Crooked Hairlines, Baby Sleepers, Purple Tights, and the Adultification of Childhood

The Bear has a wind-up hamster. She decided to let it ‘run’ across her head. The hair quickly got wound up on the wheels. MJ and I spent a little time debating how to cut a toy hamster out of her hair. The result – the hairline is a little crooked on the right.

Banana has lived out the first three months of her life in sleepers. We’ve dressed her in an outfit or two. But if you came into our home today, chances are the Banana would be in her PJs.

The Bear has several pairs of colourful tights. Her favourite pair is purple and is covered with multicoloured dots. They are almost impossible to coordinate into an outfit, so we’ve given up. Yesterday she wore her purple tights, a stripy skirt in orange, green and brown, and a green and white t-shirt from the Royal Alberta Museum.

Concern over children’s appearance can be a difficult area for parents. On the one hand, there is intense media and social pressure for children to look a certain way. There are many children who recognize brand name clothes before their fourth birthday. But on the other hand, you don’t want a child wearing clothes that are ripped or stained and who doesn’t brush his hair or teeth. Striking a balance between these extremes can be difficult.

I think that the answer lies in the idea of the adultification of childhood. What adult ideals do we force on our children when it comes to appearance? We have bikinis for toddlers. And think of all the adult brands that have launched children’s wear under the same name – La Senza Girl, Crew Cuts (the children’s line of J. Crew). We have little girls wanting spa-themed birthday parties and boys wearing the same fashions as Dad.

When I assess the appearance of my girls, I wonder, does my criticism or encouragement of certain elements stem from an adult idea of appearance, or is it a basic lesson in appearance that I need to teach, or is it something that simply belongs to children? Free-range parenting is about letting the kids be kids and keeping adult pressures at bay. Which is why we say no to our four-year-old daughter wearing lipstick. But we teach her that we always wash our face and brush our teeth since this is a basic life skill in order for healthy socialization (not to mention hygiene!) And we agree to the piggy nose in the car since this falls into the childhood category.

Sometimes the question of where we place our value on appearance can be clear-cut, but sometimes the answer is more difficult. What about a purse (adult idea) that is designed for a child? What about jewelry? Sometimes it depends on how we contextualize the situation – I’ll paint The Bear’s toenails as something fun to do, but I downplay the idea of beautifying her feet.

In all instances, I think it is important to be conscious about the value we put on our children’s appearance. We need to resist the adultification of their appearance while also making room for a childhood appearance. Which is why The Bear now has a crooked hairline, Banana is still in her PJs and the purple tights are in the wash again getting ready for The Bear’s next request to wear them.

5 Responses to “Crooked Hairlines, Baby Sleepers, Purple Tights, and the Adultification of Childhood”

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  2. 2 November 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Dit is de eerste keer dat ik Crooked Hairlines, Baby Sleepers,
    Purple Tights, and the Adultification of Childhood Tortoise on the Loose open en
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  3. 3 Sarah February 8, 2010 at 4:58 am

    It must have been fun cutting the hamster out of the Bear’s hair…

    • 4 Mama Tortoise February 8, 2010 at 7:01 am

      Yup. I’m thinking of adding ‘hair stylist’ to my resume. I’m getting pretty good at cutting bangs and managing other hair mishaps. There was also the ketchup incident that left such a big sticky knotty mess that we had to cut it out!

  1. 1 ControverSunday: On the Importance of Lying to Children « Tortoise on the Loose Trackback on May 23, 2010 at 8:51 am

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