Pretty Awesome

Do I look pretty?

“Yes, you look pretty. So, so pretty.”

Here I am with another 3-year old going through that “Pink Phase.” This time around, however, I’ve given in to the pink. I’ve surrendered.

I’m encouraging it, even.

The first time around, I bought my daughter blue, green, and purple clothes–even black. I urged the wearing of pants, the breaking of stereotypes, and the development of a self-image independent of “pretty.”

She had other ideas.

She insisted on wearing long dresses, and after too many morning battles that made me late to work, I gave in and bought a bunch of secondhand holiday dresses with ruffles and bows, fit for a princess. Yet despite believing she was the most adorable creature ever, I shied away from calling her pretty and beautiful. I focused more on what she did and said than on how she looked. I wanted to protect her, while I could, from the social forces that mold girls into either carbon copy “in girls” or social rejects. I didn’t ban Barbie or Disney, but I didn’t allow them to take over the joint either. I bought her trains and tools and blocks in primary colors. Cars. Balls. “Boy toys.” (But not toy guns–because I don’t see a reason to teach kids that it’s fun to kill each other.)

In fact, I have deliberately shielded both my kids from the toy aisles so as not to infect them with the messages they so clearly send: pink, barely-there dresses, and babies are for girls; guns, cars, and fighting are for boys.

Now, five years later, I’ve found myself scouring secondhand racks for another generation of pink, ruffly dresses. Hair bands. Flowery shoes. Tight shorts.

This time around, they’re for my son.

He’s very particular about his clothes costumes. Sometimes he wants to be a “soccer guy” and wears a soccer uniform, socks pulled up to his knees, and my daughter’s old cleats. Other times, he wants to be a “basketball guy” and wears head-to-toe Nike. For a month last winter, he ONLY wore Nike, and had screaming fits whenever I washed his favorite green shirt and red shorts. The separation was so painful for him that he slapped and scratched himself while the laundry was running. He’d sleep snuggling the outfit at night. It took a family-wide effort to get him to expand to, first, other Nike clothes, and then, finally, to other sports clothes. Even then, he’d pull out every item of clothing from his dresser drawers until he found the perfect coordinated outfit, leaving a pile of rejects in the middle of the floor.

Even then, there were days he wanted barrettes in his hair like a girl.

Even then, he’d exhort me to “spin, mommy, spin” when I wore a skirt.

But now, he just wears his own skirts and spins whenever he wants. He’s worn dresses about 3-4 days out of the week lately. Sometimes, all day. Especially the pinkest, frilliest one with the bow and tutu.

He wants to know if he’s pretty, and I tell him, “Yes. Yes, you are so, so pretty,” without a single qualm.

Sometimes, he changes into “boy clothes” and asks me if he’s awesome. “Not pretty, mommy! Awesome!”

Apparently, girls are pretty and boys are awesome in his rigid worldview. I want him to be free to be both. Sometimes he tells me that he is a boy AND a girl. I suppose time will tell.

At school this morning, he decided to change from his favorite pink tutu into his spare “boy” clothes, and was a little perturbed that his shoes were the non-matching flowered sneakers, because they weren’t “awesome.” I told him he can be pretty and awesome. Fortunately, he got over it and happily wore the non-matching shoes.

I hope he grows up knowing he can be both pretty and awesome, as can my daughter, as can any kid.

As can any body.

UPDATE: Lately, he’s been calling people “pretty AND awesome.” And he’s still wearing dresses. We just got some sparkly pink shoes this morning. He’s so pretty and awesome, and I love him so much.

  One thought on “Pretty Awesome

  1. July 17, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    Reblogged this on colorfulcoraline's Blog and commented:
    Parenting: you’re doing it right! So awesome! Every kid deserves to feel “awesome” no matter what they wear!

    • July 23, 2014 at 2:48 PM

      Thanks Coraline!

  2. June 26, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    This is all kinds of awesome!

    • June 26, 2014 at 5:59 PM

      Thanks Stacie 🙂

  3. June 26, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    I love the shift it feels like this country is experiencing on gender issues like the one you write about. Because, seriously, what effing difference does it make? It’s just clothes. It’s just a color. Nicely written!

    • June 26, 2014 at 5:59 PM

      Thanks. People are so afraid of sexual orientation differences. That’s the unspoken part. But that shouldn’t matter either. Besides, dressing with flair or for comfort when you’re three doesn’t predict anything about who you’ll love when you’re grown.

  4. June 26, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Great post! I always feel like a part of my job is to counteract all the gender messaging my sons get from the outside world…and it’s everywhere! I too hope your boy can continue to be both pretty and awesome.

  5. June 26, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    Nothing but high fives for you, from the girl with the Tonka trucks.

    • June 26, 2014 at 6:00 PM

      I bet they weren’t even pink.

  6. June 26, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    My 10 year old daughter only wears boys’ clothes and just got a buzzcut. I think it’s awesome when kids have the confidence to express who they are, despite what their peers (or, more often, other adults) might think.

    • June 26, 2014 at 8:23 AM

      OH – and my other daughter? The more sequins, the better. She looks like a Dancing with the Stars contestant most days at school. 🙂

  7. June 25, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    Kudos Momma! I too try to referee the gender stereotypes thrown at my little ones on the daily. My little guy is almost two and absolutely demanded that I paint his toe nails the other day. He picked pink. So now he has pink toenails. I’ve had a few comments like, “oh you better not let daddy see that!”…wtf? I have no tolerance for ignorance and am not a confrontational person but this is an issue I get fired up about and usually say more than I should. Great post. I have much admiration for you and the way you choose to raise your daughter and son.

    • June 25, 2014 at 6:03 PM

      Thank you and right back at ya. What is it with the fear and defensiveness about the color pink??? It used to be a boy color, bc red was a male color so pink was the boy version.

      • June 25, 2014 at 6:10 PM

        Huh? I never knew that. I’ll be sharing that around. It will make me feel smart while I’m shouting at a douchebag for laughing at my son’s pink toes.

  8. April C.
    June 25, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    I worry about this, myself. My daughter is only one but I already find myself scrambling to not instill the “female mold” ideals in her but also not force her to be a “tomboy”. It’s difficult and confusing and I know I should let her just be her, as I do when I’m lost in playtime or bedtime snuggles or reading together. I just am so desperate to protect her from how vicious people can be but at the same time need to make her strong to handle those same people.

    Parenting is hard. You’ve got a great grasp on it though.

    • June 25, 2014 at 1:55 PM

      It’s hard. With daughters, we bring our own experiences of sexism and patriarchy and body image pressures, etc., that we want to protect them from and strengthen them to handle. With boys, at least for me, it’s harder to anticipate what the issues will be, and harder to feel secure in knowing how to respond.

      But yes, kids will be themselves. Our job is to try–try!–to see them for who they are and help foster their growth so they can be fully (and healthily) themselves. No small task.

  9. Jen
    June 25, 2014 at 11:13 AM

    love it, i was totally not expecting that twist there about your son. Good for you, Mom!

    • June 25, 2014 at 1:03 PM

      And I’m glad the twist worked.

  10. June 25, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    More mothers need to read this! It’s amazing to hear a mother give her child such freedom o expression and not pin point them into liking a specific color. You’re amazing, and this post was really inspirational!

    • June 25, 2014 at 1:02 PM

      Oh, wow, thank you!! I’m glad you found that to be the case.

      I have to admit, when I was asking what color he’d like us to paint his new bunk bed, and he answered pink, I steered him toward blue or green (my favorite colors) party because I suspect the pink phase is limited. After giving in to years of my daughter begging for a pink room, she now wants it to be painted seafoam green… the color it was before we painted it pink.

      Maybe they should just switch rooms!

  11. June 25, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    Yes — my daughter is so obsessed with pink and ruffles and pretty. But she has a good self image and I force myself not to worry, just to continue to support that self image.

    My son? He showed up to a girl’s birthday party last week wearing a Princess Elsa dress prepared to serenade the birthday girl with “Let it Go”. These kids know him, and they all go to ballet together, so they didn’t bat an eyelash, even though there’s an element of the dramatic look-at-me-not-who-you-should-see in his choices. (If it isn’t wearing a dress to a birthday party, it’s showing up to class in a crown and mask. That failing, he’ll stand up in the middle of class and announce, “I’m the one you need to listen to!”) Their parents reactions were quite mixed. Some had stereotypical “boy-in-a-dress-how-could-you” faces,while others praised my husband and I for our parenting styles, My favorite reaction, though, was another little boy at the party who looked Sam over and informed him, “I know you’ve got blonde hair and all, but I think you’d do better as Ana.” Christoph never even crossed this little guy’s mind.

    • June 25, 2014 at 1:00 PM

      Oh, I love this! Hilarious! Some kids seem destined for the stage, don’t they?

      This morning, when I was dropping off my daughter at camp, her teacher asked my son his name, and he answered, “Tim,” which is a completely made-up alias.

      Love that comment about Ana!

  12. June 25, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    My little dude loved “costumes,” too. Even still walks around in my shoes at 13. He’s heard his share of chatter over it, but has grown skin thick enough to deflect the ugliness, and he knows we all love him, no matter what he wears.

    • June 25, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      That’s wonderful. Hope he treats your shoes gently 😉

  13. June 25, 2014 at 1:15 AM

    adorable child

  14. gem
    June 24, 2014 at 9:11 PM

    Yay for….allowing your kids to be kids and not being too pro or anti gender role! My boys are 99.9% all boy whether I like it or not but…my 3 yr old decided he needed eyeshadow. So he got mommy to give him a makeover. Now he tries to play beautyshop with the dogs 🙂

    • June 24, 2014 at 11:40 PM

      Reminds me of when my sister colored in the stripes on our sheltie with green marker!

  15. June 24, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    I need to talk to you. Like yesterday. Or really, more like this morning in between the pretty one-inch pony tail and the irate dad. Where’s the private message button for wordpress? Have you ever read the Maven of Mayhem blog?

    • June 24, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      I haven’t! Will look it up. If you need to PM about this, I’m on Facebook. Kylie Menagh-Johnson

  16. June 24, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    This is great. My son used to walk around the house wearing a silky hot pink slip…short on me, but floor-length on him. Added bonus: it drove my mother-in-law crazy 😉 He is now a perfectly well-adjusted adult and my mother-in-law is still a crazy person!

    • June 24, 2014 at 9:07 PM

      Seems to be a requirement for that position 😉

  17. June 24, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    This is a fantastic post! And I can tell that you are doing a fantastic job of raising your kids! Wow! I must say that our son never once talked about wanting to wear a dress or skirt, and to tell the truth, I don’t know what my husband would have said to this request, but I applaud you for granting your son’s request. Every child should be allowed this kind of freedom in today’s world – the freedom to be who they want to be. I wish it could be like this for everyone everywhere. Bravo! Great post!

    • June 24, 2014 at 2:28 PM

      Thank you very much! Parenting is a tough gig, isn’t it? So many curveballs.

  18. mamarific
    June 24, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    My son likes to play with his big sister’s toys…Barbies & pink stuff. My mantra is definitely go with the flow. but at the same time, he will use a pink Barbie microphone as a gun, ugh.

    • June 24, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      Sounds familiar! He’s grown up with a lot of pink toys in the mix… but turns everything into a gun. One step forward, one step back?

  19. June 24, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    You’re doing a good job at supporting your kids into being themselves and not conforming into any gender stereotype. I think we can do more damage by forcing kids to not be themselves than by indulging them if they’re gonig through a phase, or if they want to experiment.

  20. June 24, 2014 at 5:21 AM

    Is there any other set of people who give themselves as hard a time as the modern mother? hooley 🙂 There is nothing like a couple of kids to beat the dogma out of our thoughts and just let the little ones be. Whatever it is that they want. Now, as long as they go to sleep at a decent time, have some vestige of civility and are well fed, I’m happy 🙂

  21. June 23, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    That is pretty awesome 🙂 I read a piece on “pink boys” a while back that had some really good insight on this being perfectly normal and not having any sort of impact on, well, anything later on like many fear.

    I particularly like the photo with the pink dress and the makeshift gun. That us THE BEST.

    • June 23, 2014 at 6:21 PM

      He’s playing air guitar with my wrist rest in some of the pictures and drilling in some others, but yes, this kid is constantly turning things into guns. He does so many of the stereotypical “all boy” things: wrestling and sports, but I’m glad he has a softer cuddly side too.

      • June 23, 2014 at 7:24 PM

        I think they all do, but our culture beats it out of them.

  22. June 23, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    Good for you! I fought pink and stereotypes with my daughter when she was a child. In some photos she looks like a boy because I was so determined she would be recognized for something other than being pretty. As she grew, I gave her choices. Eventually she was old enough to make her own decisions. As an adult, she is very girly, smart and pretty. Kids have their own personalities. We can teach them manners, kindness, etc. The values she learned really were more important than what clothes I tried to dress her in.

    • June 23, 2014 at 2:18 PM

      Absolutely. We–well I–spend a lot of time second-guessing the decisions I make as a parent. It’s hard to know what the “right” thing to do is. And it’s hard to accept that we can’t protect them from the world and its ways.

      For now, with my son, I’m just trying to accept him for who he is and how he wants to express himself, and to let it be as simple as that.

    • June 23, 2014 at 2:19 PM

      It’s just ironic that I feel more comfortable telling him he’s pretty bc it goes *against* the stereotypes.

  23. June 23, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    My son was also a costume dresser. From Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from the Wizzard of Oz to Indiana Jones and Captain Hook. It just to a movie to inspire him. Now he is 21 and cringes when we pull out “costume pictures”. I thought he was awesome then and he still is! Just go with the flow is all you can do.

    • June 23, 2014 at 2:07 PM

      Go with the flow: That’s absolutely right!

      I wonder how many boys get this “flair” squelched out of them by parents who are afraid to not enforce gender boundaries?

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