When my daughter Violet was a young toddler, she had no use for dresses. She screeched and flailed around if I tried to put her in one. She was extremely physical. She walked early, she climbed anything in sight and she had no fear.
I liked it and dare I say, I was even “in your face” about it! She was an aggressive monkey, climbing around on everything, wearing her hair very short and always running ahead of everyone including the boys. “To hell with these people who raise the foofy-girly girls,” I told myself.
I have a picture of her on Santa’s lap when she was 2 with a tear-stained face. I had cajoled her into wearing a fabulous red vintage hand-smocked dress for the occasion and she immediately threw a fit, demanding her pants. I felt guilty and I didn’t do this to her again, but I secretly did occasionally pine for putting her into a dress.
And then, her third birthday arrived. The day my daughter turned three, a gift of princess clothes appeared from a neighbor. The hot pink, jewel encrusted, “Dress Up” box included a tiara, a wand, pink plastic “heels”, and plastic jewelry.
I had witnessed other people’s girls hitting the Super-Girlie stage and looked down upon it scornfully. I was solid in my understanding that I had a strong, highly energetic, athletic, no-nonsense girl who could care one fig less about “dress up”.
I looked at her face though as she opened that box of princess clothes, and I could see she was instantly smitten. She carried that wand around all day, and slept in a tutu. The next day, it was very clear someone had flicked on the “princess gene.” I actually embraced it a little at first.
It was fun to buy her dresses she’d always refused. For about three months straight that winter, she insisted on wearing a pink ballerina leotard every single, solitary, day. In the bitter cold she would scream every morning if I forced her to accompany it with a coat, or warm tights.
If I forced her, I would arrive at preschool pick-up to find she had abandoned the tights and coat in the hallway and was running around with only the dread pink ballerina leotard again.
Over the following couple of years, Violet and I visited every possible inch of Princess World: Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, and Jasmine…. The Disney princesses; the non-Disney princesses; The vintage Princesses in books. We worshipped at the altar of princess dresses, princess clothes, princess cakes, princess dishes and princess pajamas.
And….then came the fairies. The wings, the sparkles, the pixie dust. Every night for two summers we took walks dressed like fairies, inquiring what the fairies eat, reading about fairies, leaving small dishes of food for the fairies.
Every Halloween I hoped against hope to sew for her a creative, clever and scary costume. I knew someday she would ask for something really smart and funny – because she is so imaginative! And, for several Halloweens she demanded the same store-bought Super-Girlie costume – usually a marketed princess character.
Or, as a close friend emailed me once near Halloween, “Well! What’ll it be this year: the Princess Fairy or the Fairy Princess?”
My brief, initial delight in the dresses was long gone, replaced by a terrible sense of discomfort. I worried, and I developed an actual hatred for those princess outfits. I tried my best to de-emphasize them.
She seemed obsessed about her physical appearance, the costumes, the wands, the plastic heels. She was far too wrapped up in pursuits of tulle and glitter and rarely wanted to play physically.
I would lie awake and feel anxious: What about her self-esteem? What about teaching her to rely on inner strength? What about being self-contained? What about science and math!? What about Betty Friedan??
The year she turned five, I signed Violet up for tae kwon do. She reluctantly agreed and to my almost palpable relief, she enjoyed it. However, she insisted on wearing a fluffy dress with a huge skirt every day to class, frequently asking the Grand Master to fix her hair clip. She would change into her uniform onsite in the DoJung bathroom, refusing to be spotted in the shameful, loathsome and plain uniform.
And then a couple months before her sixth birthday, she woke up one morning and for the first time in about three years came out of the bedroom dressed in jeans and a very plain t-shirt.
Stunned, I purposefully said nothing to her about it. She combed her hair, put on her shoes and we left for school. I kept glancing at her in the back of the car, sitting there calmly looking out the window in her jeans. The next day it was back to a big-skirt dress again.
But, then! The following day it was back to the jeans. On the way to school I casually asked her about the jeans. She nonchalantly informed me, “Mom, I really can’t climb trees much in dresses and I’ve been getting to the top of that big one in the yard. I need to practice.” I picked her up later that afternoon and we ran to the park.
I watched her that day, wild uncombed hair and jeans black with mud and pine needles. She looked so grown up, like a big school girl.
I realized with a surprising ache in my stomach that the princess dressup phase was truly coming to an end. It had a beginning, a defined middle, and finally an end.
Today, Violet is a wonderfully active, artistic, sensitive, clever eight year old girl with all the mud, and pine needles and also the sports, and sometimes tulle and glitter on top of it. I love all of these things myself and I love her.
And somewhere along the line I realized: I really didn’t take enough photographs of those princess costumes.