Things Fall Apart: We need to change our relationship with girls' clothing

When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves...

For a time after my ex-husband moved out, I considered painting our front door pink.

Inside and out. The outside would be a deep raspberry shade, the inside a paler millennial.

The idea for both was the same; they would declare to the outside world, and celebrate to the inside inhabitants, that this was a girl’s house.


Related: I’m continuing my Gran’s traditions
with my daughter 

Grief makes you do funny things sometimes. This would have been one of them. A busy to-do list full of actual priorities meant it never actually happened.

But these past few weeks (as the choices, the appearance, the clothes of a girl were weaponised against her, in a way a man’s appearance would never be), I was again tempted.

This time as an act of defiance.

All things girly

My four-year-old girl is many things; outgoing, good at making friends, a lover of play, of colouring, of “doing crafts”. She loves to scoot, to go for cycles with Daddy, to eat spaghetti bolognese and carrot cake. In her world, a birthday hasn’t been fully celebrated until carrot cake has been consumed.

She is also a lover of all the things traditionally considered girlish. Makeup (which is face painting, part of dressing-up; in her mind it's fun, not self-improvement). Painting her nails. Playing ‘going to the salon’. When she was two and a half, she suddenly refused to wear anything but pink, with, grudgingly, some purple, and it had to be a dress. Her wardrobe is where blue chambray dresses (bought hopefully by me) go to die. She is not so hard-line now, but for a time, trousers were totally out.


My daughter's clothes

For a time, I worried about it. Her pink proclivity. And then I realised it was not coming from me. This was not being pushed upon her from outside. It was coming from her, and why would I quash that? Why would I make negative something she enjoyed, simply because it was deemed girlish. As if girlish was a bad thing.

Related: We've adopted our first dog 

When she was a baby, I dressed her mostly in boys’ clothes. Green, grey and navy. It wasn’t intended as a political statement; I simply preferred those colours. And baby girls' clothes tend towards the 'frou and the frill'. Boys clothes are more practical. More comfortable. But people still mention it to me.

“Remember when you used to dress her as a boy?” smiling indulgently. I didn’t. That was never the intention. My world was made the day I found out I was having a girl. But that is how much attention is paid to what girls wear. What I put on my baby four years ago is still remembered. Still seen as loaded.

Women's clothes and shame

In recent weeks, a woman’s underwear was used to victim blame her in a rape case.


A perfectly private choice she'd made was used to shame and blame her; a 17-year-old. They discuss it on the radio as I drive to collect my daughter. “But is there a different message being given to boys that girls don’t realise when they’re getting dressed?” a man muses.

“THERE IS NO MESSAGE,” I scream at the radio, surprising even myself with my anger. I have to turn it off, it’s so enraging.

Related: I'm teaching my child 'different is normal'

Shame is used against women. To somehow control them. Put the fault of things back on them. Box them in.

This weekend we are going to the ballet – a big family outing to see The Nutcracker. She and I have been planning our outfits all week; they will be as tulle and tutu-inspired as possible – within the boundaries of weather-appropriate (her), and sanity (me).

I dress for me, not men

Women don’t typically dress for men. They dress for how it makes them feel. Most women will more-highly rate a compliment from another woman whose own taste they esteem, than anything a man might say on the matter.


We are not sending messages.

I know that being separated or divorced can be a source of shame. The shame at the failure of a marriage.

Shame is an entirely pointless emotion. A time waster.


My daughter’s father, grandfather and uncle are woven throughout the fabric of her daily life; they are some of the most important people in her life. But I am a single female raising a daughter in an all-girls house. And I will not allow her to be shamed. Ever.


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