I recently realised that my six year old knows more about fashion than I do. I have strong opinions about what to wear. That does not include my daughter tucking her shirt into a high waisted skirt, or, more precisely, a normal-waisted skirt worn high. But the other day she was dressed just so, with her singlet and t-shirt bunched underneath, giving her a thick spare tyre; we had an argument. Her outfit reminded me of a particularly ungainly woman I once knew who wore skirts hoiked up to her armpits. This same woman had red bushy eyebrows, surprising tufts of nostril hair, and a terrifying lack of social skills, so when my beautiful daughter appeared with her skirt way up, I freaked.
I would like to think that I'm too mature to be bothered how she looks; in reality, she regularly wears outfits that make me wince, but I say nothing. However, occasionally she tries a combination that makes me cringe so badly that I ask her to change. "Just pull your skirt down a couple inches," I begged that day, "and untuck your shirt." She refused, of course, and said that she looked good. I told her she was Harry Highpants, even if she was wearing a skirt. "Make that Harriet Highpants," I added. "Don't be ridiculous," she shouted, "I look beautiful and I DON'T like you making comments about my outfit." Blech, I thought, and angled for a compromise – to drag the skirt down, at least.
As we were arguing, I realised that I really do want my girls to look good, even if they wear mostly second hand clothes. At some level they are a reflection on me, even of me. When they look grotty and mismatched, people give me critical looks or even – and this never fails to embarrass me – sympathetic glances. Even as I remind myself firmly that women and girls shouldn't be judged by their appearance, it bothers me. On the other hand, when my girls look good, we get warm glances of approval and compliments and that, of course, is lovely.
While all this was flashing through my head, I was also wondering where she got the idea to wear her top and skirt just so. No one in our household tucks their shirt in; it's not what we do. I always wear hipsters, so there's nowhere to tuck – and who can be bothered tucking in a baby or a four year old when they'll immediately come undone?
Then I suddenly realised that in every shop window are manikins looking just like her. They have high waists and wide belts and floppy blouses tucked in. Yet here am I sounding just like my mother, and her mother no doubt, frantic that my beautiful daughter is looking ridiculous, even hideous, because she doesn't dress like me.
Instead, she's looking around and trying things on, things that have a different meaning. High skirts don't remind her of an odd older woman with bushy eyebrows; they look cool. She is pulling away and defining her own style, her own sense of self. Even more shockingly, she's noticed and is trying the current fad, something I wouldn't dream of doing. I feel like I've suddenly plunged from being her beautiful mummy to has-been.
I wonder if I'm big enough, confident enough, to let it go? I want her to find her own voice and express herself, but I'm not sure I'll always be up to letting her explore – let alone be willing to help her.
That said, I felt okay about that day. When I realised what was going on, I stopped arguing with my daughter. I yanked down her skirt an inch but left the shirt tucked in, and smoothed her singlet and t-shirt so it wasn't so bumpy underneath. I still didn't like it, but she was happy with that, and we went out the door.
It felt like a small thing, a step towards helping her find her style, a step towards it being something we work on together. And for an imperfect mother and a stubborn six year old, that's probably good enough.