We found out that our eldest daughter was a girl months before she was born, but still went with a gender-neutral yellow for her nursery. We didn’t register for anything pink. I happily accepted hand-me-downs from our nephews but still shopped for some cute rompers and dresses in an array of (non-pink) colors.
I wanted our little one to look cute, but didn’t feel like everything she wore needed to announce, “I’m a girl!” It’s ok to just look like a baby, I thought. Kids’ toys and clothes do not need to be gendered.
Three years later, dolls are her favorite toys and all she wants to wear is a pretty dress. Every. Single. Day. She refuses to wear T-shirts, pants or shorts (unless they are under a dress). She likes how dresses make her feel – whether she’s twirling around on the living room floor or swinging at the playground. And the best dresses, in her mind, are the ones that are pink. Purple’s ok too.
So how did I end up with such a girly-girl preschooler? And should I make her wear other clothes, or just give in and buy her more dresses even though she has drawers full of unworn clothing? When the weather’s warm, the answer is the latter. There are bigger things to worry about. I’m not sure what will happen once winter rolls around, especially since snow pants are the only option for playing outside.
I guess this is the beginning of the “princess phase” – and I’m not sure what to do about it. I want my daughter to be able to choose for herself what she wears and what she plays. I also want her to grow up to be empowered and confident in herself.
For now, the advice that makes the most sense to me came in our weekly parenting class. Our instructor, Jane, said that every time someone would tell her daughter that she was pretty or cute, she’d say something like, “Thanks so much! Yes, we think she is too. She is also really great at riding her bike.”
In her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, Peggy Orenstein writes, “It is tempting, as a parent, to give the new pink-and-pretty a pass. … After all, girls will be girls, right? I agree, they will — and that is exactly why we need to pay more, rather than less, attention to what is happening in their world. According to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture’s emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior.”
A Brigham Young University study of preschoolers found last year that kids who watch and play with Disney princesses were more likely to act in a stereotypically female way. This could lead girls to feel like they can’t do math or science or shouldn’t get dirty when they play, the lead researcher, professor Sarah M. Coyne, said in a press release.
I’m not super worried yet (and getting dirty is definitely not an issue for my little mudpie baker at the moment), but I do think it’s important to think about these things. This summer, I was happy to hear that what my daughter most wanted for her birthday was not just another doll, but a “doctor doll” – an Our Generation Professional Doll named Megann. Still, because we knew she would love it so much, we also encouraged her aunt and uncle to get her a princess dress-up outfit for her birthday. She wore it for three days straight.