Halloween is on its way, which means I have to figure out what to dress my child as. I always ask her and she never knows. This year I tried to get her to pick from a book she has on rebel girls. I thought for sure she’d pick Misty Copeland or Joan Jett. But no such luck, she was too overwhelmed by the many choices to choose just one. Plus she’s only four, her idols are still developing.
When she was born, I had it in my head that I’d dress her as something radical every year. This worked year one when she couldn’t choose for herself. I chose Jane Fonda, and dressed her in jazzercise apparel. Jane Fonda does some pretty rad work in teen pregnancy, not to mention the rest of her activism and resistance, so it seemed to fit. Year two, I chose Lilo from “Lilo and Stitch”, her favorite movie. Lilo is a little badass, fighting for what she wants, sticking up for herself, and making friends with someone no one else would ever pick.
Year three, I let her pick. In full honesty, I had a big workload and didn’t have time to make the costume. She chose Sully from “Monsters Inc.” Not too bad – a monster who realizes that laughter is stronger than fear, that love and laughter fuels his world, literally. Last year, she wanted to be a water bottle. Out of utter confusion, we just took her to a store where we knew she’s pick the Doc Mcstuffins costume and be done with it. She was a darn cute Doc look alike.
This year, she wants to be Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.” Sigh, I’m losing this year apparently. She says Ariel is her favorite, but in my opinion it’s really only because her best bud at school also loves her. She’s only even seen the movie once. In our house, she seems more enamored with Merida from Brave, a stronger choice if you ask me. But less popular among her friends, and little kids love to obsess over the same things. See I think Ariel is a terrible choice when picking a princess to admire. Sure she can sing, she’s pretty, she’s a mermaid. But she literally gives up her essence, her singing, to potentially fall in love with a stranger. I just can’t get on board with that.
I find the pressure of society on little girls to love princesses as confusing. Many of the characters are far from role models, even making decisions solely for the interest of men. When she tells me she’s a princess, I always tell her that then I’m the queen because a queen is a princess but with power. But I’m up against a world of movies where the queen is often irrelevant. Many times she is killed off, is evil, or is even ignored completely. Instead little girls are asked to find alignment with the princess – who either needs to be rescued by a man, is tricked into a spell, or who is uplifted mostly for her beauty. It wasn’t until recently that these characters got a new script. Merida bucks the norms of gender, Mulan tricks the men, Elsa rules a kingdom with overwhelming power, Rapunzel sees beyond the “beauty” of Flynn. These feel better to me, but I still don’t know how to respond when she tells me she wants to be a princess when she grows up.
So this Halloween she chose Ariel despite my feelings. But, I don’t see my parenting job as one to talk her out of things, so we looked at some Ariel costumes. She didn’t like any of them. It became clear to me that her enamor with this character was strongly linked to her friends, not her actual admiration. So we looked at a few other things and then she saw a purple Batgirl costume and she was sold. She just loves all things Batman and all things purple.
Once we were at my partner’s work for Halloween. Every year, each floor is given a budget to decorate in whatever theme they choose. It’s also a competition, so they are often quite amazing. One of the floors was Batman themed and she was in love. She met all of the characters, except we couldn’t find Batman (the colleague dressed as him anyway). As we walked away, her little face saddened. Then, I suddenly heard her tiny voice whisper “Batman…” and she took off after him into the dark. We found her in the “batcave” just staring at him.
So, the purple batgirl costume came in the mail, but I could see she still felt conflict as it wasn’t perfect. “I have an idea,” she always says. “I can be Batgirl Ariel,” she announced. To make this compromise, we decided on the purple Batgirl costume with red hair and a shell necklace that sings “Part of Your World.” Green Ariel heels came as a late addition when we walked by them in the Halloween store.
I feel so proud of her. I see her struggling with the image of a princess, what society is asking her to buy into anyhow, and how she then connects to that image. She is torn between what she imagines a princess to be, and the actual reality of what they’re not, all while desperately wanting to kick the world’s butt. This year she’s choosing both, she’s going to be Batgirl Ariel. Why not? After all, you can run the world with flowy long red hair.
Watch out world, here she comes.