‘Pink! It’s pink AND it’s a dress! There’s no way I’m wearing that!’
My mum bent down and held it towards me by its shoulders, as if I needed a closer look. It was disgusting, in all its bubblegum sweetness with scratchy nylon lace around the neck, and a big frou-frou lace trimmed frill, that went around the shoulders in a great big, hideous, pouf.
Mum tried to reason with me, ‘But Melanie, its just a dress. Grandma sent it all the way from Australia for you to have your picture taken with Peter.’ She pushed it further towards me, determination in her eyes matching mine.
All four feet of me stood in front of her, arms folded firmly across my blue and red stripy T-shirt, and the bib of my denim dungarees. I stomped my big red trainer hard on the lino floor of the kitchen and yelled, cheeks flaming, ‘No way Mum, NO WAY! I’m not wearing it!’ I yanked it out of her hand, and threw it on the floor, running out of the room before she could grab me.
To put all of this into context, it was 1981, I was eight years old, and the biggest tomboy in the class. I didn’t play with Barbie, I played with Ken. If I could be outside riding my bike with the boys, then that’s where I’d be.
My brother Peter was just eighteen months younger than me and although we had the same short, bowl haircut, were about the same height, and generally wore the same clothes, we couldn’t be less alike. Barbie didn’t get strewn aside when Pete was around, and he loved dressing her up.
Mum chasing after me into the living room started to plead again, a bit louder this time and a bit higher pitched, ‘Mel please. You only have to put it on for two minutes while Dad takes the picture, and you can take it straight off again. I’ll let you have some ice-cream…’
‘But if you don’t wear it, no one will be able to tell who’s the boy and who’s the girl’
‘So what?’ I screamed.
Dad who’d managed to ignore the whole thing so far, suddenly looked up from reading his paper and towards the living room door. He was silent for a second and then guffawed, ‘Son, you can’t wear that!’
Peter pirouetted into the living room, holding the hem of the pink dress and swooshing it around his knobbly little knees with the biggest smile on his face.
‘Please can I wear it? Please?’ whined Peter.
Dad started to laugh and mum giggled. Peter and I looked at them both and yelled in unison, ‘PLEEEAAASE?’
‘Ok, Ok! I’ll get the camera!’ said Mum.
We ended up having two pictures taken, one with Peter in the dress, both of us laughing, standing against the wall. The other photo was of me, in the dress, and Peter in my jeans and dungarees, both of us looking miserable. That was the version sent to our grandparents in Australia. The other was kept in a box until we found it again last year when our parents moved house. Peter had his first collection on the catwalk last month. His first look was a bubblegum pink dress, with a high-necked lace collar, and a big frou-frou frill. It was disgusting.