Apparel Peril

6 Feb

Before I was a parent I put a lot more stock in the importance of nurture to forming a person’s identity. And maybe my changing point of view makes it seem like I’m cracking under the pressure of raising little people, but I bet any parent will tell you that strong nature-ful personality traits come standard on babies. People enter the world already people, not just impressionable lumps of clay for their caregivers to mold into whatever shapes they most prefer. Want to make the gods laugh? Tell them your plans for your children.

My kids, from the start such individuals in a myriad of ways, are in elementary school now, and thus ever more conscious of the impressions they make on their peers. I’ve got a front row seat to their struggle to express the people they sense themselves to be. And as someone truly invested in their outcomes, I struggle myself with how much to intrude in this process. I know I have power and influence; it’s less clear to me exactly how much, and what role I should aspire to play in what will be a lifelong journey of becoming. This is on my mind a lot lately because of two separate incidents, one with each child.

In the first case, my 8 year old daughter had been sent upstairs to get dressed for a casual outing with her grandfather. She came back down wearing leggings paired with a teeshirt. I pointed out to her that she wasn’t actually wearing pants, and asked her to either throw on a dress or change into jeans. She grumbled briefly because she was impatient to leave, and changed. In subsequent days she has twice asked, “Are these things I have on pants or leggings?” suggesting that she, like so many others, has a hard time telling the difference. The end.

OR IT WOULD HAVE BEEN, had I not remembered this chart by Amy Sly on the Huffington Post, and been moved to post on Facebook and Twitter, “It’s never too early to teach your daughter the difference between pants and leggings.” I got funny and mostly supportive responses on both platforms, but a few friends pushed back a little along the lines of, “I LIKE leggings as pants,” and, “C’mon, 8 is too young to worry about stuff like that,” and, “Fashion is fun, she should be free to express herself.” (I’m paraphrasing; hope you don’t feel misquoted, friends!) (Friends…?)

Prompted by these comments to consider whether I might be over-reacting, I mulled over why exactly it bothered me to let an outfit that was a little bare out the door. And in so doing I had to confront how much I’m projecting into the future. It doesn’t take much for me to hopscotch mentally from a girl who gets inappropriately sexualized attention from boys and men by inadvertently, (or experimentally), dressing provocatively, to a woman who dresses that way intentionally in order to draw lascivious focus. Is that what my daughter was up to? Of course not, (and I also don’t think leggings alone would be enough to encourage looks or comments.) But I realized that I reacted so protectively because pretty much my worst case scenario is that she grow up to dress like the women who compete on reality TV shows. Hair extensions, stripper heels, hoisted boobs, booty shorts, gel manicure, fake tan… Horrors! I would rather she have an aqua mohawk and tattoo sleeves. Keep it weird, my girl! Keep it creative or nerdy or boring! Resist the forces of bimboification! And go put on some pants!

On the other hand is my sweet 6 year old son, who has exhibited a keen interest in “girl” accoutrements since, well, birth. His favorite color is pink. He borrows costume high heels from his girl buddies. For his 6th birthday he asked for a pedicure. This is how he rolls. Last week he came down accessorized for school in a wide pink plastic headband. I could tell he was determined to wear it, so I reminded him to stash it in his backpack if it gave him a headache, and left it at that. When he got off the bus that afternoon he was the picture of dejection–slumped shoulders, frowny face. “Headband drama,” his sister commented. “I HAD THE WORST DAY EVER!” he cried, and described being teased on the bus and by a pack of girls in his class. I hugged him, told him I loved him, and said I thought he should wear what he likes. And I wondered if that was going to be it for the headband experiment.

But the next day he marched down the stairs wearing a different (coordinating) headband. “Now that I know what the friends will say to me, I’m going to school ready for it,” he declared. In the days since, he has scootered around the block in one of his sister’s dresses, worn a gold necklace and carried a purse to a Super Bowl party, and added some kind of accessory to his school outfit every day. And he gets teased, and he doesn’t like it, but he persists. I overheard the following conversation between him and a friend during a recent playdate:

Friend: “Why are you wearing high heels?”
6yo: “Because I like girl stuff.”
Friend: “Oh. I have a friend who’s a girl who likes boy stuff.”
(They continue playing.)

Shrug. I think he’s on to something, and hope if his interest in pushing the boundaries of gender “appropriate” apparel persists, he will continue to do it with confidence and flair.

So my conclusion is that I would actually prefer it if my son grows up to parade around in highly sexualized femme gear than if my daughter does! But whatever happens, I hope I have the strength to love and support my kids, and keep (most of) my thoughts to myself. (Or commit them to my blog, whichever.)

11 Responses to “Apparel Peril”

  1. alimonkee February 6, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    I just love you and your amazing family.

    • amomynous2 February 6, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

      I approve the hell out of that comment. Look at all the fun that’s ahead, mama! 😉 XOXOX

  2. Naptimewriting February 7, 2013 at 5:02 am #

    I hate, with a capital H, kids who tease other kids for gender-fluid outfits. I loved that, when my son started kindergarten, one classmate’s preschool-aged brother always showed up for drop-off in a Snow White dress. Always. Thing was threadbare with love. And not one single kid made fun of him. Or his older brother. It just WAS.

    That’s what we get for living on the Coasts. Get further inland and those boys would be beaten.

    I’m so freaking impressed with your son. “Now that I know, I’m prepared…” Ah, hells yeah.

    • amomynous2 February 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      When he scootered around the block in a dress, I felt the first actual chill of fear that someone would get physical with him. He’s going to be a big dude, tho’, and I do hope that will offer some protection to him, depending on what the future holds. But in the meantime, so glad that his little spirit remains battered but unbroken. Thanks for reading, friend. XOX

  3. Jennifer Downey February 7, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    Woman, airing personal business on the internet, for you, is a superb idea. that was a fine post. And Murray. Oh, Murray, you make Yoda look like he’s barely scratching the surface. The next time I have to do something that takes courage, I’m going to whisper to myself: “Second day headband. Wear it.”

    • amomynous2 February 7, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

      Hahaha, I LOVE that! I’m going to make us a family teeshirt with that on the front. 🙂 Thank you so much for the support and encouragement! Let’s hang soon, please! XOX

  4. Leesa Wytock February 10, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    Amazing post Miller! I hope my monsters turn out half as cool, thoughtful and aware.

    • amomynous2 February 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      Oh, thank you! Thank you so much for reading. Elementary school is kicking my mom-ass–I can’t even imagine what middle school, let alone highschool, will be like! XOX

  5. Charlotte Drummond March 31, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    Such a wonderful post, Miller. And Jen, I, too, would like one of those new t-shirts: “Second Day Headband. Wear It.” Miller?? Sounds like a fundraising opportunity for Murray – helluva lot better than lemonade, wouldn’t you say?

    • amomynous2 March 31, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

      Yes, totally! You’re both brilliant. 🙂 Thanks, Charlotte–for reading, and for always being so supportive! XOX

  6. Dan Stern April 1, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    Wonderful and funny: the best combination! My favorite part is how you show the unavoidable contradictions in life. Brava to you,Miller, and Bravi to your whole beautiful family.

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