“Mum, put your hair down. You don’t look pretty.”
Rose is at an age where being beautiful, “like a princess” is very important to her. She’s all, “This skirt isn’t long enough,” and, “I want to be Elsa!” and now, the “look pretty” thing. She’s three.
As my third child and only daughter, I’ve been fascinated by the differences she’s brought into the house, like, more glitter and less sticks. The differences she’s brought out of the adults around her are just as real, but harder to name. It’s the smiles of the coffee shop patrons as she twirls delicately to the music being pumped through the speakers. It’s the nods from passersby as she trips along in her pigtails and dresses. It’s the way her requests for dolls and things that are pink are accepted as sweet, and no one worries if she’s being tough enough.
The more I think about it, the more I see how the grown-ups subtly encourage a girl child to be ‘pretty’ and feminine. Even me, someone who’s been extremely conscious of trying not to expect my kids to conform to gender stereotypes since before they were born.
For example, to do Rose’s hair in the morning, I need her to sit still and tolerate the mild discomfort. Having her hair done isn’t something she loves, so I’ve explained about “making your hair neat”. Her brother, on the other hand, can simply roll out of bed. Isn’t even this small persuasion sending her a message that she needs to be neat? That she needs to be improved? While her brother, right next to her, does not.
Just a few weeks ago, she’d been taking her hair down every day. I’d brush it neatly into bear ears (what I call two side buns) in the morning, and by the time I picked her up at the end of the day her hair would be in a halo around her head, hair ties gone. I just figured she took them out because she was uncomfortable. Then, one day I asked her to keep the hair ties in. And she did.
Right then, I made a resolve to change this routine. So what if her hair wasn’t neat? I’d much rather she know that being pretty and neat is not the most important thing about her.
“I don’t need to be pretty all the time,” I told her gently. She was quiet for a while, then she started talking about something else. I hope she knows that I mean her, too.