Dressing up

A few months ago now (OK, this post has sat in drafts for a while) when I came to pick my daughter up from nursery I found her wearing a pink ‘fairy skirt’ (something like a tutu). “Her trousers and her spare trousers both got wet and it was the only thing we could find!” they said cheerfully. Fair enough if true, but I couldn’t help wondering whether they’d’ve miraculously managed to find a clean pair of trousers if she’d been a boy…

“She loves wearing it, she’s been doing little twirls around for us,” they gushed. All well and good – dressing up is fun, twirly skirts are fun. But I wonder how much of it was her own doing and how much was pressure from the nursery staff? They seem generally keen on encouraging her to look in the mirror, play with her hair and so on. “Are you going to wear your pretty skirt at the weekend and show all your friends?” they cooed at her. “Yes!” she said. I sighed inwardly at the thought of the likely battles ahead of me when she insisted on wearing the skirt to bed, or in the bath, or somewhere similarly impractical.

Anyway, we got home with only one mention of the skirt (“[name] is wearing a skirt!” “That’s right, darling”) and she got out of the bike and stomped into the house, pink fairy skirt flouncing behind her. I was just wondering whether to try to interest her in make-believe such as playing at being a fairy or a dancer, since she was wearing the skirt anyway (cue a moment of anxiety as I realised I had no idea what fairies actually do) when she turned to me and announced “[name]’s skirt is Not Nice. Take it off.” She hasn’t mentioned it since even though it’s been sitting around in plain sight (so that I don’t forget to return it to nursery next week).

*

A few days after that she was wearing navy shorts, a blue/grey/orange striped tshirt with a little tiger icon on it, orange/grey striped socks, and her blue trainers. She had a couple of red hairclips in her past-shoulder-length hair, to try to keep it out of her eyes. To me she looked like a little girl wearing normal summer play clothes.

As we walked to the shop, she stopped to try to catch a baby woodlouse (as you do). While she was grubbing around on the pavement and I was absent-mindedly talking to her (“do you think it’s going to play with the other woodlice? Don’t eat the moss, darling, it’ll give you a tummy-ache”) a passer-by stopped to grin at her and say “Ooh, what are you doing down there?”

She was too engrossed in the woodlouse to answer, so I replied on her behalf: “Trying to play with a baby woodlouse,” I said, with a rueful grin. “Ooh, does he like woodlice?” she asked. I didn’t comment on the pronoun but replied “Yeah, she loves all the creepy-crawlies.” (It’s true – she asks to stroke snails, she thinks woodlice are hilarious, she has been known to say “Excuse me, ant” as she walks past an ant, she loves bumble-bees and ladybirds, she’s quite interested in spiders as long as they’re not too close to her.) “Oh, it’s a little girl! Oh, sorry, in shorts and tshirt I couldn’t tell,” said the woman. “No no, that’s fine, they all just look like toddlers at this age,” I smiled. “Oooh, yes, of course, she’s a pretty little girl, I can see now,” she went on. I gritted my teeth. What I wanted to say was some or all of the following:

“Well, yes, I think she’s pretty, but then she’s my daughter, so I’m kind of biased. On the other hand, she looks basically fit and healthy and (unusually) reasonably clean, and those things combined with her blonde hair and blue eyes probably mean that white people are moderately likely to describe her as ‘pretty’. I’d rather people valued her for reasons other than her appearance, but I’ll concede that random passers-by don’t know anything about her except her appearance, though that doesn’t really explain why they think they need to comment on it. She totally doesn’t care if you think she’s a boy — she barely knows what a boy or a girl is. I honestly don’t mind if you think she’s a boy when you see her passing in the street — it doesn’t bother me (though it does annoy me if you make assumptions about what she’ll do/think/be based on your guess/knowledge about her sex). If you ask me if she’s male or female, I’ll tell you; and (for the sake of not confusing her) I’d rather you used female pronouns to refer to her, because that’s what everyone else uses to/about her; but other than that her sex is pretty much irrelevant, and her gender is basically whatever her parents choose to present her as, because she doesn’t really have any concept of gender yet.

“She likes playing with woodlice because they curl up in a ball when you poke them with a blade of grass, and to a two-year-old that’s pretty damned hilarious. You really don’t have to call her ‘pretty’ to make up for thinking she was a boy. I don’t mind if she’s not feminine and I don’t mind if she’s not pretty. I don’t feel the need to balance her attractiveness against her liking creepy-crawlies, because I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, and both of them are orthogonal to her biological sex and her gender.

Basically what I’m saying her is: SHE’S ONLY TWO. Let her get on with her life.”

Of course, I didn’t say any of that, I just smiled vaguely and said to my daughter “Shall we say ‘bye-bye’ to the nice lady now? Are you going to come and help mummy with the shopping?”

*

I don’t really have a worked-out conclusion or a neat moral to derive from this. It’s just interesting (and extremely frustrating) to see how much importance people seem to place on clothes. I mean, when my daughter fishes the tiger costume out of the dressing-up box at nursery, people don’t assume she’s going to start attacking gazelles; and really, when you think about it, it’s all just dressing-up.

Advertisements

Someday my pinks will come

The blame for the ‘pink princess’ thing can be laid fairly squarely at the door of Disney: back in 1999 they realised there was a way that they could sell more tat to little girls, and the seemingly bottomless Disney Princess franchise was born, peddling a wide range of pink plastic stuff with which to accessorise your clothes, your room, your life.

Not all the Disney Princesses actually wear pink:

The complete lineup of Disney Princesses

Princessant

From left to right: Snow White, Pocahontas, Belle, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Tiana, Aurora, Jasmine, Ariel, and Mulan (who seems to be wearing pink and blue).

Yep, you read that right: more are wearing blue than are wearing pink. Not that you’d know it to look at the Princess merchandise: a Google Images search for Disney Princess toys or Disney Princess accessories is as pink as Barbara Cartland’s bedroom (though one blue Princess bedroom design does sneak in from this page, on which we’re told “While your daughter has a toy, film, books and accessories … nothing will compete to design the ultimate Disney princess bedroom for her to be his upside down quite a bit in.” I think — I hope — it loses in translation.)

But back to the Princesses. Here’s Sleeping Beauty, blending into the background:

Sleeping Beauty and the Prince as they appear in the modern Disney Princess range.

Princess Monochrome

Your child can look like this for just £25 thanks to the Disney Store:

Sleeping Beauty dress from the Disney Store.

A handbag?

“Extend their fancy dress options with this gorgeous Sleeping Beauty gown. They can wear Aurora’s classic pink dress in velour and satin with organza details, costume gems and a hooped skirt.” I’m not sure how it’s extending their fancy dress options — I’d say it’s doing more or less the opposite, to be honest — and I’m fairly sure Sleeping Beauty didn’t have a handbag; but let’s just have a look at that “classic pink dress”. Here’s Sleeping Beauty in an official Disney postcard from 1970:

A 1970 postcard from Disney's Sleeping Beauty, showing Aurora and the witch.

Colour wheel

The colour she’s wearing will come as no surprise to those of you who read my earlier post full of princesses. Here’s a Sleeping Beauty poster, also from 1970:

A poster of Disney's Sleeping Beauty from 1970.

Fairytale pastels

Not only is she wearing blue, but the prince is wearing pink. You could still get away with this as late as 1981, on this Sleeping Beauty book cover:

A 1981 book of Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Purple reign

But if you look back at the modern version, the colours have been reversed.

Disney do something similar with Mulan: she wears a variety of clothes in the film; the classic image of her shows her wearing green and blue:

Classic picture of Disney's Mulan, wearing blue and green

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow…

She’s often seen on horseback:

Cover art for an adaptation of Disney's Mulan, showing Mulan on horseback wearing green and blue

Pony girl

She wears armour, for crying out loud:

Disney's Mulan in grey-green armour.

Battle dress

but the costume Disney sell is primarily hot pink (admittedly with some equally lurid electric blue):

Screenshot from Disney Store of girl wearing Mulan costume in hot pink & blue, carrying balloons.

China girl?

And why the balloons? A toy bow and arrows would surely be more appropriate.

Amidst all this pinkification of Disney’s princesses, though, I derive a crumb of hope from the fact that Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is allowed to a) wear blue, and b) be old (even rarer than non-pink among Disney heroines) even in the more recent two straight-to-video sequels:

The Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, an old lady in a blue cloak with a pink bow and pink detail inside the sleeves.

Bibbidi-bobbidi-blue

Maybe there is still a chance for her to wave her magic wand and restore the colour balance so the rainbow will come smiling through.

Taste the difference

I don’t always go looking for this stuff, you know. I was just looking for some swanky gift chocolates on the Hotel Chocolat website (because swanky gift chocolates are what they do best), and idly went to look at the “for kids” section while I was there, wondering whether their children’s range was as classy as the rest. Guess what I found?

Images of kids' chocolates from Hotel Chocolat, available in pink/fairy or blue/robot

I should cocoa

In pink: “A Flight of Twinkle Toes”, “The Prima Ballerina Twinkle Toes”, “The Twinkle Toes Yummy Bag”, and “The Flutterby Easter Egg”, all featuring ballerinas with fairy wings. In blue: “The Mega Nibblatron”, “The Nibblatrons”, and (not shown in screenshot) “The Nibblatron Yummy Bag” and “The Rocket Easter Egg”, all featuring chocolate robots.

Of course, they don’t actually say in the text that one is intended for boys and the other for girls (whereas adults’ gifts are explicitly divided into “For Him” and “For Her”), but the URLs give them away: “The Rocket Easter Egg” is Easter-Gifts-For-Boys-P300255, “A Flight of Twinkle Toes” is Girls-Chocolate-P400052, and so on.

I can’t bear to read through all the descriptions, but here’s an example of how they compare:

Twinkle Toes Yummy Bag: “A gorgeous milk chocolate adventure specially chosen by our graceful dancing ballerina. And as you can see, she certainly knows delicious chocolate when she sees it!

Nibblatron Yummy Bag: “An exciting adventure of milk chocolate goodies, personally chosen by our friendly robot and easy to share – if needs be!”

I suppose at least girls get some “adventure” too, even if it is the nonsensical “gorgeous milk chocolate adventure” (can an adventure be “gorgeous”?) rather than the more fun-sounding “exciting adventure of milk chocolate goodies”. (I’m not even sure what the rest of the Twinkle Toes text means: how are you supposed to be able to tell that the fairy ballerina “knows delicious chocolate when she sees it”? She’s not eating chocolate, she’s fluttering around gracefully or whatever fairy ballerinas do.) I note with a weary sigh that boys aren’t expected to want to share unless they absolutely have to.

Here’s another pair in the same range:

Pick Me Up The Twinkle Toes Nibbling Kit: “Filled with the cutest milk chocolate goodies fit for a princess and ideal for birthday parties or best behaviour treats!”

Pick Me Up The Nibblatron Nibbling Kit: “Filled with out-of-this-world chocolate goodies for parties, treats or even just because!”

So the girls’ chocolates are “the cutest”, and “fit for a princess”; the boys’ chocolates are “out-of-this-world” and you don’t have to conform to any particular stereotyped dress-up role to eat them. Also, while boys are encouraged to have chocolates “just because”, girls are encouraged to see them as “best behaviour treats”: if they’re good enough, they might be allowed to have the same treats as a boy.

It makes me sicker than eating a whole box of chocolates in one go.