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Playing Dress Up

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So started a conversation over the weekend with a friend at a last-night Passover Seder. She has two kids, a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy. And one of boy's favorite things is to play dress up. Not with costumes like firemen or Superman. He'd much rather wear a dress. Inside the house is fine with her, but a boy wearing a dress in public isn't exactly something our society supports. So, she has told him that other kids might make fun of him if he wears those dresses outside the house. While he's not thrilled, he is listening and keeping the dresses behind closed doors.

Preschool boys dressing girly isn't unusual. Another friend -- kids the same age and same gender breakdown -- has a son who not only likes to dress in his sister's tutus, but he sometimes likes to be called "Sarah." That's all in between racing his fire trucks and car carriers around the house.

Maybe it's just a 4-year-old boy thing?

Where do you draw the line between pretend play and "public" behavior? Have you tried to prepare your kids for teasing before it actually happens?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 28, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Preschoolers
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Our son isn't born yet. But I know our almost three year old nephew loves to wear princess shoes and crowns. I think it is fairly harmless. I do believe in dressing both kids in gender specific clothes for out of the house and normal dress wear. But all kids seem to like a certain amount of dress up.

Actually my daughter loves crowns, tiarras, wants, and shoes. But hardly ever wants to wear her princess gowns. Her boy cousins wears her princess gowns more then she does.

I wouldn't worry about it. It is just pretend play for them. I think if they were getting into it at school age, I might be concerned. But preschool and younger is very normal. They pick up gender roles pretty quickly. Most kids will not have gender association problem.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 28, 2008 7:50 AM | Report abuse

My 2.5 year old son loves my high heels and bracelets. I think it's more imitation as a form of flattery at the moment. My husband wasn't pleased when (on my son's insistance) I put his hair in a Pebbles-style ponytail. It's harmless. (and hey, I know adult men with long hair and ponytails)

Posted by: md | April 28, 2008 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I thought it was hilarious when my son put 2 pairs of rolled up socks under his shirt and pretended to be his pre-school teacher. Kodak moment!

I think 4 year olds are very gender aware more than we know. I overheard my 4 year old son arguing with his older sister about what movie to watch. He called the "Little Mermaid" a dumb girl movie. LOL!

Posted by: DandyLion | April 28, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

When my now 7yo was about 3-5, he loved dressing in dresses, wearing nail polish and necklaces. He is a VERY tall child and looks years older than he is.

I never stopped him. We don't wear dress-ups out of the house, but nail polish and necklaces go out. WE never made a big deal about it so he never did. No one ever said a word (except in compliments!). Now, at 7, he wouldn't touch a girl outfit ever.

If you don't care, why should you care what others say?

Posted by: Andrea | April 28, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I've worked with 4-5 years olds over the last few years and most of the boys enjoy dressing up in jewelry, high heels, and satiny clothes. They are very gender-aware at the same time. One 4-year-old told me he had fun playing with the "girl stuff." A 5-year-old who frequently dressed up in femine clothing asked me not to tell his father and wanted to wear the "manly shoes." These, naturally, were the heels with blue sequins. When those were already being used, he decided purple glitter was good enough.
I always tried to encourage the boys in their play, after they had chosen it. It was only adults (especially those over 45) that seemed uncomfortable with boys playing with feminine toys. All the kids, both boys and girls, seemed to think nothing of it.

Posted by: Agent XX | April 28, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like you're all raising a bunch of pervs. Nip it in the bud. What might be cute at 3 or 4 is disgusting when there's hair on the chest.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2008 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I think in general it's pretty harmless, but in cases where it becomes really pervasive it can be an indication that Dad (or another male role model) isn't around enough.

Posted by: va | April 28, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

My god son loved playing dress-up until he was about 7. He's take his little sister's play make-up and wear nail polish. His parents were great, especially his father, encouraging him to express himself as he felt comfortable. Eventually he stopped dressing up so much. It's harder to run around playing war if you're wearing a skirt. :)
Now if only I could get my husband to stop freaking out when our toddler wants barrettes in his hair like his friend...

Posted by: Toni | April 28, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

My 5-year old son used to dress up in princess dresses a lot at ages 2-4. Now he does so less and tends to gravitate more to the fireman, policeman costumes. He does love nail polish though and I paint his nails often. He also wears those mardi gras necklaces around. Someone at his school did say something about his nail polish once. His response was that the polish was blue and that's a boy color. This weekend I was helping my daughter paint her nails and he wanted me to do his too. So, I guess the teasing didn't bother him. I wound up just doing his toes though because he was restless and didn't want to sit for his hands to dry.

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | April 28, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

What about the opposite situation - i.e., girls who get a kick out of dressing in the costumes that our culture deems to be more masculine?

Growing up in the '50s and '60s, I was definitely a tom boy. Me a princess? Not a chance! I'm now in my fifties and can't even remember the last time I put on a dress. I suspect that there are significant cultural differences for men and women insofar as dress is concerned. Who blinks an eye anymore at a woman wearing battle fatigues, a police uniform, fire uniform, etc.?

So here's the question: Why is it okay for women to dress in a more masculine fashion, but not okay for men to dress in a more feminine fashion?

Posted by: Tom Boy at Heart | April 28, 2008 11:06 AM | Report abuse

My two cents is more toward the inappropriate-in-public behavior side. My daughter thinks passing gas is hillarious. She thinks nothing of doing it wherever she is. We thought that telling her other children would call her names would nip it in the bud but the other girls at her school are equally open about their bodily functions. In fact, one girl came over to spend the night and all night I received updates on how many times each girl had farted. Sigh. Eventually I assume she'll cut it out but for now...

Posted by: 21117 | April 28, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

My nephew wanted to dress up as Dorothy from the wizard of oz for Halloween one year, when he was about 5 or so. Happily his parents thought it was cool and let him do it. Of course, it was Halloween, when dressing in drag is more acceptable!

Posted by: CJB | April 28, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Every week I have at least one internal debate as to whether I should try to prep my son for likely comments he'll get outside the house if he's wearing his pink shoes, bracelet, etc. Mostly I don't say anything to him, though. He's pretty good at explaining his preferences to other kids, even the few who have attempted to make fun of him because "pink is for girls," or whatever.

Posted by: myprettyboy | April 28, 2008 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Stacey, can we clean up the blog? I mean, Nip it's comments at 1:56 and anonymous's comments at 10:08 are inappropriate.

Posted by: Ryan | April 28, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

My ex-husband was a cross-dresser. His compulsion eventually destroyed our marriage. So if I were to see this sort of behavior some day in my infant son, I'm afraid it would really freak me out. I'd like to know at what point harmless play-acting morphs into something more problematic.

Posted by: Layla | April 28, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

The "Gay Gene" Myth

With the California Supreme Court now weighing in on gay marriage, after the California voters overwhelmingly voted to reject it..... I believe some light needs to be shed on the issue of the predisposition to homosexuality.

The belief that one is "born gay", or that there is a genetic link to homosexuality, is nothing more than a myth according to Exodus International, and a host of clinical researchers. There is no evidence that a "gay gene" exists. Few know the truth that over the past several decades, there are thousands of homosexuals converting every year to straight lifestyles, through organizations such as "Exodus International"; the world's largest resource and referral organization dealing with homosexuality. If indeed there existed a "gay gene", how could thousands of homosexuals change to successful heterosexual lifestyles?

So why does it matter to society if people want to choose a homosexual lifestyle? According to a Newsweek Cover Story, the sad truth is that individuals who identify themselves as homosexual have a substantially higher likelihood of emotional and physical illness. These include depression, suicide, substance abuse, sexual abuse, AIDS, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. In New York, sexually confused teens are being encouraged to transfer into All-Gay High Schools. As a mother of two teenage daughters, I believe that the teen years are confusing, and that parents and teens need to know their homosexual choices may lead to emotional distress with potential life-threatening consequences.

There is hope for those struggling with homosexual feelings or lifestyles. We need to encourage parents and family to express their concern to struggling loved ones, and let them know the truth; that there are alternatives and choices to homosexuality. Would not "questioning individuals" be lining up at clinics to take a "gay gene test" if in fact genetic evidence existed for homosexuality? No baby is born "gay".
Some helpful resources are as follows:

Elizabeth Logan, BS/MA
April 14th, 2008

Posted by: Elizabeth Logan | April 28, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

My 2 1/2 yr old loves wearing his sister's necklaces, bracelets, crowns, etc. I think it's likely perfectly normal at this age -- he's totally in an "I want to do everything just like my big sister does" mode (much to her annoyance). Since she is the epitome of cool in his eyes, seems perfectly logical that he'd want to look like her, too. But it is really funny, because the boy is built like a brick -- I mean, we're talking future linebacker or hockey defenseman here -- so to see this big, chunky, boy-boy running around with a sparkly pink necklace and tiara is just hysterical. Drives dad nuts, but I'm gonna enjoy it while it lasts -- and I hope get some good footage that I can pull out at the appropriate moment (like, say, the rehearsal dinner for his wedding).

Posted by: Laura | April 28, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Elizabeth Logan | April 28, 2008 3:00 PM

Oh, good Lord. Yes, Exodus International -- the font of unbiased scientific knowledge about homosexuality. Gee, here's a thought: maybe gays have higher risks of depression and suicide because of all the crap they take from people and institutions like this telling them they're bad and immoral and God hates them and that they could change if they really, really wanted to.

This would all make so much more sense to me if I could only remember when, exactly, I "chose" to be straight.

Posted by: Laura | April 28, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Laura | April 28, 2008 3:06 PM

Surprise! Laura is heavily pro gay and her son is cross dressing and she thinks it's so darling. Sorry kid, long road ahead for you apparently

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why people think gay people "choose" to be that way? Why on earth would anyone "choose" to be in such a disadvantaged position as perceived by our society?

The only thing I can think of is that those who believe it is indeed a "choice" are struggling with their own homosexuality, and are desperately trying to deny (even to themselves) who they really are. THAT is THEIR choice (and wishful thinking).

Posted by: RK | April 28, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Tom Boy: Women can wear slacks/pants as a matter of comfort, convenience, economy, job safety. If they add the trucker chains, the tattoos, the heavy work boots, then they've got other issues going on and all women do not fall into that categoy. Men and boys wearing make-up, nail polish and feminine jewelry has nothing to do with comfort, convenience, economy or job safety.

I am a woman and have a wardrobe made up of lots of slacks that go with blazers. sweaters, blouses. A pair of navy slacks and a pair of black or gray slacks can double your wardrobe. You can mix them with lots of other pieces to make a different outfit every day for at least a week. A frilly dress doesn't do that. Slacks are warmer in winter. You can wear them with low-heeled shoes, another comfort bonus. I recall women could not even wear slacks up until the mid-1970's when only matched pantsuits could be worn to work.

As for jobs, there was a time when classified ads are labeled as "jobs for women" which consisted mainly of teachers, nurses, waitresses and secretaries, and "jobs for men" which consisted of everything else -- lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers. Men are better writers than women (Hemingway, Twain, Steinbeck). Men are better fashion designers and chefs than women. So, we've blurred the gender barrier for jobs up until now, but a man wearing make-up and nail polish is still an aberration. Unless they want the crap beaten out of them, they don't wear that stuff in public.

And RK, don't label me as a latent lesbian -- I don't like women all that much and I certainly don't want to go to bed with one. I prefer men. I can't take them seriously but I prefer men. Stacey's kids seem to be totally screwed up and undisciplined, as well as that little boy who wants to be called 'Sarah.' I hope they have a good counselor for those kids.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Nobody can foretell a kid's future. Don't worry!

My brother was the youngest of four kids, and the only boy. One time my sisters and I dressed him up in a costume from one of our dance recitals. We blew up balloons and stuffed the top. We swiped the unused Avon samples from Grandma's business bag - the hideous colors nobody wanted to even try, let alone buy - and we made up his face. We put Mom's wig on him. Then we got the camera and took pictures.

Today, he's in his mid-40's. He's happily married to a delightful woman. They have three bright, happy children, and my brother coaches the kids' sports teams. He's a pilot with a major airline, and learned to fly while serving in the US Marines. He was in the Black Sheep squadron, and flew Harriers in the first Gulf War. He's a "man's man", and he's just fine.

And our parents probably still have those silly pictures!

Posted by: Sue | April 28, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

And for the homophobes foretelling doom and gloom - I thought your Bible and your God forbade fortune telling?

My older son was named after DH's best friend from junior high. The friend was gay, and it was never his "choice". And our son very, very *definitely* likes girls.

I work in San Francisco and live in Oakland. I don't run into many people here who are so willing - even eager - to spout such nonsense and flaunt their profound ignorance.

Please, tell me all about the horrors of the gay community. I just hope that I don't frighten my cubicle-neighbors when I'm laughing at you!

Posted by: Sue | April 28, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Laura . . . gay people take a LOT of Sh** from people. Perhaps the biases -which are showing on this board- are what leads to the depression.
Take your homophobic crap elsewhere.

As for dressing up: they're kids!!! For god sake, let it be. It's harmless.

Posted by: Jen | April 28, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

As long as they DO inform the child of how it will be perceived publicly, while NOT internalizing the action to mean anything bad or wrong about the child themselves, go for it. My life would likely have been a lot easier if I'd known I should pretend to be heterosexual until high school.

While it's easy for females since wearing traditionally male clothes is now socially sanctioned and encouraged, males still do not have it easy. It's sad.

And trust me, LOTS of males enjoy wearing traditionally female clothing. It has nothing to do with their personality, sexuality, or orientation.

Posted by: Liz D | April 28, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that dressing up, in any way, is a display of imagination. They're testing who they are and emulating those they look up to.

Posted by: Fern | April 28, 2008 5:17 PM | Report abuse

"Surprise! Laura is heavily pro gay and her son is cross dressing and she thinks it's so darling. Sorry kid, long road ahead for you apparently"

Nice! Or maybe I can relax and enjoy the cuteness because -- gasp -- I realize it won't be the End Of The World if he turns out to be gay. I love my son. Period.

Posted by: Laura | April 28, 2008 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Laura and Jen said it best.

I am a preschool teacher (or was in my pre-kids life)and so many little boys dressed up. They are imitating Mommy or big sister or whatever other female role model they look up to. They also spend just as much time dressing up like super heros, fire men and Daddy.

Posted by: Momof5 | April 28, 2008 8:02 PM | Report abuse

And for the homophobes foretelling doom and gloom - I thought your Bible and your God forbade fortune telling?

Aren't you a wiccan or some nonsense and haven't you posted how your own mother was insane or something?

Posted by: ??? | April 28, 2008 10:21 PM | Report abuse

I have a 5 year old son who loves playing with his older sister's (she's 10) Polly Pocket toys. His best friend at daycare is a little girl, and they play with ponies and Barbies. He also loves cars, pirates, and Veggie Tales.

In preschool and kindergarten, gender roles are still very fluid to kids, and they don't generally think of things as only being for boys or for girls. If playing with an older sister's/female cousins girl toys, makeup, etc. could turn a little boy gay, then half of the men in the world would be gay.

I agree with Laura - if straight people don't choose to be straight, then how can anyone claim that gay people choose to be gay? I don't remember choosing to be straight, either.

Posted by: lco | April 29, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

To ??? | April 28, 2008 10:21 PM

Did you have some point to make? Yes, I'm Wiccan - it should be capitalized just like Christian, Jewish, Budhist, Muslim or any other religion. But I'm not the punctuations police, and just mention this because most people don't know it - I've even seen reporters in major newspapers get it wrong.

And, yes, my mother has been in and out of various mental facilities for over 40 years.

What either of those facts has to do with what I asked, is quite beyond me.

And you weren't funny either. I was really hoping *somebody* responding to my post would give me a good belly laugh.

But I'll send you your official membership in the National Nonsequitur Society, anyway, including the button with the motto: 'We don't make sense, but we like pizza'.

(wink) Maybe that's funny!

Posted by: Sue | April 29, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I don't generally feel anything until noon; then it's time for my nap.

Posted by: Airline Ticket | May 4, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I don't generally feel anything until noon; then it's time for my nap.

Posted by: Airline Ticket | May 4, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Art is either plagiarism or revolution.

Posted by: Cheap Car Insurance | May 4, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.

Posted by: valium | May 4, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Art is either plagiarism or revolution.

Posted by: Cheap Car Insurance | May 4, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.

Posted by: valium | May 4, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.

Posted by: valium | May 4, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

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