Entering the children’s park on a fall Tuesday morning, I nod to the familiar groups of nannies and stay-at-home parents, recognizing them mainly by their surrounding children. I release my wards (2 girls – 3 years old, and 1&½ year old) from the stroller, and follow them at a close distance; far enough to avoid being a hover-guardian or obstructing independence-building, close enough in case of emergency. As I watch the girls climb up the steps to the slides, a fellow nanny approaches. We have chatted exactly two times prior, mainly discussing the weather and cuteness of the children.
She: “Wow, you’re letting [3 year old] dress herself already, huh?”
Me: “Yep, she loves it! Fearless with stripes and polk-a-dots combo.”
She: “Yes, I see she wears A LOT of pink.” (Raises eyebrows)
Me: (Laughs) “Of course. It’s her favorite color.”
She: “Hmm, aren’t you worried about her becoming…”
Me: “Becoming what?”
She: “…Well you seem like an independent woman. Why are you letting her wear so much pink?”
Me: “Because she likes pink. And she chose what to wear.”
If you’re around children often, have children, or experienced in child-care, you know that there are often those who like to give unsolicited advice. Learning to brush off said unsolicited advice is a developing skill, one which I cannot claim expert. And this definitely was a conversation I couldn’t just brush off. “C’mon, Kathleen. It was just a harmless conversation.”
Firstly, stating that it’s obvious I’m “letting” a 3-year old choose her clothes is a slight she was trying to pass as a simple observation. Yea, it’s blatantly obvious (and fucking awesome) that said three-year-old is adventurous, fearless, and unapologetic in her clothing choice: a pink polk-a-dot tutu with blue leggings and neon pink socks, topped off with a glittery pink striped shirt. The problem here is the verb “letting”. I do not “let” this three-year old wear something. It is her body, and yes, a three-year old has a developing autonomy as a human being. She gets to choose what goes on her body (within safe weather parameters—there are no flip-flops worn in the Chicago cold), because, again, it’s her body. I do not “let” her wear pink; she often chooses pink clothes at the store, she chooses pink clothes to wear.
There’s a great quote by Jada Pinkett-Smith on “letting” her daughter Willow develop fashion and hair choices:
“First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power, or self-determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit, and her mind are HER domain. Little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should or shouldn’t be.”
Whether you’re a fan of the Smiths or not, her sentiments ring true. One of the easiest ways to allow a little one to develop self-love and self-determination is to allow them to make choices involving their bodies, such as fashion.
Parents can raise their daughters as they wish, but it crosses a line to criticize other’s parenting or child-care methods (unless harm is involving that child). Unsolicited advice and control over a little girl’s choices develops into an aggressive societal concept that she will deal with for the rest of her life. When you start policing a three-year-olds relationship to her body, it deflects her ownership over her own self. That is not a power you are welcome to, nor is it one you are entitled to, just because you are an adult.
According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development model, children begin to develop autonomy in the 2nd stage of life (2-3 years of age) and onward. A disruption in this development can lead to an unhealthy body image, shame, and a lack of self-respect and self-actualization. It shows girls that what they want doesn’t matter, that they are responsible in adhering to social constructions. Let’s bring consent into the picture. Yes, consent matters to 3-year olds. When you invalidate or overrule a choice they’ve made, you are teaching them that it is ok for others to invalidate or overrule their choices later on in life. If you still choose your child’s clothes, that is perfectly fine, some kids don’t give a shit about fashion or clothing choices. The problem lies in complete invalidation of choice and consent over their body.
Thirdly, when did the color pink become offensive to the progress of women? I am a feminist. I fucking love pink. Pink is a gorgeous color that has been marred by the stereotypical gender assignment. It is a color, amongst many other colors, one in which some children and adults happen to like. I completely empathize with the frustration around children’s toys that perpetuate the gender stereotyped colors, as if pink toys are the only color of toys a girl can play with. But when your child JUST HAPPENS to love that gendered color, are you doing more damage to their autonomy by hindering their love, their choice? Based on what? The principle that not all girls love pink. Yea, not all girls love pink, but some do, and they’re not wrong.
Some girls want to be pink fairy princesses, some want to be warrior superheroes; they’re both right!