Can we talk about the pink thing for a moment?
It's not so much the pinkness of it that bothers me. It's more that as the mother of a three-year-old girl, I'm finding the pink glittery tsunami a little too much to bear. The problem is that in resisting pink, in making it something I must oppose, I've made a problem in my daughter and I's relationship.
I didn't see it coming. When I found out I was expecting a girl I took a sharp intake of breath and breathed out all my fear of misogyny, body shame and inequality. I grit my teeth at the idea of her achievements being brushed away by a commentary on her appearance. I decided then and there that I would provide her with as many alternative ideas of gender identity as possible. I wanted hers to be a path that she chose armed with as much knowledge as she could cope with. I had grown up strong enough to kick down barriers in my life and I felt it my duty to raise her the same.
However, the first time she reached for the pink taffeta princess dress at a play group, I froze. When she told me firmly in her little three-year-old voice "Mummy I want a dress so I can be pretty today" I felt my world tilt sideways. How could this have happened? How could my daughter place so much value on her appearance when her brilliance truly shines from within? I concluded that I had failed to protect her from the constant barrage of marketing that communicated to her that pink is for girls and girls are for looking at. In the face of this I kicked up my war on stereotypes and in doing so condemned her opinions just as I did those I sought to protect her from.
I'm a self-employed single mother. It's fair to say I have a chip on my shoulder about what independence looks like that has been rubbing a little raw since the separation. Looking back over the past two years I can see the moments that I made the princess identity a forbidden fruit that she just had to have. I'd always choose the blue dinosaurs over the pink glitter in toy stores and I banned Little Mermaid because DEAR GOD SHE CAN'T EVEN TALK?!?! In doing so, I limited my daughter's ability to explore and reject these ideas of her own accord.
Realising this was a big moment for me this week. It came unexpectedly during a Bowie tribute I wanted us to share together. Hearing the news of his death was a deep blow and I felt that somehow I had to mark the day with my daughter so I could pass on his legacy. Bowie had helped me as I struggled to understand my own gender identity and sexuality as a teen and I dearly wanted her to know his brilliance too. I hit play on the Bowie playlist that's accompanied so many of our post dinner dance parties and pulled out some face paints. With Bowie looking out at us from the ipad we painted on red stripes and quiffed our hair.
What followed was a discussion like no other I've ever had with my daughter. She asked why the man was wearing make up. She looked closely at his face and sighed "He's so pretty". Bowie's ability to challenge our expectations of gender were once again working their magic and though the eyes of my entranced daughter I saw all the opportunities that I had been missing with her: dressing up, playing with our appearance and taking the concept of beauty full on and celebrating it. How had I not communicated to her that feeling good about the way you look is actually incredibly healthy and powerful?
It was like someone had punched me in the stomach.
Overnight my attitude has changed from that of a wall she needs to break through in order to reach her beloved frills to a comrade she can explore them with. I can't turn back the clock and remove the shame I'm sure I made her feel when she chose the stereotyped 'girly' option but I have since scrubbed my disapproval out.
The funny thing is that the next evening while we pranced around the kitchen to Missy Elliot, she turned to me and said "I'm not going to be just a princess Mummy. I'm going to be a Queen Bee too".
Shine on little bee. You're gonna be just fine.
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