My daughter, despite my preferred desires and her mother’s best intentions, is interested in fashion.
She is interested in clothes and colours, screen prints, tights, skirts, and god-forbid, shoes. She enjoys accessorising—headbands, belts, sunglasses, watches, and when the moment calls for it, nail polish. I made the simple mistake one day of walking with her past the nail polish area at our local Target and our trip became a twenty-five minute discussion on the difference between “glittery and non-glittery” nail polish and in what contexts one may apply either of them. In spite of my lack of fashion sense and my apprehensions toward fashion in general, I have come to be at ease with my daughter’s interest in fashion.
I want my daughter to understand that her worth is not in her “beauty” and that in spite of what today’s media sells to our young girls, what she wears is not where her worth is and does not define who she is. I would much rather she be empowered by her intelligence, her strength, her fearlessness, her love, her caring heart, and her adventurousness than whether or not she is “cute.” I am ever so careful in my words and in my responses to her when she and I are discussing fashion. And I fear at times that this interest might not be what is best for her.
There are numerous studies that have shown correlations between the fashion industry, media imagery, and even Disney with body image issues in adolescent girls (and although not talked about as much, adolescent boys). I am fearful because I want my daughter to value her confidence, her wisdom, her adventurous heart and to appreciate that she is attractive regardless of outside influences because of those things and not in spite of them. So my relationship with my daughter and her fashion sense is a precarious one.
What I have found to make all the difference in this journey is that I have ventured into this “with her.” Men in society with our sense of fashion are either expected to be GQ models or slobs. There is no in between. But I am finding, through sharing this experience with my daughter and her interests, that I am creating my own space for fashion and style—learning from my daughter, and in the process, I hope, helping her define her style and fashion sense in a manner that is positive and empowering.
Here are the top five things I’ve learned from my daughter and our journey into fashion:
1) Conventional wisdom be damned! Fashion can be, in appropriate contexts, as much about empowerment and courageous expression as anything else. A fearless approach to fashion often means you venture out of what conventional wisdom might tell you. Things such as giving consideration to the mismatch of colors, fabrics, patterns; keeping in mind the type of skin tone you have and what that means for your style; after certain times of the year your color pallet should be this or that- these do not apply to someone that is courageously expressing their independence. Wear what feels right to you!
2) What you wear can impact how you feel. When I was dropping my daughter off at kindergarten last week, one of her teachers commented to me that “your daughter is one of the most genuinely happy children I’ve worked with and she wears it for all to see.” That statement made me, as a father, very proud. Indeed she wears it. Aside from her constant smile, she loves bright and cheery colours, she has an affinity for screen prints on shirts that silly and make her smile- she certainly wears it for all to see!
3) Fashion when balanced with parental involvement can help a child develop a sense of independence and empowerment. Fashion itself might not actually be the true vehicle here to empowerment, it might be time involved with a parent; however, I have seen how the simple opportunity to choose her own outfits has both shaped her growing independence and confidence.
4) I have learned how early the genderisation of our children begins. I am constantly combating the “oh that’s blue and not a girl's shirt” or “I don’t want Spiderman, I want Tinkerbell” line of thinking with her. I am actually thankful that I and her mother, my spouse, are involved first hand in this open dialogue with our daughter. It helps us, as involved partners raising a child, combat some of those socialised ways of thinking and it allows us to have this dialogue over something she is interested in- the clothes she is wearing.
5) I’ve learned the importance of just listening, encouraging, and reassuring in the relationship between a father and a daughter. I am the first man my daughter will fall in love with and my actions with her, my involvement with her, the way I express my emotions to her and share my love for her, and the way I encourage her independence, strength, and courage as a father influences the intimate relationships she will have in the future- with either a man or a woman. Our journey into fashion simply offers an outlet for us to have a shared experience in which I can nurture those things within her by being involved. I appreciate that it’s her own experience and not one I am attempting to force onto her because I am interested in it and she may not be. It requires patience on my part, but the payoff is far richer for us both.
I have learned to be less fearful of my daughter’s fascination with fashion as a result of my involvement with her and the ways in which I have seen it allow for us a shared experience, through which I’ve watched her be empowered, challenged, satisfied, and grow. I am not naïve enough to believe this will always be such an outlet. I fear the day that is soon to come as she gets older and encounters peers that might place a bit more importance into having the latest styles and top name brand clothes. That might place more substance into their image than into their personalities. And I suspect that my daughter will, as do most pre-teens and teenagers, struggle with this part of her identity and her peer relationships. Perhaps her empowerment and independence with fashion might falter and instead she might believe that she needs to wear a certain brand or dress a certain way so people will like her and not make fun or bully her?
I hope that, at least today, I can be involved with her enough that I can remind of what she taught me so many years ago when we both shared an interest in her fashion.
This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project. Other great reads from The Good Men Project include: