Pink Frilly Dresses Phase (PFD): Will Our Girls Outgrow It?

BlogHer Original Post

Portrait of a young girl (6-8) wearing a princess costume

I know that little girls like to dress up. I was a young girl once. I raised a daughter. I have a granddaughter. Dressing up is fine.

When my daughter was young, her daily uniform consisted of bright Oshkosh overalls and t-shirts. For her, dressing up meant going through my closet and jewelry box as well as her Dad’s closet, and picking things to try on. From her father’s fedora and baseball caps to my tie-dye t-shirts and lone bridesmaid’s dress, she tried it all. She pranced around in my high heeled shoes, loaded with bangles, necklaces and scarves.

I populated a dress up box with things I found in thrift stores that would assist in her fantasy play. I even bought a wooden stage and portable tent for her and my son to act out scenes from “productions” they staged and recreations of their favorite movies and TV shows.

There is something different happening with my granddaughter and her peers today. They have gone frill-crazy, with an avalanche of tutus, princess dresses and other such raiment in a narrow range of choices. (You have to search hard to find non-princessy, fantasy play, dress up options for girls. For young boys, one finds a predominance of pirate gear but also carpenter belts and fire hats. And, yes, I have gotten these for my granddaughter as well.)

My granddaughter is all about being a princess and a vamp. She’s 3½ years old.

Pink-Pink, You Stink and Pepto-Bismol Nightmares.

The there’s the predominance of pink. I know that pink is a predominant color for girl babies and little girls. Growing up with the nickname Candi, I was awash in pink as a girl – pink ribbons on my pigtails, pink dresses. My bedroom walls were painted pink. So much pink that I hated pink.

I see pink everywhere in the clothes aisle for little girls and tons of black clothes (a color I was forbidden to wear except as a skirt paired with a white blouse on the Sundays my choir sang at church). This obsession with pink pared garishly with black and purple takes it from pale to putrid in such places as Club Libby Lu (which targets "tween" girls ages 6 to 12).

Melissa Fletcher Stoletje does a great analysis of the princess craze in an article, Little girls carried away on a pink wave of princess products.

Yes, little girls have loved princesses for eons, ever since Cinderella lost that fabled slipper on the castle steps. But in recent times, shrewd marketing by retailers has pushed preadolescent princess worship into the stratosphere…

Does princess worship hurt a girl's self-image? Are we training a generation of damsels in distress? The jury is out on that, but some experts say the princess marketing overload is actually limiting girls' choices about what it means to be, well, a girl.

Too Soon Grown? (Painted Toes and other Salon Services)

Then there’s the trend of girls as young as preschool age getting pedicures and having their hair styled in professional salons, some of which cater to young girls exclusively. A few years back, before and even after the flood of inexpensive nail salons opened across the country, getting a first pedicure was a rite of passage. It usually happened as a special treat around a girl’s 13th birthday or graduation from middle or high school. Now it’s come to the preschool set. If you are getting a pedicure when you’re 3 and 4, to what do you graduate?

There are a number of things that have influenced this obsession with a narrowly defined girlhood, including the stealth-marketing of princesses by the Disney Corporation a few years back and, for adult women, the fashion styling of the Sex and the City crew where delectable, expensive and over-the-top femininity was pushed over comfort or athleticism. (Makes me glad my daughter came of age during the reign of the girl group TLC, with their over-sized t-shirts and baggy pants.) Even seemingly innocuous role models such as Dora the Explorer have even princessified.

As a culture, the media magnifies, codifies and promotes the importance of how women look above and beyond what they do and achieve. Adult women over the age of thirty-five have the ability to make choices about who to be, having grown up with less emphasis on how they look and a solid foundation of feminism (like it or not). Young girls don’t have this choice. It will be difficult to wrest them from the clutches of the silly-silly, frilly-frilly as they come of age. At this point, the next stage after princess is the showing of breast-cleavage and butt-cracks in every day clothing. (More on that in another post.)

It was only a few years ago that many of us were horrified at the painted, provocative images of child beauty pageant contestant, JonBenét Ramsey, whose horrific murder at age six opened a window on the shadowy world of pageants. Now, more girls are looking like her in their day-to-day play.

In a similar vein, last year, I was dismayed to see photos of then three-year-old Suri Cruise dressed in heels that are, in my opinion, inappropriate for a girl under the age of 12. They were ballroom dancing shoes that her mother Katie Holmes brought her, because she wanted to wear heels like her mom – except Suri wasn’t ballroom dancing. (Whatever!)

Contributing to the plethora of pink and princess products that surround us and places to do princessy things like spa treatments, is the media trend to tout excessive consumerism. Everything is over the top, from the reality shows (Extreme Makeover, Real Housewives, Kimora Lee Simmons' Life in the Fast Lane, etc.) to magazines that track every baby shower, birthday party, child’s room decor and clothing purchase. More begets more.

Jennifer Dowd asks Are Fairy Tale Princesses Really Bad For Our Girls? In this post, she discusses her initial dismay at the princess delight of her four-year-old daughter. Then she decides that there is a way to use this to teach meaningful lessons, drawing from the importance of fairy tales in children’s lives from the book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim.

"As the fairy tale Cinderella shows, sometimes things happen in a world that we have no control of," wrote Bettelheim. "Parents die unexpectedly. Remarriages occur. People can be cruel." These are the messages we can discuss with our children. Perhaps it is possible to use tales of fantasy, romance, and adventure to help our children gain an understanding of the behavior and events in our lives that, somehow, never seem to change.

Besides the angelic voice and beautiful dresses, my daughter told me she loves Cinderella because she is "...so nice to everyone." I believe my little girl has the right to live in a fantasy world full of magic, hope, and true love. I want her to revel in her girlhood as long as she can - she has the rest of her life to become jaded.

Ms. Dowd notes that parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. I know this from experience and from facilitating all those parent education workshops I do.

Grandparents and other members of the village play a crucial role, too. This grandmother/aunt/educator/blogger/mentor/friend sees it as my role to expose my precious granddaughter (and other children within my sphere and influence) to the many possibilities in life. My decision is to expand the ways they play by:

  • giving them options to just be and free play,
  • providing a variety of role-play props,
  • taking them to puppet shows, live theater, and musical concerts,
  • saturating them with books and stories,
  • playing and making games.
  • and talking with and listening to them about any and everything under the sun.

I plan to place no limits to their imaginations by stopping at the narrow images so abundantly thrust upon little girls. I must be as vociferous about the importance of athletic prowess, academic achievement, physical comfort, and planetary sustainability as the media is about fashion, looks and style.

Related:

What Disney Princesses Teach Girls by Xeni Jardin (the illustration using images of Disney princesses, excludes Princess Ariel, the black princess, whose arrival I applauded for parity’s sake at the same time I cringed because it was yet another princes, although she was a self-sufficient entrepreneur

Disney Princesses, Deconstructed by Lisa.

Someone to look up to: role models for girls

Do we force gender roles on our kids Kathy Lauer-Williams asks in a post about how she raised her son to play with girls and boys toys and that he still preferred “boy toys.”

Ever since my son was born I was determined to raise him “non-gender specific.” I hate the way the gender lines for children are drawn so specifically and so early in our society. It seems kids are forced to decide between pink and sparkly princesses or dirt-spewing monster trucks from day one.

Why do girls wear pink and boys wear blue? By Josh Carter

But there are certainly parents who choose to opt out of the pink/blue division for their children and outfit them in clothes of yellow and green. Still, many young girls -- including some who have been raised outside of the typical gender colors -- go through a phase characterized by their unyielding demand for all things pink. Researchers at Princeton University refer to this as the Pink Frilly Dress (PFD) phase.

The Princeton group posits that kids become aware by age two that there are two distinct genders and that they belong to one of them. Securing a place in one's gender is important to a child's psychological development. One easy way for a child to achieve this security is by adopting the color assigned to his gender by society and rejecting the other.

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