Some gals think I’m crazy for letting my child style me, head to toe, every single Monday, but I think it’s genius. Being #styledbymychild is perhaps one of the greatest traditions my daughter and I could have ever invented together, for about 100 reasons, but by far the most important reason we do it, is TRUST.
My daughter, Raisa, needed to know that I trusted her to make creative style choices, all by herself. And that I would support those choices, no matter what.
Because you see, up until she was almost 6 years old, getting her dressed in the morning was a daily battle. Raisa was born with a number of medical issues at birth, some of which resulted in her looking “different” than other kids. I decided early on that I would always make sure she looked “cute”, and I put her fashion needs far above mine. I knew what the “cool kids” were wearing, and my goodness she was going to wear what the “cool kids” wore! Because I wanted her to fit in. Except, what I decided was right for her, was in fact counter to everything she knew to be true about herself.
At age 2 she started trending toward “boy clothes” and by age 3 she had all but stopped wearing the dozens of pretty dresses she had hanging in her closet. By age 5, even bootcut jeans and capped sleeves were virtually out of the question.
I begged her to wear cute “girl” things. She refused. We battled.
One day, at age 6, we were shopping at our local thrift shop, and she asked me to help her look for a shirt and necktie. I refused, naturally, so she walked away from me, and asked the lady at the counter if SHE would help her find a shirt and necktie. Moments later, she presented to me the ugliest shirt and tie my eyes had ever seen. I begrudgingly said yes… not because my heart was aflutter with admiration at her fierce independence and sense of self, but because I was too embarrassed to say no.
When we got home, she put on her shirt and tie, looked in the mirror, and took her own breath away. She ran across the living room, into the dining room and said, “Mama Mama, look how fast I can run!” and then she jumped high into the air and said, “Mama Mama, look how much higher I can jump when I’m wearing a shirt and tie!”
That was it. She could run faster and jump higher when she was wearing clothes on the outside that matched WHO SHE WAS on the inside. All my years of “protecting” her, making sure she looked cute despite her physical differences, was stripping her of her power. In that moment, belief systems crumbled (and so did I, right to the floor), and I saw Raisa in a way I had never seen her before.
I had always considered myself to be an open-minded-mama, so I was shocked to see how tightly I was gripped to the old-school definition of what it means to be a girl. I mean, belief systems don’t crumble and leave you in a weeping fit of tears, unless you were gripping to that belief system with white knuckles.
I’ve done a good bit of exploration to understand my WHY. Why did I grip so tightly? Why was it so hard for me to allow her to be who she KNEW she was? I mean, I know plenty of women that dress more “masculine” than “feminine”, and it’s never made me feel the least bit uncomfortable, awkward, or weird. But, they are not my daughter. They are my friends. And apparently, that makes a difference.
When I became Raisa’s mother, I became a mother to a GIRL. And with that came visions of rainbow colored tights, tea parties, and pig-tails. Being the progressive mama that I was, I knew I’d surround her with primary colors and gender neutral toys, and I’d encourage her to play sports, dig in the dirt, and keep up with the boys. My vision of what it meant to be a girl was expansive by most societal definitions, but what SHE wanted… WHO SHE WAS, was still WAY outside my what-it-means-to-be-a-little-girl parameters.
As she started stretching outside of those loosely laid, little-girl parameters, I started gripping tighter. She already looked physically different than other kids and had extensive medical needs… I honestly didn’t know if I had the emotional capacity to jump on the gender-role train too. But in that moment when she could RUN FASTER and JUMP HIGHER, I knew I didn’t have a choice.
The transition from bows to bowties was shockingly seamless. Sure, her classmates were confused and questioned whether or not she was still a girl, but she’d just smile, say she was a girl, and go about her business. She didn’t make a big deal out of it, and neither did we. And now, she’s been with the same kids for 4 years at her small Vermont public school, and they all know she’s a girl who likes to wear bow-ties. Nobody questions it. Challenges it. Makes fun of her for it.
We’ve had long conversations with her about gender, and she just looks at us like we’re nuts, and says, “I just like my style, guys! I’m still a girl!”.
In the last 4 years, I can count on one hand the number of strangers who have referred to her as a girl.
Our conversations usually go something like this.
Server: What would your son like to drink.
Me: I’m not sure. Let me ask HER.
Server: I’m sorry, what was that.
Me: My son is actually my daughter. She’s a she.
Sometimes I’ll just go along with it and say, “I don’t know, let me ask HIM.” And then she’ll burst out laughing and then I’ll burst out laughing and then we both explain that she’s a girl, not a boy.
I expect that as she gets older, things will get harder, especially around bathrooms. I’ve received many disapproving looks from mamas for bringing my 9 year old “son” into the women’s bathroom. We’ve talked to her about it, and she’s ready to say, I’M A GIRL when people direct her into the boys room. I just hope to hell they believe her and don’t force her someplace she doesn’t belong. Actually, that terrifies me, given the public discourse around a person’s-right-to-pee in this country.
By allowing Raisa to be who she is, inside and out, she has had the confidence to BE WHO SHE IS, inside and out. She can advocate for herself, speak up, stand tall, laugh at the confusion, and claim her space in the world.
Isn’t this what we want for our kids? For them to KNOW their place in the world, and to assume that space with grace and gusto.
That’s the difference between fitting in and belonging don’t you think?
When we seek to fit in, we become dependent on others to determine whether or not we “fit” within the societal box we wish to be a part of.
When we seek to belong, WE GET TO DECIDE our place in that box.
I needed to back off, and TRUST that she knew WHO SHE WAS. And she did.
And this is precisely WHY I let her dress me. Because I TRUST her. I trust that she will choose an outfit for me that is a reflection of ME (through her eyes), because she understands more than most how damn important that is.
It all began one wintery day in March 2015, just after her 8th birthday, when I spontaneously asked her if she wanted to pick out MY outfit for the day. I was curious, excited, and let’s be honest, terrified of what she might pick out! She picked a pretty wild outfit - something I would have NEVER worn in my real life - but you should have seen the pride in her eyes when I put that outfit on! And then when we did a little photoshoot, and I allowed her to be the creative director, and it just about sent her into orbit! She was telling ME what to wear and how to pose for a change, and she loved it!
It was in THAT moment that I knew this was going to become a tradition.
We started a hashtag on Instagram, #styledbymychild, and posted again the following week.
And we’ve been doing it almost every Monday since then! That’s a year and a half folks, and it’s been a learning experience on so many levels.
I’ve experimented with color, pattern and texture - ALL AT THE SAME TIME - in a way I would have never explored without the nudge. My style has grown so much since we started this series because she’s pushed me outside my comfort zone over and over again. I inevitably learn something new about pattern mixing or color blocking, and quite often end up adopting some of her style ideas into MY daily outfits.
Raisa also has a way of picking out the things in my closet that I’m trying to avoid. Like that dress that has the WORST static cling in history, or the orange tights that I just can’t stand but can’t seem to donate, or the shoes that hurt my feet just to look at them! If the stars align just right, she’ll have me wear all those things, all together, on the same day. I can assure you that after a day of being in public in an outfit that makes me feel like a hot mess, all of those troublesome pieces end up in the donation pile faster than you can say #styledbymychild.
But then there are some days when Raisa puts me in an outfit that I absolutely LOVE, but my rational mind would tell me it’s “too much” for a Monday. Thankfully, Raisa doesn’tbelieve in “too much”. So when she puts me in a black sequined dress on a Monday, and nothing bad happens, I realize that being fancy on a Monday is OK!
I’ve learned that no matter how WILD my outfit is, if I smile, people WILL smile back. If I walk with confidence, then people will compliment my outfit, even if my outfit doesn’t make any sense at all.
In the last few years, I’ve realized that my job as Raisa’s mama is to TRUST her, because she was put on this earth to teach me. Whenever I think I’m right, I’m usually wrong. Whenever I think I have things figured out, I’m usually way off base. Whenever I think I’ve got myself pegged, she holds up the mirror and points out something new.
I invite you to join the weekly #styledbymychild Instagram tradition, at least once, and see what YOU might learn from your children. If they put you in something that doesn’t reflect who you are, than question why it’s in your closet. If they put you in something that you love but never wear, than question whose rules you’re following that say you can’t look fabulous on a Monday. If they put you in something that doesn’t fit your body, than question why you’re holding on to an old version of YOU, but refusing to embrace the newer, fresher, version of you.
Our kids are our greatest teachers. What are your kids teaching you?