Having reread Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (1995) recently, I was very struck by Pullman’s descriptions of Lyra’s appearance. She’s dirty and scruffy, with tangled hair. Mrs Coulter insists that she wears dresses at her cocktail parties in London. As soon as Lyra realises that Mrs Coulter is part of the Obligation Board and has no intention of taking her North, Lyra gets changed to run away, leaving her party dress on the floor. It is, of course, a pink dress.
There have been many discussions recently, such as those initiated by the Let Toys Be Toys and Let Clothes Be Clothes campaigns, on the limitations placed on girls by brands and shops by labeling active, adventurous toys as “for boys” and passive, appearance-based toys as “for girls”. This has been described as “pinkification” as shorthand.
But here’s a confession- I like pink. I like sparkles. I also like dinosaurs, robots, Space and football. Why can’t adventurous girls also like dresses? Why can’t girls wear pink and slay monsters? Why do girl protagonists have to reject “femininity” to be approved?
Like JK Rowling, one of my favourite childhood books was Elizabeth Goudge’s Carnegie-winning Little White Horse (1946). It is the story of Maria Merryweather, orphaned and sent to live with her uncle in the West Country. While there, her nosiness, courage and bossiness lead her to solve a mystery, break a curse and matchmake for her uncle and governess (not with each other). Maria is also fashion conscious- in the opening chapter she consoles herself on the long carriage journey to her unknown uncle by thinking of her favourite green boots. I love that.
The Little White Horse has been reissued in a lovely hardback with the original illustrations. Seek it out for a fashion conscious child who also likes adventures. Or for yourself, if that describes you.