Who’s That Girly-Girl?


By Marjorie Ingall

Published August 29, 2003, issue of August 29, 2003.
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I’m not exactly butch. I’ve got a weakness for nail polish and peasant blouses, and I’m far more familiar with the oeuvre of Isaac Mizrahi than that of Isaac Bashevis Singer. But chas v’chalila, vey iz mir and any other ptui-ptui-ptui-oriented Jewish expression you can come up with, I have no idea how I managed to spawn such a girlina.

Josie is now 22 months old, and she has made her preferences for all things feminine abundantly clear. She has a favorite outfit, a sapphire-blue dress my parents got her in Mexico. (Thank God I also find it adorable. If she wanted to wear something girly and tacky, fuschia, lace-encrusted and Barbie-logoed, I’d have to kill myself.) It has little ruffled cap sleeves, and the bodice is covered with brightly colored embroidered birds. Josie expresses her admiration for this dress by screaming like a banshee when one suggests she wear something else. If one gently suggests that a certain someone might enjoy wearing her red pants because she is going to play in the mud at Tompkins Square Park, one must brace for the deafening shriek, “Noooooooo! Birdies! Wanna wear the birdies! Gotta wear the birdies!”

Josie’s other favorite outfits: A pink-sleeved baseball shirt with a glitter rainbow decal and the ever-classy legend “Hard Rock Hotel: Las Vegas” on the front, purchased by her father during a geek convention in that fair city. I keep it hidden in the back of her drawer because if she sees it, she wants to wear it — even if she’s already wearing birdies. (“Wanna wear rainbow too!”) Other items she demands, like the wee tyrant she is, include a pink-polka-dot shirt and a white puffy-sleeved blouse with red poppies all over it. And then there’s the loathsome pink dress with fruit stenciled all over it. I’ve only dressed her in once, and that was when my parents, who gave it to her, were coming for brunch and I wanted to be polite. (Predictably she fell in love with it just to be contrary.) If I let her, she’d wear all these items at once, looking like a terrifying pastel toddler Michelin Tire Man or perhaps a particularly gay schizophrenic homeless person.

Big girls — i.e., 4-year-olds — and adult women are her fashion gods, her own version of Coco Chanel. At our Fourth of July barbecue, Josie toddled around wearing my friend Gayle’s oversize Jackie O. sunglasses and pink-and-brown-ribboned hat, cooing, “I’m so gammous!” (Translation: I’m so glamorous.) When my friend Molly came over a few weeks ago, Josie ran to meet her at the door and said, “Hi, Molly! Cute shoes!” Today, as I shut the door to my office, she was spinning around in the kitchen, bellowing, “I’m a ballerina!” (Her tendency to whip herself around in circles until she falls over makes her more likely to become a follower of the band Phish, but I digress.) Apparently she saw some hair clips on a little girl at the playground, and now she lives for them. She doesn’t actually like to wear them, perhaps because when they’re in her hair, she can’t see them. (Which is probably good, since she barely has enough hair to keep them in, and they tend to slide down the sides of her face and cause renewed bouts of frustrated shrieking.) She just wants to hold them in one sweaty palm, admiring them. Either that or put them on her Teletubbies.

Two weekends ago, she was a flower girl at a beautiful wedding in the Hamptons. (“White dress! Have a basket! Throw flower petals! Hold hands with the other girls!”) I honestly didn’t expect her to make it down the aisle, but she did. The chance to show off her girly finery was too tempting. The day before the wedding, her babysitter had painted her fingernails pearly white. Josie immediately became obsessed with her own hands, staring at them like a person on LSD. (Again, I say: Phish. God help us.)

I’m hardly the first mom to wonder how I, a woman terrified of mascara wands, someone who views a blow dryer as a weapon of mass destruction, managed to give birth to Marie Antoinette. To some degree, I bet it’s an early sign of peer influence — whatever her very feminine big-girl friends Olivia and Nora do is cool. And I’m sure she’s influenced in insidious ways by pop culture and television. (She’s still — to the best of my knowledge — never seen a commercial, thanks to TiVo, but she’s seen how Zoe, the girl Muppet, is covered with bracelets and barrettes, and we can’t help but notice how most of the girls in her books wear dresses and have long hair.)

Whatever the cause, we parents seem to have little to do with our kids’ developing tastes. I’m sure it’s a sign of individuation and it’s healthy and all that, but man, it’s mysterious. Many years ago, I did a story on gay and lesbian parents for Teen People magazine. One woman told me how she and her partner were determined to raise their kids with only nonviolent, gender-neutral toys. But by age 4, their daughter was agitating like crazy for Barbies. After some debate, her moms gave some to her, and she immediately set Barbie and Ken to marrying. They encouraged her to have Barbie marry Barbie occasionally, but she insisted, “Barbie wants to marry Ken!” (Similarly, they’d determinedly kept guns out of their kids’ lives, until the family visited a Walmart and their 3-year-old son saw an entire aisle of real guns. Time stopped. “What are those?” the little boy asked. The moms took a deep breath, knowing this was the moment of truth. “Those are guns,” one mom said, “And we don’t like them.” Breathless, the little boy said, “I like them.”)

I hate the term “post-feminist.” I’m a feminist, plain and simple. And I’m fine with my daughter embracing the outward trappings of girlidom. (At least until she’s 6 and wants to dress like Christina Aguilera.) When she gets bigger, if she’s still into makeup, I’ll buy her make-your-own-lip-gloss kits and talk about the science involved. We’ll discuss the portrayal of girls (and boys) in the media. I’ll point out strong, smart, accomplished women role models. Within reason, I’m okay with her femme-itude. I want her to grow up knowing that loving pink doesn’t mean you have to be a powder puff.

E-mail Marjorie at mamele@forward.com.

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