For a gay man, I’m surprisingly horrible at fashion.
This is a picture of me in high school. I weighed about 40 lbs. more than I do now, and I literally wore plaid shirts like this, tucked in, every single day. Except on days when I wore the other kind of plaid shirts with bigger squares. I’m not joking. I’m pretty sure I was in denial about the fact that I was alive and that people had to look at me. I just kind of existed back then, unaware of how I appeared to the rest of the world. Which is probably for the best because I looked kind of like the marshmallow puff man, and I had a white-man fro, and I basically had no game or swagger or coolness or anything like that whatsoever. And I played the violin. And wrote poetry. And was a lead in the school play. And won the choir award for the year…
Okay, okay, as of June 7th 2012, I can finally just come out and say it:
I was the worst closet case in the history of gaydom, and pretty much the only thing that didn’t give away my sexual orientation was the fact that I dressed like a 55-year-old Boeing engineer. (Though, to my credit, I never did rock the black sock/leather sandal combination. Oh wait… yes I did. As I wrote that sentence thinking “whew, dodged that bullet” it dawned on me with a sick horror that I actually did wear the black sock/sandal combo…. wait for it… TO CHURCH. (I really, really, really wish I was kidding, and I also wish I had blocked that out more effectively. Pardon me while I suffer through a series of horrific fashion flashbacks. Why did nobody tell me how ridiculous I looked? )
Point is, I don’t have much of a fashion sense at all and the only reason I look halfway decent these days is because Lolly dresses me like I’m her own personal life-sized Ken doll and I weigh a lot less.
Yet, somehow, I spawned a daughter (Viva) who at the tender age of four is an actual fashionista. Like, no joke, she has a natural gift for fashion that is so complex and innate I scarcely comprehend it.
We first discovered her creative tendency when she started insisting on choosing her own outfits. Obviously, this is standard behavior for little girls. Anna used to do the same thing. Except with Anna, she would end up with some weird psychedelic combination of colors that looked like it had been picked out by a little girl, or perhaps by a clown. Viva though? She grabs a shirt and leggings (always leggings) and a skirt (always a skirt) and for a second, as an adult, Lolly and I are like “oh, that’s gonna look crazy…” but then she puts it on and it… actually works. It’s like she’s a magician. Here’s a more extreme example:
1. One time Lolly came down with her make-up done and her hair coiffed and a really nice outfit and Viva shouted with glee “Mommy, I love your hair! And I love your makeup! And I love your pants and shirt! It’s working for you!” Where did my then-three-year-old learn that phrase? It’s not like she watches style shows or grew up in the 90’s. It came from her own brain, spontaneously. Which means she’ll probably end up a judge on a show like “America’s Next Top Model” eventually.
2. Or there was the time that Lolly walked downstairs and Viva said “Mommy, today are you going to wear one of your favorite shirts, or are you going to wear a beautiful shirt?”
3. Or the time Viva came and woke us up in the morning, and before Lolly got ready said “Mama, could you please look PRETTY today?”
4. Whenever she sees you wearing something she likes (which is often), she’ll exclaim, “Oh, I love that ______________.” It’s actually quite flattering.
5. Actually, Viva’s natural style instinct has proven so right on in so many instances that Lolly has started resorting to her opinion to decide on an outfit. I’ll see Lolly try something on, check herself in the mirror several times, and then go downstairs and stand in front of Viva hoping to casually catch Viva’s eye. If Viva isn’t paying attention, Lolly will say “Viva” and then gesture nonchalantly to her clothes hoping to not look too desperate for the four-year-old’s approval. Sometimes she gets the Viva go-ahead. Other times she fails.
A week or two ago where Lolly couldn’t find anything to wear to church but a short-sleeved turtleneck, she came downstairs and asked me how she looked. (Guys, correct answer? BEAUTIFUL. Amiright?) After assuring her she looked good, she leaned over to me and whispered “I’m worried what Viva’s gonna think…” I tried to assure her that Viva probably wouldn’t notice, but we both knew it was coming. We went out to the car, and Lolly opened the door where Viva was sitting ready to go to church. Viva looked her up and down and innocently asked “Mommy, why are you wearing a turtle neck?” WE HAVE NEVER EVEN TAUGHT HER THE WORLD TURTLE NECK. It’s ridiculous.
If you can be a savant of fashion, I’m pretty sure that’s what Viva is.
6. One of the more awkward things is when she decides to critique strangers about their fashion choices. It’s hard to get mad at her because she’s so small that it really is just her genuine opinion, but there was one time where we were at the party of a friend of a friend where we knew basically nobody (hi Duvall peeps! We’re hoping to join you again next year!) and Viva singled out one nice-looking lady at the party and said “I don’t like your hair.”
It was horribly awkward. The woman was very pretty, and her hair was very nice. But even she admitted “you know, I was just talking to my friend the other day saying I need to do something new with my hair because this style is getting old.” Leave it to Viva to pick out one of the pretty ladies in the room, and then express her disapproval of an out-of-date hair choice.
7. Here is where things get a little sticky, and where we ask for a little input if you have any. Seriously, we love and relish this part of Viva’s personality. It’s so fun to see her creativity and passion for clothes, outfits and looking pretty. But, one thing that worries us is the fact that her obsession with fashion and looking pretty seems to tie in to her self esteem. She’s even said various times “people aren’t going to like me today!” if she has an outfit on that she doesn’t approve of. Or other times I’ll tell Viva how much I love her and she’ll immediately jump to “Do you love me because I’m wearing a beautiful skirt?” and I’ll explain that no, I love her because she’s my Viva and I love her no matter what she’s wearing.
It’s troubling to see her self-worth already being tied to her looks. Does anybody out there have any suggestions as to how to make sure she knows we love her for her and not for how she looks? Or has anybody out there had a child that showed such dramatic interest in this stuff so early? Any thoughts on what we should be doing/saying/thinking? We want to encourage Viva’s talents and interests, but we don’t want her to think our love for her is dependent on how she looks or what clothes she chooses to wear.
Any thoughts? (BTW, I’m pretty sure we have the best blog followers ever because we can actually ask serious questions about stuff like this and get answers that help us. Thank you guys for all of your input.)