“Is daddy going to be mad you didn't ask permission to buy me Twinkle Toes?” my daughter asked as we left the mall, sparkly-flowery-rainbow sneakers on her feet.
She knew her dad was going to hate her new shoes, just like she knows he hates princess stuff. I knew he was going to hate those shoes. I hated those shoes. But her worry that he would be upset with her caught me off-guard. Not to mention… exactly how did we get to this moment in her young life when she thinks I need his approval to buy her sneakers?
Twinkle Toes—for those without a seven-year-old girl—look like a glitter store and a bow factory threw up on perfectly normal sneakers. Plus, they light-up, because why stop there? In other words, they’re as easy to ridicule as anything else little girls love.
I try to let weather be my only objection to how my kids dress. So, why did I hate those shoes so much? It started to feel sexist—my strong reaction to over-the-top girly-ness.
When my daughter was still a baby, wearing a plain brown hoodie over her bald little head, someone said to me, “There’s nothing cuter than a girl who isn’t dressed in pink!”
I know that some people look at my daughter and other girls, with their pink and purple, sequined, flouncy ensembles, and feel… annoyed. I know because I used to think like that, too—before I had a daughter who loves nothing more than being fancy. Girls who don’t dress that way—what used to be called tomboys—are admired, while girly girls are dismissed.
So, basically, I was doing my feminist duty when I bought my daughter the most girly-girl shoes in the entire mall. When we got home and my husband saw the shoes, I think his jaw dropped.
“Are you mad, daddy?” she asked.
“Daddy’s not mad. He just needs a minute,” I interrupted with a look that said: You. Say. Nothing. “She thought I needed your permission to buy her these sneakers…Which is crazy, isn’t it?” I said slowly, enunciating each word. Translation: “Unless you want our daughter to think you’re the boss of me, you will keep any objections to your.own.damn.self.”
I love the way my daughter dresses—she’s a tiny version of who I’d be if I had never heard the words “supposed to” or “that clashes.” I love that she’s so much more free than me, not just expressive, but confident in her fabulousness. I am extremely boring with clothes. Most days, I choose the least smelly item from the wrinkled rainbow of black, gray and dark gray clothes laying on my bedroom floor.
The Twinkle Toes really only made it out of the store because wearing ballet flats and slippery boots was impeding her on the playground—she needed sneakers she would actually wear. And then, I thought about shoes I loved as a little girl. I wasn’t especially girly, but both pairs I remember were so very pink—moccasins with beads and fringe, and faux leather lace-up booties with tiny perforated holes all over the sides.
When she put them on and instantly started running laps around the store, I thought: She’s going to remember these shoes. I could see the wiring in her little kid brain changing in front of my eyes, making a permanent memory of this. Once I’m channeling my little girl self, my 40-year-old mom-self doesn’t stand a chance.
Another way to describe Twinkle Toes is that they look like what would happen if someone gave a little girl white sneakers and a bunch of art supplies. Especially if they included a Bedazzler. They are everything my girly-girl could want—rhinestones, sparkle, neon colors…
I realize there’s not a straight line between my daughter’s creativity and what some company decided girls would go for. Except… Except, if I try to rein her in, what message does that send about self-expression? Am I telling her that what she likes is unacceptable, out-of-bounds, ugly? That hyper-girly things are unacceptable, out-of-bounds, ugly?
When she was 2, my daughter was the first one at her preschool to don the inevitable tutu and crown. My daughter—with her black hoodie, blue “D is for Dizzy” (Gillespie) t-shirt, and anything else gray and “gender-neutral” we could find—was the one who wanted the tulle and glitter!
Around that time, I read with concern about a study that purported to show that boys are more active than girls on the playground—until I got to where they explained their methodology. Apparently, researchers counted the number of days that the girls were wearing dresses and assumed that they must not be running and jumping and climbing…in dresses! Because… girls?
Well, she’s not headed for professional sports, but my daughter’s best day playing soccer was when I was so pregnant I didn’t notice she was wearing a tutu when I put her in the car, and couldn’t handle the fight to get her out of it when we arrived. She ran around that day like girly-ness was her superpower.
With gratitude to all of the parents who fought for our daughters’ right to play soccer, maybe it’s time for us to support their right to wear tutus while they do it. Symbolically speaking. It’s not the same now as when my mother was forced to wear only dresses with knee socks to school, even in winter. Girls today can wear whatever they want… but not without condescension.
We never know what our kids are going to turn us into. I bought “boy” clothes and trucks and balls for my little girl, and still… She has turned me into the kind of feminist who needs to learn how to unapologetically allow her to be unapologetically a girl.
The day after we bought the Twinkle Toes, we took a walk, and she literally hopped and jumped and ran the whole way. Just like a little kid should. No limitations. No inhibitions. Nothing to stop her now.
Also, I now know there’s an off-switch, at least for the flashing lights.