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I love cute kids' outfits as much as anyone else. In
fact, I might argue that I love them more than most people, since I
have a whole Pinterest board devoted to collecting gorgeous pictures of
perfectly styled kids.
I'm also someone who designs and sews kids clothes. So you might think that my child is one of those well-dressed and carefully
accessorized children. My 4-year-old daughter loves
dressing up and has a strong sense of style herself. Unfortunately, our
ideas of what's stylish are about as different as night and day.
When Yuki was a baby, we loved that we could dress her
however we wanted to. We were practical parents, we didn't put her in any
ridiculous outfits. But at least she matched most of the time. We preferred
gender-neutral clothes and even alternated between typically "boy" or "girl"
outfits, because we're stereotype rebels like that.
I started making clothes
for her when she was a toddler. I loved putting together fun outfits, dressing her like a mini-me and sometimes even buying a new pair of shoes to
complete "a look."
Around the age of 2, my daughter started asserting her
clothing preferences. She refused to wear pants that were not "stretchy,"
meaning no jeans or corduroys or pants made of woven fabrics. Leggings, athletic pants, sweat pants were all approved. I mean, I
get it: stretchy pants are comfortable. She was a toddler! She wanted
to move freely. How could I argue with that? But after awhile, shorts
and skirts were banned. Button up shirts were added to the "no" list. Trying to get her into any of the clothes that were not pre-approved was
usually a disaster involving a tantrum (by her), and pleading (by her and/or me)
and finally surrender (usually me).
Her idea of matching was a polka dot shirt with polka dot leggings and a polka dot jacket.
When Yuki was 3 years old, we had another kid. Just
getting all of us out the door with any clothes at all was a feat, so stopping
to argue about what Yuki was wearing was not going to happen. I counted
on her to be able to dress herself, so I could get the baby and myself ready in
the meantime. Most days she would put on a shirt and some yoga pants and
we'd be good to go.
But then her style started evolving.
obsessed with layers. One time she came out wearing four shirts over a
dress. Her idea of matching was a polka dot shirt with polka dot leggings
and a polka dot jacket. She loved wearing mismatched shoes. It
seemed like outfits were either all one color or every color of
the rainbow. There were some truly amazing ensembles. But they made
Why did it bother me so much? Was it my pride? My
vanity? My need to control my child's appearance? I had to
seriously confront my issues.
I wanted my children to look like all the gorgeously dressed
blogger children I saw on Instagram. I was jealous of the parents who
could dress their kids in whatever they wanted without an argument. I
wanted to look at candid photos and not be embarrassed by ridiculous outfits. I wondered how it reflected on me, if my kid looked like she had just
rolled through a basket of laundry and out the front door.
As our girls grow up, my wife and I have made a conscious decision to teach them to be in control of their own bodies.
But I also
wondered, what's the harm in letting my child look like, well, a child? There
are so few things that 4-year-olds are in control of. Parents and other
adults decide when they eat, what they eat, when they sleep, when they go to
school and sometimes even when they pee! So if I could let this one
thing be hers, perhaps it would empower her, and give her a creative outlet and
a safe way to express herself.
Yes, I think there should be conversations
about what is appropriate dress. But should I really be spending energy on the
color of her socks? Wasn't I just being shallow? Isn't it what's
"on the inside" that counts?
As our girls grow up, my wife and I have made a conscious
decision to teach them to be in control of their own bodies. We feel that
they should determine what they do with their bodies and when and how, not
anyone else. And I believe that clothes are an extension of that. It isn't my job to control my children, but it is my job to teach them to
make the best decisions for themselves.
While I may have a whole new
slew of issues that I face when my daughters are 10, 14 or 16, for now I've
chosen to embrace, and even celebrate, Yuki's creative outfits. I created a space on Instagram for parents to share their own child's self-chosen ensembles, so that we could see what "normal" really looks like for kids.
Thus the hashtag
#realkidsrealclothes was born. Because for every perfectly styled and
modeled outfit we see on social media, there should be dozens, if not hundreds, of wild and funky, wacky and awesome kid-chosen outfits.
kids, wear real clothes and I'm OK with that.