The Clothes Make the Child
by Martinique Davis
Aug 14, 2011 | 1758 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Every morning, I ask Elle: Do you want to pick out your clothes for the day, or should I?

She always chooses the latter. In the midst of the morning chaos, it would seem that Elle’s decision to stomp down to her room and yank an outfit out of the dresser herself would be welcome; heck, it’s one less thing I need to do myself. I’ll be busy taking lunchbox orders and locating errant baby shoes stuffed between coach cushions, anyway.

Yet every morning a part of me wishes Elle would give me the license to choose her attire for the day. She has so many cute little girl clothes… the batik tunic our friend sent back from France, the white linen getup embroidered with fish, the blue-striped secondhand-store dress that makes her look like she should be having lunch at the yacht club… isn’t dressing them up in adorable clothes one of the secret joys of being a mother of little girls? Like all those hours I spent as a kid lacing hard plastic doll appendages through miniature dresses has finally come to fruition in my adult reality.

Inevitably, Elle chooses something, shall we say, unique. The rainbow-striped culottes and a white, spaghetti-stained T-shirt with the words “This is How I Roll” hovering over a picture of a pair of rollerskates. Or the long pink shirt with tutu actually sewn onto the hem. Or one of a dozen graphic Ts splashed with giant cartoon character heads; will it be Kai-Lan, Dora the Explorer or Tinkerbell today? Finished off with her favorite pair of purple leggings.

I need to embrace my child’s sense of independence, I tell myself as she emerges wearing an orange T-shirt and sparkly purple tutu. Pushing her to wear something of my choosing only ends in frustration for us both, anyway. I’ll hand it to Elle: It may not be a style her mother can define or even understand, but the kid certainly has a unique style.

So by the time we leave the house, she has chosen a pair of bright pink Crocs, a red fleece vest patterned with black dog prints and a yellow sunhat affixed with fake white flower to finish the ensemble. We arrive at school, or a social event, and I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Other little girls wear clothes that match.

It’s around this time that I often recognize this concern for what it really is: insanity. Why on earth am I concerned that my child is wearing clothes that make her look like she just played dress-up at the Free Box? Isn’t that simply perpetuating the counter-feminist conception that appearance actually matters?

In my quest for self-growth, I searched this week for affirmation that it really is OK for me to send my child to school looking as though a 3-year-old dressed her, which is the case. And I discovered that not only is it OK for me to allow my little girl to dress herself in a way that is more “interesting” than “cute,” focusing any attention on what a little girl wears is actually faux pas nowadays, anyway.

As I discover in my intrepid Internet research on the subject, that one should never greet a little girl by saying “My, you look adorable!” Which is, typically, what everyone says to greet a little girl.

“Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.” This comes from Lisa Bloom, blogger and author of the book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World.

So take that, adorable French tunic. When it comes to heeding cultural norms as they relate to little girl fashion, my 3-year-old may just be wiser than I.

An appearance, by definition, is an “outward aspect” – merely a façade. Rather than focusing my attention on what my child chooses to wear, spaghetti stains or not, I need to follow the old adage: It’s what’s on the inside that counts. And as a mother, it’s my responsibility to watch over what’s going on in there, rather than focusing so much on trying to manage what’s on the outside.

Although, maybe while I’m working on celebrating my daughter for what makes her who she is on the inside, I still could convince her to trade the too-small leopard print pants and yellow sunflower shirt for the nice white cardigan and corduroy skirt… .
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