Australian children’s author Scott Stuart, who wore a matching Elsa costume with his seven-year-old son, Colin, at Sydney’s recent ‘Frozen: The Musical’ premiere, has described the immense online support from strangers as “heartwarming” and “amazing”.
A TikTok video of Stuart describing his nerves before attending the December event went viral, getting more than two million views. The touching clip also showed him and Colin arriving at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre in their matching blue dresses, an experience Stuart described as “the greatest time ever” despite his initial apprehension after “a lifetime of judgement to work through”.
“As we were walking to the theatre I was very ‘in my head’, thinking that everyone was looking at us, talking about us, and it was only when we got to the theatre and one of the ushers said really lovely things to us that I managed to get out of my head and become present,” Stuart told HuffPost Australia.
“And we had the greatest time ever. Everyone was super supportive of Colin in his dress and we got nothing but really positive comments all night.”
Colin first expressed his love for ‘Frozen’ character Elsa at age three before even watching the film.
“I don’t remember how he first saw her, but when he did he was instantly obsessed with her,” explained Stuart. “He started with an Elsa drink bottle, then an Elsa doll, and eventually Elsa costumes and dresses. He was always far more interested in Elsa than he was the movie.”
Last year Stuart and his wife joined their young son in dressing as the film’s protagonist for the ‘Frozen 2’ film premiere, but it wasn’t easy for the parents at first.
“When he first wanted to wear the dress, I honestly felt really uncomfortable. I was afraid of what people would think of him, and I was afraid of what people would think of us as his parents,” said Stuart.
“I grew up being ruled by fear and feeling very judged, and I didn’t want him to grow up that way, so it would be so easy to just say no to the dress and avoid it completely.
“But in reality, that would just make him feel even more judged, and start making him feel shame for the things he likes. So, despite all my cultural conditioning making me uncomfortable, I said yes, and the instant he put on that dress, he lit up with more joy than I had ever seen in him before. And as soon as you’ve seen that joy, how can you remove it from your child? So, we kept saying yes, and the joy has just gotten bigger.”
Though Colin has received some negative reactions and comments from classmates in the past, Stuart said his “friends accept him completely for who he is, and when someone questions him about it, he is confident enough to stand up for himself and remain true to himself”.
The author said a lack of representation in the media plays a big part in feeding the stigma around boys and men liking “things that aren’t for boys”.
Stuart gave a nod to singer Harry Styles’ posing on the cover of Vogue magazine in a dress, and said actor Billy Porter and stylist Deni Todorovic have also been strong role models for Colin.
“If you can’t see yourself, it’s hard to have the bravery to be yourself,” he explained, adding that greater representation doesn’t just “break gender stereotypes” but also “normalises an expansion of the definition of masculinity throughout the broader community”.
“Kids who would have grown up only ever seeing men in a very narrowly defined image suddenly get to see men outside of that definition, and they start to have broader expectations of men (and themselves) beyond what people like me grew up with.”
In his own boyhood, Stuart recalled, he gave one of his friends “a female action figure” he had wanted for his birthday only for his friend’s mother to ring Stuart’s mum and “yell at her for letting me give her son a ‘girls’ toy”.
He also said some peers “questioned” his “sexuality and manhood” during his teen years after he started to learn ballroom dancing in addition to playing rugby.
“I, and so many people, were raised with very rigid rules of what masculinity is – and so many of us were brought up being shamed for ever having the audacity to like something that broke those rules.
“Then when we see other people breaking those rules, it can either give us the permission to break the rules too and be our authentic selves, or make us react against it out of ingrained shame and conditioning.”
His own upbringing and now his parenting of Colin have formed the basis of Stuart’s latest book, ‘How to Be a Real Man’.
“It’s an exploration of how we have always defined a ‘real man’, and lessons we can teach our sons so they can grow up to be ‘good men’ instead,” he said.
About 18 months ago, Colin asked his father what a “real man” was after hearing the term, and Stuart wanted to give his son “so much more” than the explanation his dad had given him when he was a child.
“The only conversation about manhood I ever had with my father was the statement that ‘you’ll be a man when you have hairs on your chest’... So I took a year to clarify a lot of my thoughts and put them into book form.
“I hope that it helps to teach young boys that there are many, many ways to be a man, and it starts with being true to yourself.”
‘How to Be a Real Man’ is on sale January 6.
Never miss a thing. Sign up to HuffPost Australia’s weekly newsletter for the latest news, exclusives and guides to achieving the good life.