Girls, Dirt and Play

I can vividly remember taking my precious toddler girl out to play in the backyard. This was about nine years ago. If she happened to sit down on the ground, perhaps lose her balance and end up on her bottom, she was distressed by the dirt that she got on her hands. Rather than dig in and play in the dirt, she sat there holding her hands out as if unsure what to do about that dirt.

At four, she wore dresses almost everyday. (She had been the lucky recipient of a lot of very lovely hand-me-down dresses.) She certainly had other options in her dresser and closet, but she literally wore dresses almost everyday. I should add, it didn’t stop her from playing. She was into Polly Pockets and Littlest Pet Shop around this time, but she also enjoyed playing outside at the playground (in her lovely dresses).

By the time she was six, she was in self-imposed superhero training. She very seriously informed me that one must be eight years old to actually be a superhero, so she was in training until that day. This involved a lot of strength and agility work. Many goals and checklists.

At ten, she is now a full-fledged superhero. And a musketeer. And she plays in the dirt. That little girl who once held out her hands in dismay when they touched dirt now comes in from an afternoon of play absolutely covered in mud.

So why am I telling you this? I ran across this interesting blog post on peggyorenstein.com about girls’ footwear and the old practice of foot-binding.

My two kids and I had read the biography of a missionary to China named Gladys Aylward last year. One of the things she accomplished there was helping to eliminate the practice of foot-binding (the mandarin made her a foot inspector), which would literally deform the girls’ feet and greatly limit their mobility. As you would expect, all three of us were horrified by foot-binding and couldn’t imagine anyone choosing to do that to their children. We shook our heads, thinking how enlightened modern people are in comparison.

The Peggy Orenstein article cites a study showing that parents take their boys outside to play more than their girls. It also shows the vast difference in marketing for boys’ and girls’ shoes. Whether to sparkle and shine or to help you run fast. Whether to be looked at or to be used. I must say, I hadn’t ever really thought of footwear choices as reflecting the same attitudes as foot-binding, but I can see her point.

I’ve never been one to wear high heels often. Occasionally when dressing up, sure, but not regularly. Since I started running, though, I almost never wear them. I noticed that my ankles bothered me when I would go for a run after a night out in high heels. Not worth it to me. My feet are for getting me around, not for looking at. Contrary to the shoe industry’s apparent marketing strategy, I care more about utility. I have a few pairs of high heels that mainly collect dust and that I probably never should have wasted money on for how seldom I actually wear them. Am I unusual? I don’t know. I don’t pay that much attention to other people’s shoes. Is the shoe industry out of touch? Again, I’m really not sure.

I have nothing against dressing up and wearing pretty things, for myself or for my daughter. I draw the line when looking pretty and shiny becomes more important than being active and doing what we enjoy. If we can’t work or play for fear of messing up our shiny shoes, what’s the point?

What do you think? As a culture, are we unintentially (or intentionally) telling our girls to be still and look pretty?

(I hope not. There is SO MUCH MORE to life than that!)

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2 thoughts on “Girls, Dirt and Play

  1. Well, the shoe thing gets worse, the older I get. I find few comfortable and yes, there are many that just won’t do in the office. I have edema in my ankles that I control but eating less cooked food. Crazy? yes but it so works.

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