A Guest Post by Lori Day:
I never want to be accused of considering Costco a microcosm of the real world because I’d like to have less despair than that, but maybe there is something to be gained by cautiously extrapolating from that surreal environment to something essentially true about the culture we live in.
One day, in order to take a break from the crowds of people forming around the free food samples and the incredibly long lines snaking through the electronics aisle, I decided to indulge in a slice of cheese pizza and a diet Coke at the snack area. I sat at a table at the back, and soon noticed that there were three tables occupied by mothers with two or three daughters each. There were no dads and no sons on this particular day.
When you eat lunch alone, it’s amazing what you see and hear and notice about your fellow human beings who do not know you are quietly people-watching them. The first thing I observed was the way the girls were looking at each other. The mothers had not yet acknowledged each other, but the daughters were making friendly cross-table eye contact. Soon, the mothers noticed that the girls were around the same age and were interested in each other, and everyone exchanged pleasantries and it was really nice, and very different than the usual vibe of competitive drag racing with shopping carts that we had all just survived. I find even basic human decency moving when I encounter it at Costco.
I got up to get some extra napkins, and when I returned all of the mothers and daughters were engaged with each other. You know what? That was really cool. I was totally smiling. Then I suddenly noticed something that for no explicable reason (other than complete desensitization) I had previously failed to notice…that all eight girls of these three mothers were dressed head-to-toe in pink. I don’t mean that some of them had on jeans and a pink sweatshirt. Or a pink top and off-white skirt. I mean what I said—literally every girl wore no item of clothing that was not light pink, medium pink, dark pink, fuchsia or magenta, in some combination, with zero items of clothing in any other shade or hue. (Not on a hit-and-run anti-pink rant here, just articulating the phenomenal amount of that color that was present.)
Then, I realized what the mothers and daughters were all talking about…who was pretty, who looked “just like a princess,” who had the most beautiful hair, whose fingernail polish was the most gorgeous shade of pink, whose pink hair accessories were the loveliest, whose sparkly pink shoes were fanciest and like you’d wear to a ball, etc.
Honestly, this went on for longer than one could possibly imagine. I had long since finished my meal and remained sitting there, sipping my soda, transfixed. Mothers were almost competing to out-compliment the beauty of each other’s girls. This is sweet and caring, isn’t it? Yes, for sure, but it is something else as well, and it became something else very quickly.
The youngest of all the girls, perhaps three or four, stood up. She was wearing a pink tulle skirt, like a tutu, but longer and able to flow and twirl. She smiled coyly at one of the other mothers, twirled around a few times holding the hem of her skirt, and then posed. I thought she was going to courtesy, but instead she put her hand n her hip and pushed her pelvis forward…waiting. Her own mother beamed as one of the other mothers exclaimed, “My, aren’t you the belle of the ball?”
Soon, all of the girls—that is, except one—got up and casually wandered between the tables, visiting each other, showing off their pink dresses and the Disney costumes a couple of them had worn that day, since Disney costumes are now just regular attire. They were sashaying, flipping their hair, pretending they were models, striking poses, giggling, and drinking in all of the mirth and effusive praise of the mothers, who were utterly delighted by the whole show. Costco’s warehouse lunch area had been transformed into a cement-floored catwalk for an impromptu Toddlers & Tiaras audition. The girls were having a wonderful time.
Except one. This girl was around seven or eight, and of a quieter, more introverted disposition. She had a book and was reading. I could not see the title, but it was fairly thick, and the girl seemed like she was very absorbed in it and probably a pretty good reader. She glanced up repeatedly from her book to watch the other girls—some older, some younger, one her sister—strutting, preening, and lapping up every “How beautiful!” Slowly, she pushed her book to the edge of the table where she was sitting and looked around. No one noticed. She whispered something to her mother, and her mother whispered something back.
Eventually, the girl slid the book back across her table, away from where the other girls were roaming the aisles between the tables. Now here’s where I wished I had a video camera. I will not have the words to describe this girl’s face. Crestfallen? Glum? Hurt? None of these work. Maybe…invisible. She looked like she felt invisible. She looked down at her clothes and up at the clothes of the other girls and back down at her own again. They were pink but not frilly. I realized they were what I would call play clothes, not dress-up clothes. She kept looking at the other girls getting all the attention with their swirling and twirling, knowing her own clothes would not do that.
She was ignored by all of the other girls and other mothers except her own. Apparently, her lack of proper attention to her own femininity was a tragedy for everyone else — innocent bystanders were being robbed in broad daylight of their God-given right to observe her in pink tulle, primping and sashaying in some big-box fashion show of this decade’s new essential girlwear.
I wanted to hug that girl, who is so much like my own daughter, and like I was as a child, and say, “Wow, that’s quite a book you’ve got there! What are you reading?”
Just at that moment the girl’s father came over, along with a boy who was clearly her brother. The boy had a Harry Potter book under his arm—that much was obvious. The father said to his wife, “I got a good spot out front. Are you ready to go?” The mother nodded and started to clean up the paper plates and soda cups on the table. The girl with the book got up and walked towards her dad. One of the other mothers said to her brother, “Wow, you’re a smart boy reading Harry Potter!”
A big thank you to Lori Day for sharing her insightful experience with the Redefine Girly blog.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2!
Lori Day is an educational psychologist and consultant with Lori Day Consulting in Concord, MA, having worked previously in the field of education for over 25 years in public schools, private schools, and at the college level. She writes and blogs about parenting, education, children, gender, media, and pop culture. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.