We enjoyed the evening at a park watching the sun set while the kids played and splashed in the stream. A group quickly formed, with the older girls initiating a building project on a rock in the stream while the little brothers brought them giant handfuls of sand. The girls would get the sand wet, and then drip it onto the tower that was forming. During this a girl walked up in an all-pink and sparkly outfit, tiara headband thing, complete with white tutu and white heeled sandals. The girl then proceeded to kick off her heels, and get right into the mix, getting wet and grimy from the sand and even became the leader of the project. A bit later I watched her climb to the top of a nine foot log in her heels. She wasn’t able to run or climb as well as the other kids, but she was right in the thick of it.
Her outfit isn’t something I’d send Amelia in to the park to play and explore, but it was an important reminder for me that we can look critically at media and products for our kids, but we need to see the child first and foremost. We can disapprove of the inappropriateness of girls clothing without disapproving of the girl. If there is one thing this group knows, it is the limitlessness of how amazing our girls can be. No matter what they are wearing.
When I posted this on facebook last night, a large discussion followed mostly from moms defending their daughter’s right to be a princess. I agree, their daughter has the right to be a princess…..and a doctor and a potter and a organic pepper farmer. I’m anti-limitation, and that’s it. My issue isn’t with sparkles and tutus. It is with the limitation of play and movement that girls apparel can create. I replied with this:
“I love childhood. I love the little people who compose it. But when we teach half of those people that their role is to be pretty and sweet and to act in a certain prescribed way, I have issues. Certainly, we can redefine what “princess” means in their play and many of us do. But there is a larger cultural context that is much harder to escape, and one which “little girl princess” becomes the gateway drug to the fast-forwarded tween years and the age compression, Beauty Myth, and consumerism we see going on. (Ultimately, no matter how you play, being a princess is about entitlement, which I’m not big on.) I love me some sparkle and bling and fair wings. Both Ben and Amelia have been known to rock that look. And my kids wear super hero masks and take magic wands to the park, so I can’t very well be snarky about a tutu and some sparkle.
But what I do have issue with is the restriction of movement and play. A visual example of this is the video I posted in the beginning of the week that shows young teen girls on the soccer field at play, only to be brainwashed by the beauty messages coming over the loud speaker and leave the field teetering in heels and hot pants. The Beauty Myth is constricting, both emotionally and physically, and that is my focus here.
I’ve seen girls tear around in dresses or skirts or fancy outfits, so that isn’t an issue for me. I tend to offer my kids soft leggings or jeans and t-shirts to romp in, but to each their own. My issue is the shoes, or the outfit that is so fancy the girl might not want (or not be allowed) to get dirty. Amelia has and loves her sparkle shoes, and didn’t mind when she busted the sparkles off while playing on the playground. If she had become fussy about that, she would have been told to leave them at home for dress up and get her sneakers on. Play is the work of the child, and she needs to dress appropriately for work. If what she is wearing inhibits her play and her gross motor movement during play, then she is asked to change. We see how skimpy and tight older girls clothing is, and the ridiculousness of their shoes. I hear time and again from coaches and dance teachers how oddly some girls move their bodies, because they are used to standing still and being pretty due to restricting clothing. I remember seeing this myself when I was a teacher of elementary girls wearing tight, low cut jeans and belly shirts. They had to stand perfectly still in order for the outfit to work. When we know sports (including dance) to be a partial cure to the wretched body image stats we see coming out of the 8-18yo demographic, I connect the limiting of movement and play into the spoon fed monster that is poor body image.
Girlhood is a magical time to be whimsical and imaginative and enchanting. If the girls are also encouraged to be astronauts and artists and farmers, playing princess can be great. Girls need the freedom to move their bodies comfortably during play to really be able to fully explore and take in the world. Many times their apparel does not allow them to do that, and we need to question that. But we have to stop and ask ourselves, is this a question we have to ask of our boys? If the answer is no, we need to take a look at why then is it only an issue of limiting our girls, and why we accept that.”