Thursday, January 7, 2016


I was terrified of having a girl, with a fervour that probably should have alerted me to the decreasing sturdiness of my mental health. Hazel is now 2-and-a-bit, and I’m completely smitten with her; I’m glad she’s a girl, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Having said that: While a lot of my fears have so far not materialised (I’ve had no weird moments where I’ve seen her as a mini-me, for example), some have, in scary, I-really-don’t-know-what-to-do-about-this ways. In my post about these fears back in 2013, I wrote, “How do I let her be whoever she wants to be? What if she’s nothing like me and loves PINK and TUTUS and NAIL POLISH?!”

If you were to take Hazel to a shop and let her pick out anything she wanted, she would almost certainly return to you with tutus and nail polish, both of which would be pink. Tulle makes her gasp with wonder, she’ll immediately sit down and remove her sandals at the sight of shoes in a store because she intends to try on every single pair, and jewellery fascinates her. She touches fabrics as we walk past the clothes section and points out her favourite items: “Oooh, Mummy, I like this one!” 
Very early on, Hazel had an opinion about what she would and would not wear (Mo, on the other hand, still lets me pick his outfits for him; I really need to stop doing this, but I care so much about colour-coordination! It’s a conundrum). I’ve mostly bought Mo’s shoes and clothes for him without him by my side; he’s refused to wear only one thing in his lifetime, and this happened approximately three months ago.* Hazel rejected her first thing when she was approximately 18 months old, and has since continued to regularly say no to clothes she deems not-okay for whatever reason. For the past year or so I’ve been too worried she’ll refuse to wear something I’ve chosen for her to risk shopping without her. On a sandal-finding expedition a few months ago, Hazel made a beeline for all that were shiny, glittery, flowery, or, preferably, all three at once, while I held up plain-coloured options and asked, hopefully, “What about these ones?” We ended up compromising: simple, undecorated, gold.

Hazel’s latest thing is wearing dresses. She loves dresses. She won’t wear shorts, despite the fact that shorts don’t trip you over when you’re walking up stairs or make climbing at the park tricky. “Shorts are awesome!” I tell her. She respectfully disagrees. (I recently pulled out a jumpsuit for her and helped her put it on; when dressed she looked down and cried, horrified, “Mum, these look like shorts!”) I watch all of this with scientific interest. I’m in two minds about her wardrobe decisions: on the one hand (mind?), I love that she chooses what she’ll wear, and I therefore don’t have to. I love that she’s already fighting for her opinion. I love that she strongly believes layers of skirts over dresses or vice versa is a valid fashion call.

On the other hand, my watching has led me to the following observations/hypotheses:

Firstly, Hazel now knows what clothes and accessories are for” little girls and what “aren’t” (the inverted commas look odd here, but I cant work out where else to put them and Im almost 100% certain that some need to go somewhere in that sentence). Shes seen plenty of girls (and no boys) wearing or carrying Frozen paraphernalia, for example, so she points it out when we wander by the t-shirts/lunch boxes/backpacks/whatever other random thing Elsa has been printed onto. If I’d taken her to a shop and let her choose her own backpack for preschool, I’m pretty sure she’d have picked a Frozen backpack, even though she’s never seen the film or developed any kind of feelings – besides familiarity – towards the characters (and this is why the options I presented her were carefully selected to include zero Disney princesses). Does this mean her decisions are probably based on what she thinks little girls like, or should like, rather than on her actual taste? And if that were the case, would it be a problem? Dont we all do that a little bit? What even is actual taste? And why havent I noticed/cared when Moses has done exactly the same thing? HUH?!

Secondly: Hazel, like every other person I’ve met, rather likes having people admire her, and she has learned that dresses seem to do the trick in this regard. It seems to be impossible for adults to look at a little girl wearing a dress and to not exclaim over how utterly adorable she is. Even on Mo’s cutest days, he never got half the attention in public that Hazel can get merely from wearing a flipping dress. She was given a free cookie this morning just because a shop-owner couldn’t get over how gorgeous she was. People comment on her looks all the time. She’s started twirling for strangers (where did she learn this?!)! TWIRLING, PEOPLE. I feel like there’s some kind of classical conditioning connection here, although I can’t work out whether it’s the strangers who have been trained to bubble over with praise at the sight of girls in dresses, or whether it’s Hazel who’s started salivating at the thought of eliciting said praise and making her wardrobe decisions accordingly. Someone’s the dog here and someone’s the bell, I’m sure of it. It all makes me feel uncomfortable. Also, Hazel’s started complimenting other women on their clothes, because she’s learned thats what you’re supposed to do! “I love your dress!” she tells our neighbour; “I love this flower on your top!” she tells her grandmother.

So. My precious two-year-old appears to have already been sucked into a system I’m a huge anti-fan of. I try to balance this out at home by pointing out and commending things like her persistence and her kindness, and by not making any kind of deal about what she’s wearing or how ridiculously gorgeous she is. I can’t ask random people to start complimenting her on her non-appearance-related strengths, but I could ask that of the gushy people we see fairly regularly, such as her preschool teachers. Should I? Or should I make changes at this end, by, for example, pretending her dresses are suddenly not options for a while (Hazel in four years’ time: “Mum, remember that time it took you years to wash all of my dresses, and then none of them fit me anymore?!”) and forcing her to wear shorts, so that people may feel less compelled to comment on her looks (and – bonus! – so that she can climb unhindered). Or would that be stifling a valid part of her which needs to be expressed, just for the sake of making me feel less icky?

These are not rhetorical questions! If you have any answers, advice, sympathy, feedback, or reproaches, I’d dearly love to hear them. Well, maybe I wouldnt dearly love all of it.  Things Id particularly love to hear: “Didnt you have a pink bedroom when you were younger? Then what are you fretting about, you turned out great!” (To which I’d reply, Why thank you, lovely reader! It was apricot, actually, not pink, and its kinda weird that you know that about my childhood, but that’s sweet of you to say!). Things I may need to hear but wouldnt dearly love hearing: You need to relax and just let it all be, you crazy, over-analytical control freak. Things I dont want to hear: You suck. Just generally. I hate you.” Those are your guidelines.


* Mo refused to wear something because it was purple-ish, and “purple is for girls.” What’s happening to my children?! WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?! *tears at hair*


  1. I don't have any answers for you but if it makes you feel better, despite my parents' best efforts I was all about the glitter, pink, princesses and tulle when I was young, and I don't think it was all about wanting to be like my friends or receiving compliments, because I still go weak at the knees when I see lace, silky, glittery things (and generally only refrain from wearing all of them at once for fear of being mistaken for a drag queen) although these days I am more about the turquoise than the pink.

    It bothered me a lot when I was a teenager that my mum was so totally disinterested in fashion or cosmetics because it seemed like something my friends and their mothers could bond over. I still find it weird how disinterested she is in colour and fashion, and it would be nice if I could share that with someone in my family, but I can respect our differences a bit more now. Despite my love of pink and dreams of becoming a princess, I have grown up to become a feminist - although this hasn't really made me any less trapped or pressured by social norms, I can just recognise and feebly-halfheartedly resist them. Sorry, none of that was very helpful or encouraging!!

    1. That actually is encouraging, thank you.

    2. Actually, it strikes me that you must get comments about your looks ALL THE TIME. How long have you had turquoise hair for? Do you think that's had an effect on your self-esteem? Are you Yang-En-with-the-awesome-hair, as opposed to Yang-En-the-awesome-artist? Or both? Does that matter to you? You don't have to answer any of these questions here (or at all), but I'd be really interested to hear how people respond to your appearance and what that means for you identity/self-esteem-wise...

    3. haha! yes, all the time! I've always admired colourful, bright people but felt too timid to be one of them. And then about a year ago, as I approached turning 30, I thought 'stuff that! I will be as bold and colourful as I damn well please.' I HOPE I can be both an interesting person and an interesting-looking person. One of my friends who is in her 60s has crazy hair and amazing clothes, and it makes me so cheerful to see her being vibrant, and totally, completely 'age-inappropriate' and it seems to make her happy too. Sometimes my colourful exterior encourages me to be more smiley on days when I'd rather be glum, even if for no other reason than it encourages other people to smile at me.

      Of course I love the compliments!! and yes I often do feel pressure to be fabulous when often I just want to have greasy hair and wear my trakkies, and yes I want to be slimmer and have longer legs, and a nicer looking face. BUT, it does make me cheerful to look at my colourful reflection in the mirror! Since I have consciously chosen to aim for fabulous-colourful, rather than pretty-thin, I have felt more excited about being me than ever before. (It's only taken 30 long years to get to this point...) I had to make some emergency colourful op-shop purchases in Paris because it was making me glum to look at my black self every day - and that was an action about my appearance I made purely for my own enjoyment and no-one else's. I bought fluro shoelaces the other day, and they are making me smile way more than anything else I have seen in Paris so far! Best 5 Euros I've spent. I love looking at colourful interesting people and being inspired to be brighter and bolder. Just like these ladies:

    4. p.s. All of that was a long winded way of saying I'm sure your daughter will turn out fine!!

  2. Have just done my usual catchup on your blog. So good to hear you are all going well. But it does make me miss you. Am sure Hazel will be ok. She will have you and other bright, strong women to provide her with role models. I doubt she will accept the idea that some roles/jobs are not for women . Or that men are better at certain things solely because they are men. Let her wear dresses if she likes and eventually she will wear shorts or at least wear shorts under her dresses so she can do the things she wants to do.

  3. I think you're a thoughtful, responsive, reflective, authentic parent and that your children are so lucky to have you in their lives :)