriateness or social convention of the young Miss Ebbert’s attire. In fact, her mother argued that Kyla’s sexy clothes are typical of the way most young women dress these days.

So there it is — the justification. If most young women dress in sexy, skimpy clothes, it must be OK, and moreover, Miss Ebbert ought not to have been singled out, embarrassed and held accountable for the fact that her wardrobe choice offended others on her flight.

The elder Ms. Ebbert may feel great about her public relations campaign, and perhaps they’ll even win a nice settlement from Southwest Airlines, which, it turns out, apparently does not have a written dress code for customers, thus leaving Keith flapping in the breeze, legally speaking. But still.

There comes a time when a mother really should say to her daughter, “I’m so sorry that happened to you, and certainly the attendant should not have embarrassed you. But honey, you cannot wear a micro-miniskirt on an airplane where there are business travelers, families, elderly folks and others who don’t take kindly to being confronted with the upper portion of your thighs. Wear the skirt to the bar, the beach or the bathroom … but not on a plane.”

Had this mom responded in such a way, she might have done her daughter a real service. Instead, I fear her anger will only serve to win her daughter a big wad of cash but no more good taste or sense of propriety than she had the day she got on that plane.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks. com) or send e-mail to mary beth.hicks@comcast.net.

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