Friday was International Day of the Girl. Celebrating every girl’s right to education and wellbeing. Hoping to end forced marriages and bring gender equality one step closer. How did Elvie celebrate? By filling her treasure box with imaginary make-up and deciding that ‘being pretty’ was the most important quality in a potential friend.
Not my proudest parenting moment.
I know exactly where the problem lies. Lelli Kelly. If that is her real name. Advertising her beautiful sparkly shoes, with free makeup compacts, all over television programmes aimed at toddlers. Imagine ten year old girls, styled to the hilt, giggling and twirling in sequin-encrusted ballet pumps that cost roughly as much as your mortgage.
Elvie has seen that advert twice. Maybe three times. And yet over dinner last week she told me that she likes the Lelli Kelly girls because they’re so pretty. That she thinks she needs some make-up to be a bit more beautiful. I hear her singing ‘Lelli Kelly, Lelli Kelly’ to herself while she dances round the kitchen. And it breaks my heart.
I have a deep-rooted suspicion of rhyming names. It feels like there’s something sinister hiding underneath that cutesy veneer. Dora the Explorer is basically a persistent tweenage runaway, accompanied by a half-dressed monkey. Georgie Porgie was lucky to live in a world before sexual harrassment legislation. And don’t get me started on Dennis the Menace – that’s a life of crime just waiting to happen.
And now Lelli Kelly. Flogging body-confidence issues to preschoolers. And presumably making a sizeable pile of money in the process.
I like to think that Elvie is immune to these typical girlie problems. Nothing pleases her as much as being covered in face paint, or actual paint, or mud. Or an indeterminate mixture of all three.
She would happily spend her entire life naked if that were an option. Which indicates either a very positive self-image or the beginnings of a career as a Miley Cyrus twerk-alike. We’re hoping it’s the former.
But here she is, in spite of all of that, with this sudden awareness of ‘beauty’ and how she must achieve it. At the age of three. Despite the fact that she is heartstoppingly gorgeous, just as she is. And I’m stumped.
I have to admit that, as with most things, I’m probably partly responsible. I have a well-documented love affair with beautiful shoes, and Elvie has spent many happy hours trying to walk in my high heels. For several ill-advised and fairly unprofitable months during her first year, I worked as an Avon lady. With the result that she learnt to identify colours and body parts using eyeshadow shades and catalogue pictures. On reflection, perhaps I should have seen this coming.
I’ve always worried about bringing up a girl. Because I was a girl. And I know how hard it can be. I’m passionate about girls having a voice and an identity, and the ability to be themselves. I would love to see young women full of self-confidence. Immune to the media’s nonsense. Thriving on who they are. No sequins required.
I find it almost impossible to do that for myself. Let alone my daughter. I am hugely oversensitive to other people’s comments. I watch Elvie gravitating towards the queen bee at nursery, and it ties my stomach in knots. I want to save her from the misery of the cattiness and putdowns and emotional bullying that took over what were allegedly the best years of my life. That still leaves me vulnerable now.
She is so beautiful. So unique, Such a quirk. And I know that no matter how many times I tell her, very soon the voices of her peers will be much louder and more important than mine. I can’t choose her friends. I can’t control her thoughts. Most days I’m not even allowed to choose her clothes. I suspect this is just the beginning of the long, tricky journey that is raising a girl.
There is, for the moment at least, one thing I can control. The television. No more adverts. Not right now. We’re sticking to CBeebies for a while. At least until I figure out a plan.
When I do, we’ll be unstoppable. Even without sequinned shoes.