Goodbye, Spider-Man.

spider-man“Honey, I’m afraid that your Spider-Man jammies don’t fit any more. I think it’s time to…” she searched for a different way to say that she’d throw them out, “retire them.”

George, gingerly holding the threadbare suit of webbed red and blue, was a bright boy of seven years. He had an infectious laugh and impressive problem-solving skills. Just last week, he had figured out how to reach the cookies in the top cupboard without his parents knowing, at least until they went to get a cookie and found them gone.

“I know,” he said.

It was time. The pajamas had been his weekend uniform since his fifth birthday, when they were far too large for him. Now, they were faded and stretched in unnatural ways. Not only were they his favorite superhero pajamas, they were his only superhero pajamas.

Maybe he was getting too old for Spider-Man, though. Though he still insisted on wearing them all weekend, even he tried to find reasons not to accompany his mom to the grocery store any more.

Yeah, it probably was time.

Reluctantly, George placed the pajamas in the bag that his mom held open to him.

“I’m proud of you, honey,” she said, closing the bag. “Now, why don’t you pick out some clothes and we’ll head to the store. Maybe we can pick out some doughnuts from the bakery counter. It’s going to be a super day, you just wait and see.”

“Okay, mom,” replied George. “Super… I’ll be out in a minute.”

A few moments later, George emerged from his fortress of solitude. With a pair of red underwear overtop of his blue sweatpants, a white t-shirt with a poorly markered “S” on the front, and a red towel tied at his neck, George ran to join his mom.

Yeah, he decided, it was time to move on from Spider-Man. It was a super time to move on.

On Girls & Body Image

glitter_shirtThe other night, my oldest daughter and I got into a spat over which pajamas she was going to wear that night.

We just bought some new clothes at the store and we allowed our girls to pick out a few things on their own. But now, the older one was refusing to wear one of the pajama shirts that she had picked out.

“I don’t want to wear that one,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked. “You are the one who picked it out.”

“Yeah,” she argued, “but I don’t want to wear it. I don’t like it.”

“Why did you pick this one out at the store?”

Silence.

“Why don’t you want to wear it?” I asked, trying a different route.

“Because I’m not pretty in it,” she said.

Hmm.

My wife and I have tried to be careful when it comes to commenting on how our daughters look. It is absolutely true that they are adorable from every angle. Everyone comments on how cute they are.

But we try to moderate that by building up the rest of them as well. We compliment them when they are being nice to each other and when they ask good questions and when they behave themselves with good attitudes. We point out how cool it is when they choose to look at books instead of asking to watch videos.

And yet, my little girl has arrived at the conclusion that being pretty is super important and that wearing certain clothes can help or hurt those efforts.

“You are very pretty,” I say. “But how you look is only part of what makes you pretty. Having a good attitude, being nice and friendly, listening well, and working hard are all things that make someone pretty too.”

After that, she agreed to put on her pajamas, and I made sure to tell her that being willing to do what her mom and I ask of her is very pretty.

I’ve been reflecting on this whole episode for a while now. Is body image something that is just built-in to girls? Is it common across cultures? Do boys deal with it to the same extent?

It makes me sad to think that anyone, including herself, might think less of my girl because of what she looks like or wears. And how do I encourage her as a parent?