Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dress Up

I loved to to play dress up as a little girl.  And as a teen.  And as a college student.  And I may or may not have costume appropriate clothing in my closet now.  There's just something about putting on a different from every day kind of outfit and experimenting with a new hairstyle or makeup application that feels exciting and adventurous.  The Major assures me this is a girl thing, but I don't believe him.  You should see how he fusses over new uniform standards. 

One of the things I love the most about a new look or new costume is that you really do get to create your own reality.  You can imagine the personality the wearer of the look would present to the world.  You can insert yourself into the life that outfit would lead.  Or you can feel more fully yourself in a certain dress.

For my five year old niece Hailey, I think the latter is what inspires her costume choices.  She has a trunk full of them.  Everything you can imagine, her parents have procured at after Halloween closeout sales over the years.  Her collection of fire retardant fairy costumes and princess gowns is resplendent.  Not to mention her witches and pirates and super heroes and vampires.  The girl has a wide and varied desire to try on new personas.  But the one she continually returns to is that of princess. 

Whatever outfit she dons, she connects to her royal roots.  Vampire princess, pirate princess, Princess of the super hero guild.  The girl has got it figured out.  She can be whatever she wants to be and still maintain her true, core self.  She doesn't have to give up her royal sensibilities to have and be whatever she dreams of.  She's a princess at heart, and likely always will be.  But that won't hold her back from being a frog wrangler or fire fighter.

A few weeks ago, I made the  mistake of telling her she couldn't be both.  We were playing dress up and trying on different costumes.  She put on her pirate costume and informed me she was now the pirate princess.  I told her she couldn't be both.  That she could be a pirate or a princess, but not both.  She had to pick one, and since she was wearing a pirate costume that made the most sense.  She looked at me for a moment, her moss green eyes clouded with confusion, then said in a small voice,  "But I want to be both.  Why do I have to pick?" 

As I thought for a moment about how to explain to her why it was better to choose one thing, I realized I didn't have a good answer and that, really, I was just wrong.  So I reassured her that I was just being silly and that of course she could be whatever she wanted to be.  As she flung herself into my arms for a hug she shouted "And you can be whatever you want to be, too!"  Thanks for the reminder, Haily Bug.  Apparently, Aunt Jess doesn't have the market cornered on wisdom just yet.