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 can’t work out where else to put them and I’m almost 100% certain that some need to go somewhere in that sentence). She’s 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? Don’t we all do that a little bit? What even is “actual taste”? And why haven’t 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 that’s 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 wouldn’t dearly love all of it. Things I’d particularly love to hear: “Didn’t 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 it’s kinda weird that you know that about my childhood, but that’s sweet of you to say!”). Things I may need to hear but wouldn’t dearly love hearing: “You need to relax and just let it all be, you crazy, over-analytical control freak.” Things I don’t 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*