This morning I forced myself to let child 2 choose her own clothes. This was much harder than you might think. This is partly because I’m a control freak and partly because she dresses herself in such bloody awful clothes. I quite often let child 1 choose his clothes, and this isn’t as bad, presumably because he has four pairs of trousers and eight t shirts to choose from. There’s little that can go wrong. But for child 2 – well, let’s just say she has a varied and eclectic wardrobe, and a lot of it doesn’t look good together. At all.
But you see, this isn’t a reasonable excuse for my control freakism over her clothes. She’s four. What she wears should be of absolutely no relevance or interest to anyone except herself – as a way of expressing the little personality that is already such a force. It shouldn’t matter that she favours long, sweeping dresses that she can twirl in, over a top that in no way matches, paired with trainers and a dog-printed hand me down gilet that I have to forcibly remove from her body at bedtime. Or that she thinks anything pink and glittery is the height of sophistication while I shudder quietly into my cup of tea. Or that her favourite pair of shoes are not her uggs that her father spent far too much money on (I know; if my mum could see her she’d actually kill me) but a pair of horrible pink fake leather boots that she fell in love with one day in Tesco and I ill advisedly bought her. Because what she wears should be of absolutely no importance, and here’s why:
When I gave birth to a daughter, I promised myself I would bring her up to be strong and to believe that she could do anything, and that she was clever and kind and talented. I promised myself that she would never think that beauty was more importance than intelligence; or that what she looked like had any bearing on her future. I promised myself that I would make her understand that what is on the inside is more important than what is on the outside. I promised myself that she would not spend her teenage years in front of a mirror, agonising over her hair or her face or her skin, because she would know she has more to offer than her looks. I promised myself that I would not make her like me; that when she is grown up she will be brave enough or confident enough or strong enough to leave the house without makeup, to wear trackies and still think herself beautiful, to – most importantly – know that she is enough without having to live up to society’s expectations of female beauty. Soon enough she’ll be bombarded by newspaper and magazine headlines that criticise women’s weight, dress sense, and holiday photos, and put those women who freakishly lose their baby weight in three weeks on a pedestal (you know, like it’s really important to fit into a size ten when you’ve just created actual life) Soon enough she’ll be surrounded by photoshopped models who’ve starved themselves since the day they were spotted in Top Shop. Soon enough she’ll understand that we live in an image obsessed society where she can never get away from Daily Mail ideals that are about as far from what I want my daughter to live by as it’s possible to be.
And so, when I go shopping and pick her out the sweetest dresses, the spotty tights, the cutest boots, I am letting her down. Why am I thinking about what a four year old looks like? Why? You won’t be surprised to hear that, when I look into the darkest reaches of my soul, it’s all about me; I want people to admire my daughter. I want people to think her beautiful. I want her to look nice. And in doing so, I am teaching her everything that’s wrong in our society. I am helping her think that what she looks like is more important than who she is. And I am placing expectations that are much too adult on her shoulders.
In future, she will be getting herself dressed, no matter how painful it is for me. Because the clothes she wears and what she looks like are the very least of everything my lovely, sweet, kind girl has to offer. And if I don’t make sure she understands this, no one else will.