Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Express Yourself

My love affair with clothes began early on. Childhood holidays and special occasions were even more special because a new outfit usually accompanied them. As did the fashion show I would put on to model my finery. In high school, though my single mother’s funds were limited, my great aunt’s antique armoire wasn’t. Chock-full of dresses that spanned decades and could be cinched up with a belt, safety pins or whatever I had on hand, that armoire was my fashion experimentation station and contributed greatly to my unique sense of style. Though my grown up wardrobe is nowhere near as quirky as my teenage one, the freedom and joy I experienced expressing myself through what I choose to wear has remained with me. Yes, I’m a self proclaimed fashionista! And proud of it!

Girly-girl? Tomboy? Something in between? Encouraging self-expression without judging others.

So it was no surprise to me when Liv, who is now nine, used to stretch her little baby hand out of her stroller to touch dresses as we passed them in the mall. Once when she was only a few months old, she squealed in delight as a friend of mine pulled a pink outfit out of a gift bag for her. One of my favorite memories of her as a toddler will always be the day she looked out the window and told me, “It not raining. It not snowing. We go to store and buy red clip shoes!”  From what I could gather, she meant heels like the ones I wore to work. (You know – the clackers from The Devil Wears Prada).

Like me, Liv’s personality is evident in her attire. She’s a girly girl through and through. Pink reigns supreme. But a few months ago she began to hesitate about what she wears to school. When I questioned her about this, she explained how one girl in her class always looks her up and down and rolls her eyes at whatever she’s wearing. Soon those looks turned into making fun of her. It got so bad Liv cried the morning she saw that I’d laid out a dress she’d begged to wear not too long before.

Hmm. I knew the girl in question. She’s a self-professed tomboy who lives in sweats, baseball caps and high top Converse. As a matter of fact, her mother has lamented to me more than once how she wishes she could get her to dress more like Liv. In possession of this sensitive information, I explained to Liv that even though she and her classmate have totally different styles, there’s nothing wrong with either. What is wrong is judging each other and making the other person feel bad about their choices. I encouraged Liv to remember that though she may not ever wear what the other girl does or vice versa, both of them are  free to express themselves through their clothing, their art, their music, their sport or whatever it is that makes them uniquely them. Liv nodded solemnly but still looked fretful as she headed off to school.

Following up on the situation has been a priority for me, not because I care so much about Liv’s clothes but because I care about her confidence. Third grade isn’t the last place where others will try to influence her behavior, after all. Soon after our conversation, I asked Liv if any more rude comments have been made about her outfits. “No,” she answered with a smile. “She’s actually complimented me.”

I’d be surprised if Liv’s classmate started to incorporate some of Liv’s style into her wardrobe, but not as much as I was tonight when Liv selected neon yellow gym shoes with bright blue laces and only a trace of pink for me to purchase for tomorrow’s field day. When I started to balk at this un-Liv-like choice, I had to heed my own admonition and allow my daughter the freedom to experiment with a new way of expressing herself.

Guess those shoes were a Liv-like choice after all.

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