his past Friday was “Dress As Someone Famous” day at Episode IV’s elementary school. At first blush that sounds like an incredibly lame spirit-day as compared to say… pajama day, or favorite sports team day, or backwards day. But we went with it. You might think a 7 year old girl would want to be Brandy Chastain, or Hillary Clinton, or Princess Leia. Nope. We wound up as Frida Kahlo:
Now you might be wondering how a upper middle-class, 21st century, Caucasian 1st grade girl from an uncomfortably non-diverse microcosm in California would want to dress up as well-regarded mid-20th century, female Mexican self-portrait artist (Don’t worry. I had no idea who she was until I married an art-lover who edumacated me up) Earlier in the week Episode IV came up to UnDorkMommy and said “Mommy, who’s a famous female artist?” My wife is an art-buff, and the best she could come up with was Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe. Kahlo had the more distinctive look, so that was the look we went with.
There are two things I love about this scenario. First of all, I love that my daughter is developing a sense of self-identity. She sees herself as an artist, and when given the task to dress up as someone famous she channeled the assignment through her own self-image to find someone she could identify with. It was totally self-directed. Good for her. It could have been Kim Kardashian, or Pamela Anderson, or Honey Boo Boo. Thank goodness it wasn’t.
But in addition to that, I also love the fact that she had the self-confidence to go to school in full-monobrow. Obviously there’s a long way between the social realities 1st grade and 7th grade, but I remember back to my early days in Jr. High during our first spirit event “nerd day”. I was on the student council and we were all supposed to come to school dressed in our best nerd-attire. I
remember thinking, “There’s no way I’m going to do that. I’m going to be only one to do it. I’m going to be the *ONE* person who stands out. Everyone will make fun of me.” So I came to school on “nerd day” in my normal clothes only to find the rest of the student council completely nerded-out. Naturally we had to take a picture for the yearbook that day. It was just as I feared. I was the *ONE* person who stood out; the one non-nerd in a fun group picture full of nerds which – joke’s on me – made me the one real nerd in the picture. (I then lived on to dedicate an entire blog to the greater nerd/dork arts). Nevertheless, Episode IV trotted off to school in the frumpiest outfit we could put together, in full-monobrow, full of excitement and full of self-confidence. Good for her.
As much as I poo-poo’ed the lame spirit-day theme at first, I now see the light. These are the sorts of assignments that give our kids a little touchstone to remember all their lives. In 4th grade when we did our President reports, I drew out of the hat James K. Polk (who? 11th U.S. President). Where his name doesn’t even register with most people, for my entire life whenever his name comes up my ears perk up just a little bit thanks to that 4th grade project. The same will be for my daughter and Frida Kahlo. She now feels a connection with the artist and the historical figure. It even sparked off a wonderful conversation about the historical context of Kahlo’s life and work.
From that perspective it must also be said how grateful I am that Episode IV didn’t pick Geortia O’Keeffe, who is largely famous for her paintings of flowers. Why were O’keeffe’s paintings so noteworthy? I remember seeing a traveling O’Keeffe exhibit at a museum with my wife many years ago. We were looking at the pictures on the wall and I made some under-enthusiastic comment like “Those are nice.”
“Do you get it?” replied my art-savvy wife, a twinkle in her eye.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you get it? Do you get what it is about all these paintings?” I looked around the room and had to admit there didn’t seem anything to “get”.
“What?” I said. “They’re all flowers.”
“No they’re not. Look again. They’re all vaginas.”
I will never look at a Georgia O’Keeffe painting the same way again. That certainly wasn’t a conversation my wife and I wanted to have when our little 1st grader asked why O’Keeffe was a famous artist. Frida Kahlo it is!
In any case, the “lame” spirit-day idea turned into a great learning experience and a touchstone for a budding young female artist. I humbly offer up my mea-culpa for judging the event too quickly.
On the subject of nerding-out and self-confidence, I have learned over the years that confidence is indeed the key factor in determining what’s “cool” and what isn’t. You can be whoever you want to be. If you do it with confidence you never have to worry about fitting in. If you do it with confidence, people will come to you. That’s a lesson I am so grateful to have learned, and I am so grateful to have had a specific group of peers, slightly older and perhaps wiser, who I learned that lesson from.
Readers, please permit me a brief digression, but in the off chance any of those guys read this blog post, it would be inappropriate not to thank them. Van, Roy, Leo, Ken, Kelly and Rick – a big part of who I am today, one of the parts about myself I like the most, I owe to you guys. Thank you for teaching me what we all know in 1st grade, and what we so easily forget as we grow up:
Be who you are, and love the people who love who you are.
To heck with the rest of the world.