The day we found out we were having a girl, I downloaded three photo apps on my phone in an attempt to slap an image of a big old pink bow right on that sonogram pic. Sure, it’s a little ridiculous to think about a fetus needing an accessory, but whatever. I was excited! I was having a girl! And while my husband and I opted to keep her nursery mostly gray with a woodland fairy tale theme (more bunnies than bows), I spent week 40 of my pregnancy buying tons of girly accessories on Etsy while alternating between walking the length of my apartment and eating spicy food to kickstart things.
When my daughter was two days old, the nurses watched her for me for a couple of hours so I could sleep. They returned her in a hospital cap onto which they’d fashioned a bow, and my heart burst with the cuteness. This is all sweet and fun and just a mode of accessorizing a child whom I love. And yet, I’ve gotten criticism. Tons. People have stopped me on the street to tell me that the bow is too big or doesn’t look comfortable (I only put Willow in lightweight, felt-backed, super-soft bows and if she was ever bothered by anything she wore, I’d take it off right away). I’ve gotten hate mail accusing me of teaching her that her physical appearance is more important than what’s inside (maybe it’s time to have someone else start sifting through my blog’s email account!). Even friends have suggested that I am in some way trying to define my child and that I should be more gender-neutral in how I dress her. (Come on. Should we all just dress our babies, regardless of their sex, in head-to-toe white basic clothing? How fun).
Sandwiched in between two brothers, I quickly took to my mother’s love of all things feminine like lipstick, heels, and yes, bows. Like her mother before her, mine was very fashion-conscious and liked to get her nails done and do other things that society marks as girly. But when I put a bow on my baby brother, nobody freaked out. They just laughed, declared how cute he was, and let our innocent play move onward. I never gave up my bows, not in middle school when the trend was all about chunky heels and electric blue eyeliner — the softness of a grosgrain ribbon could rarely be spotted in a sea of 7th grade ponytails, but there you’d find mine. I didn’t give them up when I went off to college either, and my similarly inclined best friend and I used them for everything from dorm room decor to accentuating our sneakers. Whatever, bows are pretty.
So it should surprise no one that my 4-month-old rarely leaves the house without a bow. What is it, other than a sweet adornment on a sweet child? The day she rips it off her head, I’ll laugh and let her do her thing. If she falls into a “girly” streak like her mother has, she’s welcome to join me at the nail salon when she’s old enough. But if she ditches the ballet shoes and pink dresses in favor of soccer cleats and corduroys, I’m fine with that, too.
Here’s the thing: There is no point in pretending that gender doesn’t exist. Sure, it’s a social construct, but it’s a part of our lives. There are things, adornments, colors, activities, and so on that we categorize as either “feminine” or “masculine.” What would be the point of finding out the sex of our babies if there was absolutely no difference in how we plan to gender them when they arrive on the scene? For me, what’s dangerous is not putting a bow on my daughter’s head. What’s dangerous is not hearing her if she ever looks up at me and tells me she doesn’t want to wear one. Or scoffing at my son (if I ever have one) should he choose to play with nail polish (as long as playing doesn’t mean pouring it all over the bathroom floor).
Vilifying me for introducing my daughter to feminine things like floral prints and hairbows is just as ridiculous as my telling you that your son shouldn’t be in cargo pants or a tee shirt that says “Handsome Like Daddy.” I’m loud and proud about my girly-girl status but will be louder and prouder about whatever it is that my daughter is into as she continues to grow and change. But as infants and small children, their identity is built upon our preferences, from food to clothing to activities and beyond. Your child’s is, and so is my child’s. As long as I remain devoted to showing Willow the importance of eating delicious treats, getting dirty, being honest, respecting those around her, and revealing her inside on her outside, who will really look back and care if as a baby, she was wearing a bow?
Photos: Jenny Studenroth