The Barbie Project: All In An Afternoon

I love spying on my kids while they play, the ability to peek into their imaginations is an incredible gift. Their make believe world does not follow the rules of the real one and in this space of pretend they are free to create without limitations or boundaries.

I’m willing to bet most people assume Barbie play is all about “fluff”, like the weddings/princesses/spa day/shopping spree themes we stereotype girls into. What is closer to the truth is far more intriguing, as I’ve seen Amelia and her friends create worlds much richer in story and context. The depth of the characters they assign to their Barbie dolls has been really fascinating to watch.

Amelia’s Barbies came to us as a surfer, Sea World dolphin trainer, SCUBA diver/treasure hunter, pilot, dog trainer, astronaut, nurse, musician, and an entrepreneur. Over these past few months I’ve watched Amelia’s Barbies transform into National Geographic explorers tenting off the side of a cliff, they’ve built a dream house truly representative of my little girl’s dreams, they’ve hunted man-eating lions, they’ve done lots of camping, they’ve hosted galas with the Queen to show off their yield from archaeological expeditions and they’ve even discovered hidden tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.

Amelia is really interested in ancient Egypt right now and was ecstatic over this Cleopatra Barbie I was able to find for her.

Amelia is really interested in ancient Egypt right now and was ecstatic over this Cleopatra Barbie I was able to find for her.

Kids play what they learn, as parents it is our job to provide them with learning opportunities that show them how big the world is that is waiting for them. It can be exhausting to keep up with and feed the wonder of a child’s mind, but that effort is ALWAYS worth it!

Here are some things we do at our house to really enrich Amelia’s play:

1. Provide context — books, videos, museum exhibits, library visits, a local special-interest club, and websites (with parental supervision) can all be used to build knowledge and create a foundation upon which her play will be based.

Example: When Amelia became super interested in being a National Geographic Explorer I took her to hear a NatGeo wildlife correspondent Dr. Mireya Mayor speak at the University of Wisconsin, and later this week we’ll be visiting the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC. We often hear “you can’t be what you can’t see”, so I’m taking the responsibility to show her women who have blazed trails for her!

2. Provide opportunity — Screens off and imaginations on! Set up an atmosphere in the house where imagination is tops and other distractions like a TV are at a minimum. Keeps toys stored where she can easily get them out to engage in play. Sit on the floor with your child as she sets up her toys and offer ideas to help develop the story, building on clues she is giving you. “How about this” and “Let’s pretend that” can be powerful ignition switches for her mind!

Example: A cardboard box is never just a cardboard box when a child is involved. A cardboard box, or several in various sizes, is like a blank canvas. It could be transformed into a camper, a rescue boat, space shuttle, underwater research vessel, mermaid palace made of pearl, a school, a volcano, a restaurant, a restaurant inside a volcano….

3. Change location — She already thinks playing with Barbie is fun….but what if you build a blanket fort first? Or turn the space under the dining room table into her space station/hospital/castle/company world headquarters? What about turning off the lights in the bathroom and turning the (empty) bathtub into a cave? Trust me, the extra mess is completely worth the hours of fun she’ll have!

Example: Maybe your daughter really loves the fairy or princess Barbies. Who says Barbie has to stay inside? Go build a fairy house out in the garden or during a family hike in the woods. Construct a snow palace for her princess Barbies once winter arrives. And winter always arrives, doesn’t it?

4. Art projects — With tools like Pinterest at our fingertips, finding art or learning projects to do at home is a cinch! Amelia and I have used these to make back drops for her play with Barbie, and if I knew how to sew I’m sure we’d find some pretty amazing patterns for various outfits and gowns. If you notice a recurring theme in your daughter’s play, like running a jewelry shop or something, capitalize on that! Together explore jewelry making, sign up for a local artisan class, or study jewelry from a specific culture or time period. Amelia and I have researched jewelry from ancient Egypt quite a bit over the past few months.

Example: At Goodwill this past weekend I found an Egyptian mummy art kit. The steps include casting and wrapping a little plastic body into a mummy and then painting the sarcophagus it will go into. Oh, it just so happens the sarcophagus is the perfect size for a Barbie! I’m hoping Amelia will choose to entomb a few of her dolls as right now she is going through several rolls of toilet paper a week mummifying all of them over and over again!

5. Dress Up Clothes — Everyone knows one of the best parts about Barbie is the fashion! Changing her outfit 307 times in an afternoon allows Barbie to become so many different things. Children also love to change into character. With all the Halloween costumes about to go on clearance and consignment shops stuffed with great choices, now is the perfect time to fill a dress up trunk for your home. Amelia loves having a great variety of outfits and props to choose from: pirate, witch, doctor, queen, mermaid, pioneer, etc.

6. Encourage leadership — Whether her Barbie owns her own business, runs a kingdom or a country, or is the lead on an expedition, one of the great parts of playing with Barbie is that girls are putting female characters in title roles. Expand those characters you overhear her creating and bring some of them to life by introducing her to powerful queens and female rulers from centuries past and present. Get to know the female entrepreneurs behind Barbie’s 2014 Career Doll of the Year Entrepreneur, like Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code. When you see her using one of her dolls as a head of state, ask your daughter what issues are important to her and the people she is governing. Maybe she is working to stave off a deadly epidemic or she is leading people in planting community gardens in vacant lots and rooftops to end childhood hunger. You’d be surprised what issues kids are really passionate about. Unless we ask we may be totally unaware of their vision and solutions.

Example: If you notice your daughter always has her dolls running businesses along side her Barbie Entrepreneur doll, ask her lots of questions about the business — what service they provide or what product they make, how many people work there, how did they come up with these ideas, etc. You could even take it one step further and create business cards, a business plan, organize business travel, have Barbie address the city council on an issue impacting her business or clients. Doing all of this with Amelia led us to having a lemonade stand this summer that she and her little brother planned, budgeted, marketed, and staffed. At the end of the day the kids had earned just over $70 they split between two charities that are important to them.

7. Go Beyond — If your daughter keeps playing Barbie Wedding or Barbie Fashion Shoot, don’t underestimate what that could mean. First, the wedding business is a multi-billion dollar industry so me thinks it isn’t too shabby a line of work to get into. I wouldn’t write that off just yet. Suggest it be a destination wedding, and pour over maps or travel books from the library together. Or use that story line to build interpersonal and problem solving skills, like maybe two members of the wedding party are in a fight and the wedding coordinator has to settle things down. How would your daughter approach the situation?  Second, there are a ton of logistics that go into these two events, which necessitates someone in a leadership role. That little someone can review travel and hotel brochures, learn how to make reservations, create passports, practice new words from a foreign language, build the hotel her team will be staying at, plan a menu of ethnic food, learn the basics of a camera, study textiles, schedule the models and photographers, bake and decorate a cake…..


The possibilities of play are endless. You just have to be willing to follow where they lead. Your daughter most certainly is.

Amelia's busy work during our trip to Washington DC. I imagine Cleopatra Barbie will be joining the road trip!

Amelia’s busy work during our trip to Washington DC. I imagine Cleopatra Barbie will be joining the road trip!


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}


Barbie Project


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Lego Female Scientists Infuriate Me

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

Truth be told, I haven’t been able to give Amelia her Lego female scientist set yet. I’ve been hiding it for months. Ben wants one too, and I was only able to get one. So which kid should get it? The girl who needs to see continuous and encouraging reinforcement that women have a place in STEM fields? The set even includes a female paleontologist and T-Rex, like her beloved Sue skeleton from the Field Museum in Chicago. (The most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found and was discovered by a women, fyi.)

Or does my son get it, because he sees so few representations of smart, successful females in children’s media? They could share it, of course, but that only further reinforces how little there really is to go around. And THAT. That is what makes me angry. Like, Hulk angry.

There are eleventy boxes of Ariel’s Magical Kiss and Cinderella’s Castle on the shelf, but finding a box with three female scientists? Good luck with that. Could they make their own scientists and labs from the Legos they already have? Yes and they do, which is why they were so bonkers for this set. I think I’m having such a hard time giving this to my kids because after they go nuts over it and ask for more, I have to tell them, “That’s it. It is just this one. There is no more.”

What a crappy thing to have to tell my science-loving, Lego-obsessed kids that the female scientist thing was just a flash in the pan, not a lasting idea for the world’s largest toy company.

From a friend of a PPBB Community Member:
“My friend just found the Lego female-scientist set at the Mall of America and said she arrived at the Lego Store a few minutes before opening, thinking she’d just ask if they had any and they had ten. The guy in front of her tried to buy five sets, but it’s one per customer. They sold four the first three minutes the store was open.
No wonder people can’t find them, if the store is capable of selling all ten set within FIVE minutes of being open. And this was the **Lego Store**. How can you imagine it’s not a profitable product?”

If the company is only making limited edition sets to drive up value and consumer demand, especially before the holidays, what does that say about our general society? Parents will have to claw and scratch at each other to get their hands on a scarce $20 set of little bricks because their commitment to empowering their daughters and hunger for great STEM toys for girls is so great they’ll totally lose sight of the fact that girl scientists shouldn’t be the rare, toy equivalent of a unicorn.

Toy girl scientists should just be the norm.

The LEGO Research Institute continues to sell out within minutes of being available.

The LEGO Research Institute continues to sell out within minutes of being available.

You know how girls are


“Thank goodness I don’t have girls” is the only comment that makes me more irate than “You know how girls are.” How are girls, exactly?

Earlier this week I accompanied my daughter’s third grade field trip to a fire safety house. As our group of sixty kids waited in a second story mock bedroom for the fire simulation activity to begin the anticipation of what was to come upset several of the students. One of my daughter’s classmates began crying, her sharp intakes of breath signaling she was beginning to panic. The house was filling up with (theater) smoke and the children were dropping to the floor as instructed.  There were several adults throughout the room to reassure the students they were safe and that this was important practice for saving themselves from a real fire. A lot of nervous energy filled the room. The children were to leave the room in small groups, find the fire fighter at the top of the staircase and crawl their way out of the house.

As the smoke got thicker (and it got thick!) the tears of the little girl near me became larger. I bent down to be eye level with the girl and said it was okay to be scared. I asked her to take slow, deep breaths with me and to think about the steps she needed to do to get out of the house safely.  My thoughts went to my own daughter who was across the room from me. I was watching her closely as I was unsure how she would handle this exercise given her anxiety. I could see her taking deep breaths and trying to calm herself down. I could also see her two best friends standing on either side of her, their arms linked through my daughter’s arm, reassuring her it would be over soon and they’d make it out okay. The trio with my daughter moved to the front of the room and was one of the first groups out. The girls stuck together the entire time and her friends refused to be separated from her.

I turned my attention back to the little girl near me, but now she was flanked by two girls from her class who had their arms wrapped tightly around her waist. They were saying reassuring things to her and telling her she could do this. I told the two friends I was so proud of them for being good buddies and for being so kind to someone in a moment of need.

The two friends continued to hold the upset girl tightly and as the smoke got even thicker, one of the girls said to me, “Mrs. Wardy, we’ve got this. We need you to find Friend, she was upset and we lost her in the smoke. We’re going to stick together and get out together.”

I found the fourth girl they were looking for and brought her to the group, wiping away her tears and giving her a hug. The girls moved forward and took their places waiting to leave the mock bedroom and go out into the smoke-engulfed house.

There was no teasing.

There was no cattiness.

There was no bitchy mean-girl attitudes.

There was no looking out for Number 1 and leaving the others behind.

But there was empathy. And leadership. And courage, kindness, listening and friendship.

You know how girls are.

When we stop selling girls short and discounting them with stereotypes based on their gender, our eyes might be opened to some really beautiful moments.

Thank goodness for these girls.

Question From the Trenches: My spouse is addicted to screens

Dollarphotoclub_57435583 Question: What do you do when your spouse has a technology addiction and won’t agree to or participate in these “screen free” periods? My kids are only 3 and 6 months, but I already have a hard time getting him to disengage from his phone games and participate in a more meaningful way with our family. Suggestions?

PPBB Answer:  Hi Robin — That is a good, and tough, question. I think it is fair for him to zone out and decompress from the day doing something he enjoys, but that time has to have a stopping point that he respects and then rejoins the family. Or he can wait until after bedtime for his own personal time, but speaking from experience having survived the toddler years with my husband, we needed the post-kid bedtime hours to connect with each other as a couple. Caring for your marriage is just as important as caring for your kids.

Screen addiction is a real thing, and it might be that he is using it to mask deeper feelings like depression, feeling overwhelmed with the two little kids + financial stresses of having a family these days, or something else. If he is totally disassociated and checked out maybe a family therapist is your best bet. A neutral third party may be able to help he see how big the problem is and how it is impacting the people he loves most in the world. Research is showing us that parental overuse of smart phones is absolutely having a negative impact on our parenting.

Especially at the young ages your children are, parental interaction and specifically the amount of words they hear a day from you is crucial to their development and success in school. For example, there is a big difference between him ‘being in the same room’ with the kids but plugged into his screen versus actually sitting down on the floor and playing with them in a caring and engaged way.

Example: Sitting on floor playing with toddler while baby is doing tummy time nearby, “Good job stacking those blocks Ty! What happens when we put the big square purple one on top? Oh no! They all fell over! Can you help me stack them again? Yes, Baby Mya is slobbering on the yellow block. It is nice of you to share. Okay, how should we build it this time? Can we build the tower with the little one on the bottom? What do you think? Or should we try a big block? Which way should we try first? Oh whoops, don’t let Sister eat that because she might choke. Can you be a good big bro and move it out of her reach to keep her safe? Thanks bud.”

Example: Same scenario, but he’s plugged into a game instead of his kids and the preschooler asks dad to look at the block tower he just made and your husband responds with “Huh, nice.” Meanwhile, poor little baby is just sitting in her Bumpy seat drooling on her toy and smiling and cooing at her dad, desperately trying to earn a smile from him.

That’s a difference of 115 words versus 2, and even when he isn’t speaking directly to baby, she’s still hearing the words spoken to big brother. And in the first example, both kids learn they are really important to dad and he is their buddy.
(Also, hello! Alone time/work out time for you!)

Some people don’t know how to play with little kids, which sounds bizarre but it’s true. Maybe start by sitting in with them, doing the play narration like I did above. My husband was great at making up various voices for the kids’ toys, so we had a collection of Jive-talking dinosaurs and all of the kids’ Match Box cars have voices and personalities. That is something I stink at and my kids BEG me not to play with them or try to do the different voices. Time alone with each parent is really important because kids learn there can be two totally different ways to do something but both are good ways.

So if the child development thing doesn’t grab him, what about a fitness angle and that the family should take a walk/stroller ride around the neighborhood or play at the park together? At three years old your oldest is ready to start learning soccer skills, how to play hide-and-seek, how to master the playground, etc. Or if you have a family dog, maybe it becomes a ritual that hubby and oldest kid walk the dog each night after dinner while you give baby a bath? Or vice versa?

Also, how about opening up with how it makes you feel that his phone games take precedence over family time? Maybe your oldest child can chime in. My kids HATE when I have to be working on my computer when they are home in the afternoon/evening and both have been very able to express to me how it makes them feel. It isn’t my job to entertain them 24/7, but being engaged during the evening family hours is important. Maybe this will work for you, but we had a family meeting where we all shared what was bothering us and we came up with a solution that was respectful to them but also for my need to run my business.

I hope one of those solutions works for you. He may not even be aware of how checked out he is and how much he is missing, so if you can approach it calmly and respectfully maybe he will come around and wean off the phone games. The avoidance thing is a real problem and all of our devices make that all too easy. Ultimately, remember that his decision does not have to be your decision — these kids grow up WAY to fast to miss out on that much of it. You can focus on being the best parent that YOU can be and model for you kids how the family loves and respects each other. If he chooses to miss out on all of that, it is his choice. The days are long but the years are short.

The Case of the Missing Pink Pencil

The other day my six-year-old first grade son was very annoyed with me as we walked through the toy store following his visit to the ER to check on a possibly broken arm. I let him lead the way through the store, saying he could pick out a small toy as a reward for being so well behaved during our long hospital visit and because the nurse who had promised him a lollipop and sticker if he was good didn’t make good on her words.

Ben led me through the toy cars, then the Barbie aisle and then over to all of the Elsa and Anna merchandise before we made our way to the arts and crafts. He zeroed in on boxes of Crayola colored pencils on the shelf and I could tell by the look on his face something was brewing…..

“Mom, the other day we were coloring cotton candy in on our worksheets. Can you guess what color mine was?” -Benny

“Hmmm… love cotton candy so I’m going to guess rainbow or turquoise blue?” -Me

“I had to color it purple because my box of colored pencils did not have pink.” -Benny

“Oh. But can’t cotton candy also be blue? Or, whatever color you want it to be?” -Me

“You are missing the point of my talking, Mom. My cotton candy couldn’t be pink because my box didn’t have pink. So pink wasn’t in my choices for me, but it should be because you say colors are for everyone. Why didn’t you buy me a box with pink?” -Benny

“Well buddy, I didn’t intentionally buy boxes without pink. The supply list said ’24 colored pencils’ so I bought two boxes of twelve because that was the cheapest way to do it.” -Me

“But two boxes of twelve is the same twelve colors both of the times. Those twelve colors don’t include pink. So, no pink for Ben.” -Ben

“So, do you think we should buy the box of twenty four pencils that comes with the pink pencil?” -Me

“I think we should, and I think when you buy me things you should just wait and think ‘Does this have pink?’ because you never know what my imagination can do.” -Ben

Colors Ev FINAL

Colors are for Everyone tee design from


The Art of Invention

A friend of mine posted this to facebook yesterday and I loved it so much I wanted to share it here……..

Dear Teachers,

Isn’t my daughter just precious as she stands proudly in front of her writing piece that she must have copied letter for letter, word for word? Is her own writing not good enough? Please do not give my child writing prompts that she must copy. Instead, teach her to value her own original ideas by letting her write what she wants to write. Teach her that in kindergarten she can sound out words and write sentences independently and that invented spelling is awesome and a normal part of child development.

Oddly enough her grandparents have never taken her fishing, but they are amazing people that my girls are blessed to have. My girls are also blessed to have such tremendous teachers that I hope will understand that just as she learned to crawl before she walked and babbled before she spoke, she must write without spaces and invent her spelling before she becomes a published author. Let her grow.

Her Mom

The proud student shows off her work.

The proud student shows off her work.

The Barbie Project: Phew

Barbie ProjectThis month marks number six of the Barbie Project and I’m really grateful the only parameter given to all of us moms was: Get down on the floor, play, and observe. Share with us what you learn.

There is a lot we can learn from our kids, once we master the art of sitting back and listening. I think sometimes we get so busy in our ‘over-parenting’ mode that we miss the opportunities our kids provide.

About a week ago Amelia and I were walking into her Girl Scout Brownie meeting and the sun was at our backs, low in the sky on a late September afternoon. This elongated our shadows in front of us and as Amelia noticed this she began walking in a glamorous way and said, “Hey Mom! Do I look like Barbie?”

Given what I do for a living (in part, providing families with tangible tips on raising confident girls) you might think this question from her would make me panic that my young daughter’s strong body image and self-esteem had fallen apart, and months of playing with Barbie had driven her to accept harmful beauty norms and all of that baggage dumped on Barbie’s plastic shoulders. I could have launched into a soul-saving speech about how she’ll never look like Barbie unrealistic proportions and she’s beautiful just the way she is but beauty isn’t everything and it is who she is on the inside that counts……

Whoa! Deep breath.

2014-09-25 16.15.40

Instead, I said nothing and as I watched my daughter sashay across the parking lot I thought about what was inside my head at eight years old. You know what? I can distinctly remember watching my long shadows in the late afternoon in my front yard in Pittsburgh, thinking I looked like Barbie with my instantly-long legs and sophisticated walk on tip toes in my jelly shoes. I do not recall ever wanting to look like Barbie, but I certainly wanted to be grown up. I can remember wondering what I would look like as a grown up and that I couldn’t wait for long legs because that meant I was no longer a short little kid. Maybe that’s all Barbie meant to Amelia, too.

I was about to answer Amelia when she runway-walked herself right into a pole and fell over. With her arms and legs all over the place and everything she had been carrying spread about, she instantly reminded me of the mess of Barbies on her bedroom floor and I said yes, now she definitely look like her Barbies. She thought that was pretty funny and she walked into her Girl Scout meeting with a smile.

I think the lesson for both of us that afternoon: Being a little girl is all about having balance.


Fast forward to yesterday afternoon, Amelia was in her room playing with her Barbies and I wandered up to get a few photos for this month’s post. I walked in to find her in deep concentration, huddled over her toy dog.

The doctor tells me this dog choked on a hot dog during a beach rescue. I don't even know how that happens, but it sounds serious.

The doctor tells me this dog choked on a hot dog during a beach rescue.

“I’m going to need your help. This dog has a pulmonary aspiration…a giant hot dog. She’s been under for about twenty minutes and I’m going to have to do a tracheostomy at this point,” Amelia said is a very matter-of-fact, clipped manner.

“Oh, are your Barbies running an emergency vet hospital?” I guessed, kind of not getting what was going on. Which was about to become all the more clear in a moment.

“No honey, I am running the hospital. She went down during a beach rescue,” Amelia said as she continued to work on the toy dog. “I’m going to need you to scrub in. I need to tube her. Hurry up!”

I realized I didn’t know where exactly I was supposed to scrub in for surgery, and I was distracted by the pile of naked Barbies lined up on the floor next to me.

“Trach tube!” Amelia barked.

“The wha?” Me, clueless and feeling bad for my plastic patients.

Amelia using a Barbie to perform a tracheostomy during surgery.

Amelia using a Barbie to perform a tracheostomy during surgery.

“Oh never mind!” Amelia grabbed one of the naked dolls, spun her around in her hand and inserted a foot into the dog’s mouth and successfully ejecting a hot dog. Apparently the Barbies were Amelia’s surgical tools.

“I’m going to finish here. Go check on the mermaid in OR 6. She had a really bad case of bioluminescence. Make sure her kelp iv is still going and ask her friends to move to the waiting room. It is going to be a long surgery and I’m going to try a new procedure, but tell them her prognosis is good.”

The mermaid in OR 6.


PHEW! Yeah, you know, after six months of playing with Barbies, I think we’re all good here.

Amelia's patient pulled through surgery.

Amelia’s patient pulled through surgery.


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

Barbie Project


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Skin Tones

A bedtime story led my six year old son to question everything we knew about race and skin color. Kids do such a wonderful job of pointing out things that make no sense.

My six year old son and I started a book on Jackie Robinson. His sister has long idolized Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Benny has a picture of Rosa Parks that he colored hanging in his bedroom. Jackie Robinson would be the first person from history that Benny would study on his own, not in his sister’s footsteps. Before we began reading we talked about how Jackie must have felt his first day as the only black person on the baseball team, and how his teammates and coaches might have treated him. Ben suggested perhaps he would have felt a little nervous and when I asked why he replied, “Because he didn’t know any of their names yet.”

As we began reading, the first two chapters discussed the struggles Jackie’s family went through in the segregated South and the discrimination experienced in California. Explaining Jim Crow laws again and share cropping to my son was a trip, I could see righteous indignation spreading across his face. I knew he was thinking about his colorful group of friends at school but I wasn’t expecting this when he said, “So I would have to sit at the table with the black skin people whose skin is really brown.” I tried explaining to him that he is actually white, which led him to burst into tears saying he didn’t want to be a ghost, he wanted to keep his tan skin. I said his tan skin is considered white, that I am white, and so is his dad and sister…..Benny argued his dad and sister are brown skinned and that he and I are tan skinned. (My husband’s heritage is Lebanese.) Benny insisted he was brown skinned, because his Latino friend from school calls Benny his ‘brother’. I said they were brothers in their hearts, but that didn’t change the color of their skin. I went on to explain this was a really good example of why skin color shouldn’t stop us from being friends with someone because the real person is on the inside, the skin color is just a packaging that tells us clues about what their family, heritage, culture etc might be.

My husband walked in at this point and asked what we were talking about, and he then tried explaining white, black, brown, red, and yellow skin concept which left Benny utterly confused and distraught as none of his diverse group of friends matched up to what we were discussing. The more we tried to explain the concept of different races and skin it left us just as confused as Benny. He said he had seen brown people and tan people and really wrinkly people, but never red, yellow, or black and that he could not understand why people were grouped by colors of skin that didn’t really represent their skin. I love what he said next.

“What you are telling me is one big hot mess. There are so many colors of skin you just can’t make five categories like what you are saying and in some families the colors get all swirled up when the kids get born. Someone needs to rethink that skin system.”

Flesh colored crayons from Crayola.

Flesh colored crayons from Crayola.

Image source: Finally! Crayons for every skin tone   Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon. Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

Speak All the Louder

Yesterday we all listened to and loved Emma Watson’s UN speech on feminism and gender stereotypes. As quickly as the fanfare arrived, so did the online rape threats, death threats, and website counting down the release of nude photos of the actress/UN ambassador…..just because she is a woman who dared to use her voice and suggest the wild notion that females are human beings.

The reaction of these men who use fear to promote their power is a measure meant to terrorize us to ‘stay in our place’.  To shame empathetic men and to overpower outspoken women. To stunt our thinking and growth as a society. To silence our voices.

I think this kind of man is an excellent reminder of why we must speak all the louder.

There will always be scared men out there for whom educated, outspoken women are threatening. Their fear is not our concern.

There will always be intimidated men out there for whom women are seen only as vaginas, either to sexually please them or piss them off. Their lack of humanity is not our concern.

There will always be small-minded men out there for whom achieving equality between the sexes signals a dangerous loss of power. Their discomfort is not our concern.

Our energy has to be spent on modeling for our young people what a confident woman looks like and how a strong man respects girls and women. That is the single easiest thing that you can do to bring us closer to a world in which an articulate young woman is able to make a speech about men and women being more powerful as equals instead of opposing forces, and not come home to rape and death threats.

Our energy has to be spent on truly empowering our girls, which extends beyond facebook memes and movie characters and cleverly-marketed toys. It is the daily, sometimes grueling work of instilling in our daughters an unshakable knowledge that she has worth. Everything else in the world will tell her otherwise. We have to raise our daughters in such a way that when we send her out into the world she has the heart and courage of a lioness.

Steel yourself to the idea that this will not be easy. That does not mean it is not worth doing.

Our energy must also be spent on our sons, which is an often overlooked yet absurdly obvious answer to the problem of a culture of men who threaten through internet comments unspeakable sexual crimes against women, who create a color-coded system to give girls date rape drugs, or who fail to take a stand  against other men who beat women senseless. And that’s just this week’s headlines.

Our energy must go into expanding the current definition of what it means to be masculine, so that our boys can grow into men who are allowed to be full human beings for whom having emotions and feelings is acceptable. We can teach our sons that violence is not a path to power. We can instill in our sons an unshakable truth that girls and women have value. Boys need see articulate, successful mothers and respectful, self-confident fathers working together to raise their families — and not in just the 1950’s implication of that sentence, I mean as a society of mothers and fathers who take responsibility for our collective children turning out to be good people.

Fear, intimidation, and the threat of violence have always been used to silence voices attempting to bring about change and equal rights. Yet change always comes.

Be not silent. Speak all the louder.

Emma Watson


Image Source: Gender Equality is Not Only a Women’s Issue. It’s a Men’s Issue Too.


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.

If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

Behind the Ice: An Evening With the Storytellers of Frozen

Anna and Elsa Tuesday night I invite you to join my family for a special on ABC….

Something magical happened during the never-ending winter of 2013, as much of the nation was in the grip of record-breaking frigid temperatures and snow fall, we went back to the movie theater for more swirling snow, ice, and eternal winter. Families across the nation and around the world had fallen in love with a pair of sisters who told us a tale of  true love, adventure, selfless acts, and snowmen who like warm hugs. We went back for the goose-bump moment when Elsa stomps her foot, her power comes to life, and the crescendo in the music soars in tandem with the palace we see rising around her as she embraces who she is, flaws and all. We went back to follow quirky Anna on her adventures with Kristoff to save her beloved older sister. We went back to sing along to the songs, loudly. We went back to see Anna and Elsa turn the princess fairy tale upside down and reveal a more modern, more relatable story. We went back because who doesn’t want another 102 minutes with Olaf?

The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic airs on ABC Tuesday 9/02 at 8/7c.

The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic airs on ABC Tuesday 9/02 at 8/7c.

Families like mine went back again and again to take in the story of Frozen – to the theaters, to the dvd, to the soundtrack – because each of us found parts of the story to enjoy, parts that held meaning for us. It takes a special kind of story to become the type of media that a family can connect to and bond over. Girls loved it. Boys loved it. Families around the world loved it so much they spent over $1 billion to see the film. The Academy and film critics loved it. Disney had created a masterpiece.

How is a masterpiece created? Who are the storytellers that are able to bring together this kind of show? From the sneak peak I was graciously allowed by ABC and Disney, I learned that you take 600 people for two years and bring their ideas and inspirations to life. For a fairy tale that almost wasn’t, the telling of how Frozen came to life as the new classic from Disney is as moving as the film itself.

The cast of "Frozen".

I watched my preview this morning with my family and we were touched how each of the creators and animators Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, John Lasseter, Becky Bresee, Wayne Unter, and Hyrum Osmond brought pieces of their families into what we saw on the big screen. The stories behind these storytellers are moving. I was brought to tears when John Lasseter shared about how his special son changed the way he and the team understood Elsa. I also teared up when Kristen Bell talked about the kind of princess she wanted to see on screen. And when Jennifer Lee spoke about retelling the princess tale and wanting to do something new I cheered “YES!”

Actors Kristen Bell, Idina Menzell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad all share how the project was personal to them and what it was like to be a part of the Frozen family. We also hear from Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the crazy-talented couple who wrote the film’s songs.

I knew that Kristen Bell is rather dedicated to providing girls with positive media role models, and that the Lopez’s were inspired by their two young daughters and the theme of sisterhood throughout the film. In so many ways, Frozen answered the call of thousands of parents who have become aware of media’s influence on girls and now search for empowering stories and characters to introduce our daughters to.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.

In the ABC special “The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic” we hear director/writer Jennifer Lee state her desire to turn ‘the princess movie’ on its head. After hearing the Lopezs’ “Let it Go” the team had the breakthrough over who Elsa should be, who she had to be. From Tuesday night’s ABC special you will understand how this story could not have materialized any other way without these individual, dedicated storytellers.

Without them, the magic doesn’t get made, the tale remains one-dimensional on the page, the music that makes our hearts flutter never plays. Without these storytellers collaborating and bringing inspiration from their own families, we miss out on the award-winning family favorite that has changed what we now expect out of our Disney Princesses.

Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck remake the princess fairy tale into a story modern day girls can relate to and love.

Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck remake the princess fairy tale into a story modern day girls can relate to and love.

Frozen was the first billion dollar film to come out of Disney Animation Studios. Yes, the music and animation were incredible. But Frozen offered us something more. There was gender balance, an unexpected plot twist, and a clear understanding of what if felt like to be an awkward, lonely, uncertain, confident, loving, daring, flawed, beautiful young woman and how all of those characteristics can be tied up in one person. We saw the sisters lead their own story alongside stand-up guys like Kristoff. The princesses became heroes – all children love a good hero. Disney got so much right in this film.

For me, personally, it felt like Disney Animation Studios finally understood what I and so many parents my age with young boys and girls want in a princess. We want a hero. We got two.

During Tuesday’s ABC special Jennifer Lee comments about being excited for this generation of children to grow up so they can tell her what it was about this film that made it so successful.

I don’t think Ms. Lee has to wait. If she spoke to boys and girls today they would be able to tell her it was the friendship between the characters, the songs and jokes, the combo of male and female characters with admirable qualities and understandable flaws, and it was the tribute to sisterhood so many children with siblings understand.

Most of all it was Disney finally connecting with how so many families raising girls understand girlhood today. My daughter fell in love with Elsa – she knows what it is like to feel different, to be looked at strangely, to be judged, to be born with something you can’t control or hide. She was drawing at our kitchen table one day when I asked her about her drawing and what drew her to Elsa. “Oh Mama,” she answered, “Elsa is just so powerful.”

Elsa's Hand, by Amelia Wardy

Elsa’s Hand, by Amelia Wardy

The reason so many boys, girls, and adults love Frozen is that the stars Elsa and Anna embody so much of who we are, and who we want to be. The storytellers got this one so right because they took stories already in their hearts and carved them into a tale that much like the intricate Norwegian rosemaling they studied so carefully, curls and replicates itself in all of our lives.

You can be great at jokes. You can sing the roof off the sound studio. You can be an animation wizard. You can be a king at Disney. But until you tell the story from your heart, you don’t have magic. When you get a team together who all give a piece of their heart to the story, you create a masterpiece.

On Tuesday night, tune into ABC and watch how this team of storytellers who are so full of heart got everything so right.

Thank you to ABC and Disney for allowing me a sneak peak into the magic making.


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.

If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest