kids

Just because it sparkles, doesn't mean it's anti-feminist.

I lost. I lost big.

My daughter, G, is only two. Barely. She’s two years and two months old, and she chose sneakers that are pink-and-purple tie-dyed, glittery, and rhinestoned — oh, and they LIGHT UP.

Yup, all of that’s on one shoe. One very small shoe.

We were at our local thrift shop, which is a haven for all kinds of excellent, barely-worn (and not-so-excellent, very-worn) shoes. Children’s feet grow at such alarming speeds already — why spend $50 for one pair?

I picked up some black Vans and a pair of tiny, über-hip, chocolate-brown desert boots. “Oh, hey, G, aren’t these cute?”

But she wasn’t paying any attention to me.

Her eyes had been almost-literally bedazzled by that damn pair of sneakers.

Watch: The times our kids made us cringe. Post continues below.

Really, Value Village, you put them on the lowest shelf? I thought. That’s like putting the Pop Tarts and Oreos at toddler height.

“Mama, these. Mama. Mama. Help.” She began to pull off her own shoes — green and black and perfectly basic, but also getting small (hence our search in the first place).

She was struggling, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to help her get into that particular pair of sneakers.

I’d always told myself that I would buy her neutral(ish) clothes — feminine, tomboyish, androgynous — until she started wanting to pick out her own clothes. If she wanted Princesses and glitter, so be it. If she didn’t, I’d be fine (great!) with that.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Why are so many of us trying to keep our kids from choosing what to put on their own bodies?" Image via TLC.

But I didn’t think it would happen so soon.

To be sure, one pair of shoes isn’t an entire wardrobe; I will still have discretion when I purchase new clothes or filter through hand-me-downs.

But still, I know kids this age whose parents have already pushed them down the tea-party aisle.

That’s also fine, but, frankly, not my cup of tea (I prefer coffee).

A few of the outfits she’s chosen to wear lately:

  • Red-and-white striped pants with a purple polka-dotted dress.
  • Rain boots and jammies.
  • A sun hat, a backpack with birds all over it, a tiny University of Wisconsin hockey jersey, and floral undies — several pairs — over her pants.
  • Flip flops (which she loves so much she insists on sleeping with them), gold leggings, and gardening gloves.
  • She’s a toddler who clearly has opinions about what gets put on her body.

I’m not sure why I and others fight this creative expression so strongly. Well, I understand part of it: I don’t want my daughter to fall into the oft-male-defined role of “girl” and “woman”. Wearing a delicate dress is often interpreted as a sign of being delicate, made only for debutante balls and housework.

But what I’m learning is that a girl can wear a dress and decide to do whatever the hell she wants in it.

The clothing doesn't define the activity at this age; it’s not a uniform. Want to wear a flouncy taffeta thing for soccer? Sure! I mean, it might be challenging to run and move in, but it’s not like they’re really playing soccer at this age anyway.

The clothing doesn't define the girl, or boy, or whatever’s in between or outside of those boxes.

As a child of the 80s and 90s, I always envied Punky Brewster and Clarissa Darling, because they did things their way. They wore what they wanted. They styled their rooms in such a way that being banished there for punishment sounded heavenly.

"As a child of the 80s and 90s, I always envied Punky Brewster and Clarissa Darling, because they did things their way." Image via NBC.
ADVERTISEMENT

Punky wore different coloured shoes mismatched clothing all the time. Clarissa accessorized in the very best way — giant bright headbands, chunky earrings, and clothing befitting an artsy retired woman in Taos. It was all so awesome.

But while I watched and wished I could be that cool, I was busy trying to fit my school’s definition of cool.

This meant getting a teasing comb stuck in my bangs after a failed attempt to make them bigger, only minutes before school photos. (The comb had to be cut out.) I tried Z. Cavaricci pants and flannel shirts and penny loafers, and never once felt like myself in them.

Not so long ago, I came across Tavi Gevinson (the current editor of Rookie, a magazine I hope will still be around when my daughter is a teen). I discovered Gevinson’s blog when she was just 12 and photographing her own kind of often-mismatched, absurd-but-well-thought-out fashion.

Why are so many of us trying to guide our children down paths that we’ve defined for them — whether it’s princesses for girls, trucks and dinosaurs for boys, or even my own attempts at gender neutrality with G?

I was intrigued. I wasn’t the only one — as she got older, fashion houses took interest. Time magazine named her one of The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014. Only a few years later, Gevinson developed Rookie into a topnotch home for realistic, important, and empowering conversations for young women.

Children become teens become young adults become adults. Accordingly, cultivation of self esteem should begin at a young age.

I’m not saying my daughter is the next Tavi Gevinson or Punky or Clarissa. But these are girls and women who have taken a stand on what labels are put on kids. They (and the shows’ producers, for the latter two) did what they wanted, in a way that never jeopardized their own safety or the safety of others.

"Clarissa accessorised in the very best way." Image via Nickelodoen.
ADVERTISEMENT

Why would we want to take that away from a young person? Why would we want to squelch a positive expression of identity and creativity?

For better and for worse, our society is growing more vocal about what girls and women do with their bodies. Many people (rightfully) believe that women own their bodies, and that, therefore, they should be in control of their own bodies.

So why do those same people turn around and try to define girls by their clothing?

Why are so many of us trying to keep our kids from choosing what to put on their own bodies? And why are so many of us trying to guide our children down paths that we’ve defined for them — whether it’s princesses for girls, trucks and dinosaurs for boys, or even my own attempts at gender neutrality with G?

"Why would we want to squelch a positive expression of identity and creativity?" Gif via Giphy.com/FOX.

I checked the price of the sparkly sneakers ($1.99), and noticed that they’d barely been worn.

Do I hear the ghost of another mother like me? I wondered. Was some other little girl gifted these shoes, only for her parents to slyly toss them in the “donate” pile?

I took a moment to breathe and to consider what damage these two-buck shoes could do.

Very little, I decided. Who am I to deny my daughter this happiness of this inexpensive bauble?

So, I bought the shoes, and my daughter shines. She should shine.

And while I’m still going to have the final say in what she wears, I am going to work harder to let her define herself and to let her creative juices run as fast and as thick as she wants.

Really, who am I to say she can’t wear five pairs of underwear over her pants?

OK, she also can wear her gardening gloves, her owl hat, legwarmers on her arms, and — sure — the sparkles too!

With each clomp she makes in her new shoes, she’s saying, Here I am!

And she’s stomping her feet in the girliest of shoes, but in a way that would never be described as “delicate".

This story by Jennifer Fliss originally appeared on Ravishly, a feminist news+culture website.

Follow us on Twitter & Facebook and check out these related stories:

Can We Please Stop Hating On Princesses?

5 Ways I Practice Intersectional Feminist Parenting

My Son Loves Trucks And Princesses