I’ll always remember the day I decided that blonde hair no longer cut the mustard. A dollop of hair dye, a gritting of teeth and a painstakingly long hour later I was transformed. The pale blonde hair that had seen me through my first 21 years was gone. Pink, I decided, was the future.
My new favourite colour, however, took a bit of a bashing when Consumer Affairs minister Jenny Willot said that parents who dressed their daughters in pink were holding back the economy.
Women are apparently guided into low-paying vocations, such as nursing, because of the gender-stereotyping they face as children. Apparently, girls dressed in pink by their parents don’t realise their own potential. (A bit of dig at the nursing profession there, surely?)
But what of the little girls who want to play with dolls, braid their friend’s hair, and dress from head to toe in sequins? And what of 22-year-old women who succumb to boredom and plump for a radical change?
My parents did everything in their power to turn me into a tom-boy. I was encouraged to spend my summer holidays making dens, swimming in the local river, and climbing trees. My hair was cut so short that I was once referred to as a “little chap” by a shopkeeper, much to my distress. Before long, the lure of baby dolls, Wendy Houses and a particularly enticing Pocahontas costume (complete with matted wig) was too strong. By the age of seven, I was more likely to be found flaunting my garish pink clobber than halfway up a tree hunting for conkers.
Just as there’s a time and a place for trainers and combats, so too is there a time and a place for a puff-ball skirt and glitter eye shadow. We wouldn’t discourage boys from playing football or wearing rugby tops, so I think it’s time we accepted that some young girls simply enjoy wearing pink and playing with dolls. To deny a child the privilege of playing with their favourite toy or wearing their favourite colour is ludicrous and much more likely to stifle their potential.
Playing dressing up was one of the most formative games of my childhood. Colourful scarfs artfully tied around my skinny body, and hand-me-down hats plonked on my head taught me how to express myself. Pink, purple, blue, red, I didn’t care; if I could layer it over the inconspicuous t-shirt and leggings my mum dressed me in, I was happy. Even today my wardrobe is more like a cluttered dressing-up box than a carefully chosen capsule of clothes. After a while, my parents yielded to the pressure and allowed me to indulge in what has since become an borderline obsessive interest in fashion.
Parents mustn’t be demonised for dressing their daughters in pretty dresses and we certainly shouldn’t lay the blame for a struggling economy at their door. If your little princess wants to wear pink, let her. Better that than burden her with an anti-stereotype impossible to maintain. By all means introduce girls to Lego and offer your son a feather boa, but if they don’t jump at the chance to play with the gender-neutral tat, don’t be surprised.
As my folks will tell you, however much you encourage a girl to play with conkers, toy cars and plastic soldiers, there’s still a chance she’ll wake up one morning and dye her hair bubble gum pink.