Emma Willis has praised her son Ace for his "individual" dress sense, describing it as his way of "expressing himself".
Back in October 2020, the TV presenter, 44, shared a photo to Instagram of Ace, nine, wearing a pink crop top, jeans, pink trainers and long blonde hair.
“My little style icon (Ace, not Matt),” she wrote in the accompanying caption.
While The Voice host was widely praised for “breaking gender stereotypes" in sharing the photo, some commenters questioned her son's choice of clothes and the decision to grow his hair long.
Watch: Emma Willis bids an emotional goodbye to Big Brother
Speaking to Fabulous, Willis said that negative reactions left her feeling like the "Incredible Hulk" and wanting to “scream at the world”.
The mum-of-three said that though she was old enough to take personal criticism, receiving comments about her children is a different matter.
"I'm so protective of my kids and this was just a young boy expressing himself the way he wants to," she says.
"He is very individual, he dresses the way he wants and he's really happy doing that. Why would I try to suppress that?"
The Voice host went on to say that some of the negative comments on the post of Ace had served as an “eye-opener”.
"For me, it’s just Ace, he’s my son and that’s the way he’s always been," she explains.
"So it did massively make me start thinking about stereotyping and how bonkers it is that a boy, just because he has long hair and is wearing pink, is mistaken for a girl."
The presenter, who has two other children Isabelle, 11, and Trixie, four, with Busted musician Matt Willis, has since started following a couple of Instagram accounts @notonlypinkandblue and @lettoysbetoys that discuss the issues surrounding gender stereotyping and children.
As well as a few negative comments about her son's sartorial choices, Willis was also inundated with messages of support with many parents defending a child's right to wear what they like.
“Just shows how far we have to go in breaking down gender stereotypes,” one wrote. “Pink is simply a colour. Hair grows. Let kids (or adults) wear whatever they want.”
“So what if this boy has beautiful long blonde hair and wears a pink T-shirt,” another agreed. “I bet he smiles a million more times a day than you miserable judgy adults commenting on this child.”
Watch: How did the FIFA World Cup almost ruin Emma Willis' wedding anniversary?
Indeed, some parenting experts have shared that they believe allowing children to explore their own identities could help encourage self-confidence.
Lifestyle coach Michael Cloonan says letting children be themselves can help inspire their creativity.
“I always loved the quote by Banksy, 'A lot of parents will do anything for their kids, except let them be themselves'," he says.
"Allowing your child to discover who they are is a great way to help them build their confidence by allowing them to feel a sense of achievement and pride when they make decisions that go well.
"It frees them to be openly creative and engages them into being very solution-focused.”
Parent and mindset coach, Chaneen Saliee, agrees that it is important for parents to allow their children to discover their true selves.
“Just like adults are all different, so are children – they are different from one another and they may also be very different from us," she explains.
"Often we think that we know what’s best for them, but children innately know what’s best for them, they know who they are and it simply takes for us to listen and nurture what they share with us."
Sallee says it is through self-discovery and exploration of the world that children learn how to express themselves - if given the opportunity to do so.
"When we accept who they are and who they show themselves to be, with love and compassion then children will grow up to be full of confidence, self-esteem, and an intrinsic ability to regulate their outlook on the world," she explains.
"They will be able to love and be compassionate towards others - and most importantly towards themselves."
The opposite is true if parents don't allow their children the freedom to express their true selves, she adds.
"When we do not allow children to discover who they truly are and how they really feel, whether for our own comfort or because we believe it will be for their benefit they will often feel unheard, unseen and they will lack self-esteem and the ability to emotionally self-regulate,” Sallee says.
Emma Willis isn't the only celebrity to share their pride at their child's individuality.
Alicia Silverstone has also defended her son's decision to keep his hair long after being teased about it by other children.
Back in September 2020, the Clueless actor shared her pride over her nine-year-old son Bear’s choice to keep his hair long.
Despite getting teased about the length of his hair, which fell past his shoulders, Silverstone was proud her son wasn’t about to bow to peer pressure.
“One time my son was made fun of by other kids because of his hair on a bus ride to surf camp,” she wrote, after explaining how much she loves his hair.
“After he had returned and told me, I thought he would want to cut it...”
Silverstone already had a hair appointment scheduled for Bear the following day and she suspected the teasing might make him want to cut it short.
“But when we showed up, he said ‘please give me a trim so I can grow it to my waist’,” she continued.
“That’s my boy! He knows who he is.”
Silverstone went on to encourage parents to “embrace their children and who they choose to be without any judgement”.
“He loves his hair and chooses to have it long. Mama and Papa aren’t going to stop him from being him,” she added. “He’s beautiful and we love his hair.”
Silverstone's son has since decided it was time for a change and cut his long locks into a shorter style but she has said that his choice wasn't because he felt pressured to do so.
Other celebrities are also encouraging their children not to be swayed by gender stereotypes when it comes to their appearance.
Back in 2018, Meghan Fox shared a rare snapshot of two of her boys enjoying a day at the beach, both wearing wetsuits and both with long surfer-style hair.
Most fans found the photo adorable, but some chimed in with unsolicited opinions about boys having long hair.
Earlier that year, the boys’ dad, Brian Austin Green hit back at trolls who had been hating on his sons’ long hair.
“The fact is my boys have and like long hair,” The Beverly Hills, 90210 star said. “In my opinion they are beautiful and will still be and possibly be mistaken for girls if they wore matching short and T-shirt combos and had short hair.
“Some people like boys and men with long hair," he concluded. "Some people don't. Both opinions are OK.”