“Okay, we have these new bell bottoms with a red tank top, jelly bean leggings, or the purple dress,” I say.
We have exactly two minutes before we have to be downstairs to eat breakfast. Even with the school bus scramble on a frazzled weekday morning, I give my girl some options.
“Purple dress!” yells my 4-year-old daughter, with a smile on her face.
I feel myself give an internal eyeroll. Ugh. A dress. Of course she picked the twirly, floral patterned, purple dress. If anyone is the epitome of a stereotype, it’s her. She’s “all girl,” as they say.
I take it off the hanger and slip it on over her head. I button her up. I look at her making her way to the stairs — she’s happily twirling in the hallway.
If I can be honest, I don’t exactly love that my younger daughter is always gravitating towards froufrou clothes and glittery garments. I despise the fact that she loves her Cinderella sneakers. I hate that she prefers tutus to pants. I get very irritated over her love for stereotypical “girl” clothes.
For me, personally, buying princess sneakers is painful. It feels like a negation of all of my values that I’ve tried to instill in both my girls. It’s like, have I taught you nothing, child?! You are better than this princess rubbish!
But if that’s what the kid wants, and the (hideous) sneakers don’t cost any more money, how can I say no? Is it really doing harm? Why am I not validating her choices?
While I’m admitting things, I’ll also cop to the following: I glorify my older daughter’s sense of style. I praise her constantly for being cool. She’s an intense, cerebral little girl with edgy style. She is attracted to gender-neutral clothes. Her favorite color is blue. She loves wearing Converse high-top sneakers and baseball-style tees.
I’m fairly certain she gets her contrarian cues from me — “It’s cool to be different.” She doesn’t fuss over fashion, or even care. She doesn’t lament the lack of possibilities in her closet like her younger sister. She doesn’t ponder all the ways to mix and match patterns. She doesn’t care about the “twirl factor.”
It’s quite apparent that the way in which I respond to both of my girls and their personal styles is quite unequal, unfair. It’s horrible. I blame myself. (I also blame patriarchy and feminism for this clothing conundrum.)
Feminism and fashion have always had a tricky, contradictory relationship. Some say caring about appearances and fashion (and buying into the industry) is the exact opposite of feminism. Others say fashion allows us to be who we are and express ourselves, and therefore, is very much feminist.
I can’t win.
There is also this underlying notion that pervades in our society, that going au naturel and not buying into beauty norms is the only way to be a true, good feminist. That’s a “real woman.”
I hate my post-baby belly, my droopy boobs, and my saggy ass. I just do. Admitting that doesn’t make me vain or less feminist.
The only thing that’s stopped me from plastic surgery is my bank account. (And my recent journey of body positivity. And yes, it is a journey.)
I don’t like my gray hair, dammit. I’m not ready to stop coloring it. I bet if I embraced going gray, I’d be praised for being “real” and “natural.” It’s as if aging without help from the beauty industry is the only honorable way to age.
But, at the same time, I’m not supposed to look old. Because that would be tragic! Gasp! Hideous!
Talk about mixed messages.
I like makeup. I like shaving my legs. And I like pretty heels.
And my youngest daughter likes sparkly shoes. She likes pretty things.
Young girls and women should not be shamed for wanting to feel beautiful. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about liking stereotypical “girly” clothes and accessories. I am not any less “real” because I prefer not to have hair in certain places. I’m not any less authentic because I’m not a fan of leaving my house without my eyebrows done. Ladies who love beautiful brows, I know you feel me on that one.
I can still be a feminist while wearing 5-inch heels and a bandage dress with my tits out.
Coloring my hair to hide the gray does not diminish my college degree, my accomplishments, or my intellect. Tattooing my belly to hide my postpartum scars and bulges doesn’t make me any less smart. Proclaiming and caring about one’s style doesn’t make you superficial. Feeling beautiful undeniably feels good.
So who friggin’ cares if my kid cares about how she looks? She’s not any less noble, or credible, or awesome for having a love affair with fashion. It’s her right to care about vanity. It’s certainly not the only thing she cares about. She’s deeper than the dresses she adores so much.
My 4-year-old daughter cares about winning at Twister, drinking chocolate milk through a fun straw, being a good friend, and being great at gymnastics. I don’t think she ties her worth to her clothes. She just likes pretty things. It’s that simple.
Instead of focusing on “Ugh, my little girl loves flowery frocks, what the fuck have I done wrong as a feminist mother?!” I should be proud of her for speaking up about her preferences. I should be accepting and encouraging of her expression.
Who am I to tell her that princess shoes are ugly or anti-feminist? Not that she would fully grasp that concept right now anyway. But, if my daughter wants to rock twirly dresses and sparkly headbands, so be it. If she takes a few minutes longer to get dressed in the morning compared to her sister, whatever. It’s her groove. She’s moving to the beat of her own drum. Dresses, tutus, tiaras, and all. And from now on, I choose to respect it.
Caring about your looks doesn’t mean that’s the only thing you care about. I know that because I care about how I look, and I care about my daughter deeply, the earth, social injustices, my family and friends — all at the same time.