This Is The Good Stuff

I needed to go to the grocery store tonight. Like the kind of grocery run that saves you from eating leftover rice, a few odd slices of pepperoni, that gross flavor of juice box in the back of the fridge and some craisins that came in the mail for breakfast. But my six year old son and eight year old daughter were all wound up about having their first lemonade stand this weekend. I could have cajoled them into getting their shoes on and trudging out the door and into the car for yet another errand.

Instead I decided to stay in the moment. While my daughter chattered 70 miles a minute to my husband about the profit margin and fair market value of pre-cut fruit cups, I put my car keys and purse down on the table and sat next to my son. We sounded out “lemonade”. We sounded out “fruit” and we decided water should be free. We talked about what type of cookies we would bake, but because he is missing so many teeth he whistles his “s”es and every time I almost burst with too much love for this boy. We planned out what the lemonade stand would look like and how many nails they would need to build it. We discussed why blow torches are not necessary to the construction of lemonade stands. We discussed the merits of selling cupcakes vs cookies. We talked about making sure we got seedless watermelon and decided we would offer free dog biscuits for dogs who did not try to eat our cookies.

Being in the moment allowed me to hear every time my little guy started an important thought with, “Okay guys so…..”. I told the kids about the time their uncles and I had a lemonade stand and our mail carrier paid for a 50 cent cup of lemonade with a $20 bill, told us to keep the change, and we lost our minds. I listened to my daughter talk about what charity she wanted to donate their earnings to.

I could have been checking off my list at the grocery store in that “I have serious things to do” way that grown ups do. Instead I stayed put and watched my son’s tiny hand hold the crayon he wrote with. I listened to the sound of his little voice. I watched him get frustrated when he misspelled “cookies” and wrote a “5″ backwards. I listened to him giggle. I watched his eyes sparkle with excitement. In the background my daughter had not stopped talking and dancing for a full twenty minutes.

I want to remember the night my kids planned their first lemonade stand. I wanted to hold their glowing childhood wonder like fireflies in a jar. I want to remember this night when I turn to their dad years from now and say “I wish the kids would come home from college for a visit.”

We’ll eat ice cream and split an old granola bar for breakfast because some things simply are not worth missing.

This is what this raising small humans is all about. This is the good stuff right here.

 

Benny plans out our first lemonade stand.

Benny plans out our first lemonade stand.

How Do I Tell My Kids I’m Going On a Diet?

How do you responsibly introduce your new health plan or diet to your children?

How do you responsibly introduce your new health plan or diet to your children?

A member of the PPBB Community wrote in with a great question about how to approach her kids with information about a new diet and health program she would like to start, and how to balance that with the strong body image messages she’s already been giving her kids.

Parent Question:  I have never told my 6 year olds what I think of my body, thanks to Melissa and all you lovely people who love Melissa with me. We talk about strong bodies, moving bodies, wiggly bodies, dancing bodies, sleeping bodies, relaxing bodies, sometimes mommy and daddy-tired bodies, but never fat bodies or could lose weight bodies. I’m thinking of restarting Weight Watchers and with Daddy as the already busy dad but family cook, I haven’t broached him switching to a WW friendly, all inclusive family meal plan. How best to count points without telling my kids I’m potentially not eating everything they eat? I don’t want to say “diet” and I don’t want to say I’m trying to get a stronger or healthier body (because then why aren’t they eating what makes me strong or healthy, too?) Any advice for non body-shaming words would be gladly heard!” -PPBB Community Member Kelley L. 

PPBB Answer:  Thanks for those kind words! Your question about Weight Watchers and body image is really important. My advice to you is to introduce the general concept to the kids that as you age your metabolism slows as your hormone levels shift and sometimes adults have to eat different foods or different amounts of foods to stay strong and healthy. For little kids their food intake is not the same because they are so busy all day long and growing so quickly. Adults are done growing so our bodies are different from kids. This is a great time to remind them that no two bodies are alike and each body is a unique machine that requires different fuel.

Next step is to introduce the specific WW program to the kids – maybe do it as a family meeting so that Dad is involved and can add input on how he transfers knowledge of healthy foods to the WW point system. Be honest with the kids about why you want to do WW, and if losing weight so that you can be more active and feel better is one of those reasons, go ahead and tell them that. Just make sure it is included in a conversation about making our heart, lungs, cholesterol and metabolism as healthy as can be so that you can be around to be their mom for a long, long time. Talk about favorite foods you love (healthy and unhealthy) and which foods you might be adding to the daily diet. and tell them which things you might be cutting out and replacing entirely, like diet soda or iced mochas and why.

What I like about WW is that there are no good/bad foods, each food is assigned points based on nutrition. We eat food for nutrition so this makes sense. The points seem to bring a good balance of protein, fiber, healthy carbs, and nutrients to the daily diet. I also really like that WW seems to be a supportive community and there is a lot of sharing of recipes and healthy living tips. I think it is important for kids to see women being supportive of each other’s bodies and quest for health , as opposed to the cattiness and picking apart we see in media and social media. WW also seems like a sensible approach to teaching people how to eat healthy and maintain a strong body. Good stuff!!

At the same time, the point system shifts the way we think about food. Instead of intuitive eating we shift to counting and measuring food and our days are controlled by points. If you are at your point limit I think you are supposed to deny yourself food, which I’m not keen on. And as an outsider to WW I’m not sure how I feel about the weigh ins and measuring progress in pounds. I would monitor how much you talk about the scale and weigh ins around the house because weight is not a measure of health. Instead vocalize how foods make you feel full/energized/powerful/etc.

Overall the WW diet seems reasonable and a family meal makeover (as opposed to the word “diet”) may not be such a bad idea. Be honest with your kids about what you are eating and why. Let the kids continue to enjoy their favorite meals and make healthy food always available to them. Let them see you keep loving yourself and your body, and stay committed to enjoying physical activity/exercise as a family. At the end of the day what they will remember from all of this is that mom and dad want the family to be healthy and our family meals are full of healthy foods and the occasional sweet treat.

 

What has been your experiences with your children and approaching the topic of dieting or healthy make overs? How did you frame things in a way that keep positive body image + health at the center of the conversations? What advice would you give?

 

Image Source.

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies is a small business owned and operated by Melissa Atkins Wardy 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 www.pigtailpals.com.
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

A Princess Camp Worthy Of Our Girls

A few years ago I wrote about the Princess Camp that was offered in the little town I grew up in, where girls were invited to come to school for a week long summer day camp that had them sitting and making crafts in the school gym and ended the week with a celebratory tea party.

This year’s brochure had improved a bit, now no longer specifying the camp was just for girls by using the more neutral “child” in the program description. That’s a big plus because we know there are lots of Princess Boys out there. The camp is still pretty much centered around music, crafts, and story time. None of those things are bad things for the junior kindergarten to second grade children welcomed to the camp. But…..

An example of princess camps offered across the nation. Seriously.

An example of princess camps offered across the nation. Seriously,

 

But what defines “princess things” and why are we in general selling girls (and a few boys) a definition of princess that is incredibly passive and ornamental. While the camp has improved it is still absent of adventure and leadership, as most princess camps are from all of the descriptions I’ve read online. Why do the toys, most media, and apparel around princesses show them in just one light? Thank goodness for Merida, Mulan, Elsa and Anna.

What if we sold our daughters a version of “princess” that was less about ball gowns, the perfect courtsy, and grabbing princes with feminine charms and more about wise leadership, compassionate ruling, smart economics and daring acts.

I would never consider sending my child to princess camp or princess lessons (I know someone who did this this summer) as they stand now, but if my friend Anastasia were put in charge I could very easily change my mind……Take a look at her response to a “FAIRY PRINCESS BALLERINA CAMP!!” advertised in her town this summer: 

Every day on my commute to do drop-offs I drive past a big, bright pink sign that advertises “FAIRY PRINCESS BALLERINA CAMP!!” And every day I think about what *I* would offer for a princess camp.
Week 1- Geography and Cultural Studies: Come with your maps, Ladies! Because knowing the nuances in your neighboring countries’ culture and physical makeup can help you avoid a war. Or win one.

Week 2- Hand to Hand Combat: Body guards don’t always cut it.
Week 3- Dancing: From formal ballroom, to meringue , to African dance we’ll study the history and moves of dances from around the world and have fun keeping our bodies strong and healthy. 

Week 4- Economics: Your country is facing unprecedented inflation and your PM wants to raise taxes yet again. What do you do?

Week 5- Microbiology: Your country is being overrun by a plague. What’s the most effective way to isolate the strain and mass produce a vaccine?
Week 6- Dresses: The big ball is coming up and you want to be armed to the teeth *and* wear chiffon? Okay! We’ll sketch dream gowns and discuss tear-away seams.

Week 7- Fantastic Beasts and How to Make them: Have you always wanted a flying unicorn? The finer points of gene splicing and DNA. 

Week 8- Surviving Sibling Rivalry: Whether it’s vying for a favorite toy or the throne, we’ll learn the power of gentle words. And birthright. 

Week 9- Political marriages: Why or why not?

Week 10- History: “Let them eat cake!”, “We will invade Russia in Winter, what could go wrong?” This week we’ll examine the legacies of those who have come before us and hopefully learn from their strengths and avoid their mistakes.

{Anastasia Nicholson is a doula and birth coach who lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two young children.}

Queen Elizabeth I of England rallying her troops before a major battle. Her leadership is credited to earning England a major victory in 1588 against Spain.

Queen Elizabeth I of England rallying her troops before a major battle. Her leadership is credited to earning England a major victory in 1588 against Spain.

 

Boudica, ancient queen of Celts and ferocious warrior against invading Romans depicted through the ages.

Boudica, ancient queen of Celts and ferocious warrior depicted through the ages.

Queen Nzinga was an excellent military leader who waged war against slave-hunting Europeans. Her thirty year fight inspired leaders who came after her like Madame Tinubu of Nigeria; Nandi, the mother of the great Zulu warrior Chaka; Kaipkire of the Herero people of South West Africa; and the female army that followed the Dahomian King, Behanzin Bowelle.

Queen Nzinga was an excellent military leader who waged war against slave-hunting Europeans. Her thirty year fight inspired leaders who came after her like Madame Tinubu of Nigeria; Nandi, the mother of the great Zulu warrior Chaka; Kaipkire of the Herero people of South West Africa; and the female army that followed the Dahomian King, Behanzin Bowelle.

Tea parties and princesses when you are five are great, to a point. But there is a whole lot more that we can be teaching our daughters about what it means to be a woman in leadership and power. Start here:
Makers – a video collection of world changing women
Girl Scout alumnae page – discover girls today and the adventures they have while in Scouts
Famous Scientists – learn about ten women who made important contributions in their fields of science
Women in Government – find female legislators from your state and encourage your daughter to write a letter about an issue important to her
Women Thrive Worldwide - bringing voices of women living in poverty worldwide to decision makers in Washington DC
Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies is a small business owned and operated by Melissa Atkins Wardy 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 www.pigtailpals.com.
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. 

Questioning Celebrity Role Models

Guest post by Erin Taylor.

Jeanette McCurdy has been making a lot of headlines recently. McCurdy is a familiar name to some; she played Sam Puckett, a member of the main ensemble of the children’s show iCarly. I watched iCarly as a middle schooler, and I loved Sam. She was never traditionally “girly”; she rarely, if ever, wore pink, she was loud and messy, she loved motorcycles and fried chicken. And yet, this wasn’t played for laughs, and she wasn’t a bit character. Sam was clearly female, and no one ever questioned it (unlike on many children’s shows that feature less stereotypically female girl characters). There are many ways to be a girl, and Sam wasn’t afraid of being who she was. Definitely a cool and rare character to see on what was one of the most popular children’s shows at the time.

Jeanette McCurdy is another young Hollywood star who had to come of age under the media microscope.

Jeanette McCurdy is another young Hollywood star who had to come of age under the media microscope.

Recently, McCurdy has been under fire for some photos of her in lingerie that were released by her boyfriend. The controversy behind these photos makes little sense; she is 22 years old, and the photos were sent to her boyfriend (both people were over 18 years of age), yet parents are in an outrage. Many feel that she sets a poor example for the girls who watch her on television (whether on iCarly, or on her current show, Sam and Cat). Some have even speculated that the release of these photos, and the controversy that they generated, has caused the recent cancellation of her current show. In reality, the cancellation likely has much more to do with the booming music career of her co-star Ariana Grande, who is choosing to devote time to her music, but it’s interesting to note how quickly our society jumps to slut-shaming. With all that has occurred, there has been a lot of pressure for McCurdy to step up and apologize for making a mistake, for setting a poor example.

She stepped up. She spoke. But she didn’t apologize.

Instead of releasing a phony apology to save face, Jeanette wrote a Reddit post discussing the pressure she feels to be perfect, and the fact that she refuses to step up to the plate and pretend to be something that she isn’t. She encouraged fans of her show to look for role models in real life, as celebrities are like strangers, and what the camera produces is, so often, not true to life.

” I…love a cute dress, a good pop song, and a vanilla-scented candle,” she wrote, “But these things don’t define me or determine that I am any kind of a role model. What defines a person as a role model is the way they live their life. And no offense, but none of you know how I live my life…I am proud of the way I live my life. I am proud of my choices. I am proud that no one can call me fake or say I don’t stand up for myself. I am proud that my friends and family would say that I’m a good person. But in order to be thought of as a real, true role model, I believe you have to know a person and their actions, inside and out. Calling a celebrity a role model is like calling a stranger a role model. The knowledge you have of a celebrity is no more than a caricature drawn by media tastemakers specializing in selling you an image you’re dying to buy.”

As Melissa has said in the past, “sometimes your mind [will] try to fool you with [the way celebrities look] as you think to yourself, ‘I don’t look like that.’ The secret to remember is, ‘Neither does she.’” Jeanette’s answer discourages slut-shaming in the media, and encourages people to use real-life references as their role models. And I think it’s awesome that she never apologizes for what she did. She isn’t necessarily defending her actions, or claiming that she is perfect; she’s not. But that doesn’t mean that she isn’t a good person.

Ironically, her actions show a lot of traits that would be fabulous for young girls to model; self respect, responsibility, honesty. The vitriol leveled at her was absolutely ridiculous, but she handled it with grace and a calm head. It’s so refreshing to see truthfulness like this, especially in such a difficult situation. Jeanette’s words have made me rethink, in many ways, the concept of celebrity role models.  I often look up to celebrities, or, at the least, people whom I have never met, whether bloggers, actors, or authors.

For example, I really respect Mayim Bialik, and aspire to be like her in many ways. However, I have never met Mayim. All I know of her, I have received through the veils that the internet and television provide. I see a tweaked and distorted image, created using only the information that she (together with her PR team) chooses to release. As media-savvy as I might be, I’ll admit that this isn’t something that I usually consider while I am reading her latest post or checking out a photo she shared on her facebook page.  Mayim is a pretty tame example (it seems fairly clear from her blog that she isn’t trying to generate a perfect media image or create unrealistic expectations), but idolizing anyone that one hasn’t met can be dangerous.

As Jeanette says, the images we see on screens, whether television or computer, are perfected and held to an unrealistic standard. The media creates “role models” that people can never truly become, and this can leave girls feeling disappointed and flawed. And, just as Jeanette points out, this false “perfection” is just as damaging for celebrities to attempt to  meet; after all, they are real people, too. And, and unlike people whom one knows personally, they cannot discuss their choices with you, explain their imperfections, or talk about why they did what they did. The same distance that seems ideal while creating a perfect image becomes detrimental while trying to maintain it in the face of inevitable imperfection.

As “messy” people, doesn’t it make sense to look to “messy” role models? The fact is, no one can be a perfect role model, and the perfection that the media is trying to sell to us is detrimental, not only to young girls, but also to  young actors. I applaud Jeanette for encouraging people to show their whole self, no matter how messy it is, and I hope that we all can learn to follow her example.

 

Erin Taylor is a student and caregiver who spends a lot of time thinking about how gender stereotyping and media messages affect kids. As a caregiver and a human being, she is committed to working along with others toward a world free of these kinds of biases; for herself and her generation, for the kids with whom she works currently, and for those whom she hopes to raise in the future. Erin blogs from anfsdc.blogspot.com, or you can find her on Facebook at facebook.com/violettheyukasaurus.

 

What Choice Do I Have In Explaining ‘Sexy’ To My Little Girl?

In a hyper-sexual culture that markets sex directly to young children, parents are forced to explain adult concepts at ages we never dreamed of. When I first became a parent I never dreamed I’d be having conversations about sexiness with my 8yo almost-third grader. But I am, because I’d rather she get our family’s definition than that of the marketers.

The most popular fashion dolls in 2014, marketed directly to young girls.

The most popular fashion dolls in 2014, marketed directly to young girls.

Blog Comment (Judgement) left by Helga P: “8-year-old going on 25. Third grade teacher is going to have loads of fun redirecting conversations with this girl withal all her talk of sexiness.”

PPBB Response: “Helga – No, actually my daughter is 8 going on 9. I’ve been forced to explain topics to her I didn’t think we’d approach until middle school, but our hyper-sexualized culture made it impossible to ignore or hide from. She is a very intelligent child who asks insightful questions so I felt it was best to answer them with the information she was looking for. Most kindergartners these days know the word “sexy”, I am a parent who decided to inform my child what it actually means so that I can teach her that “sexy” isn’t for kids, despite it being constantly marketed to them.

I cannot raise my daughter in a bubble, but I can make sure she is brought up to think critically about media, to have a strong body image, and to receive an education about sex and sexuality that is both sex positive and age appropriate.”

 

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies is a small business owned and operated by Melissa Atkins Wardy 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 www.pigtailpals.com.
 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. 

Why Does My Son Hate ‘Girl Stuff’ All Of A Sudden?

By kindergarten most children have learned and adopted cultural gender norms and roles.

By kindergarten most children have learned and adopted cultural gender norms and roles.

PPBB Community comment: “I wish I could control what my kids are learning in the classroom. My son comes home from kindergarten feeling like all he can play are superhero games. 
I’ve been telling both he and his sister from their day ones that all colors are for everybody, al
l characters are for everybody, princesses are for everybody and superheroes are for everybody. We live that way. 
But a few days in school and my boy yells “yuck” every time I ask him if he wants a pink heart sticker for crying out loud. 
It’s depressing, really.” -Kelly F

 

PPBB Reply: A lot of what your son is doing right now is totally age appropriate and common for kids who are in the phase of establishing gender permanence. Kids his age categorize everything and the world is very “this or that” for them right now. Good/bad, pretty/ugly, mean/nice, funny/scary. This is why the preschool/kinder age has such big emotions as the huge world they are learning so much about every day doesn’t line up with their boxes and they feel shifted and out of sorts. 

The categorization helps them feel a sense of control, because going out into the world every day without mom/dad right there can be scary and overwhelming so they compartmentalize everything and take their roles VERY seriously, which is why your son is overemphasizing that he is a B-O-Y right now and pink heart stickers make him wretch. 

It is completely frustrating and also a great indication he is learning and absorbing everything around him, including our culture’s definition of gender roles. Just be patient and keep emphasizing little gender equity mantras. It will stick with him as he matures.

Some PPBB gender equal and media literacy mantras you can use are:

Colors are for everyone.

All toys are for all kids.

There are many ways to be a girl.

There are many ways to be a boy.

Each person is Full of Awesome in their special way.

 

Images source.

 

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies is a small business owned and operated by Melissa Atkins Wardy 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 www.pigtailpals.com.
 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

Sex In A Bottle: Deconstructing Perfume Marketing With My Kid

The 8yo Original Pigtail Pal and I were at the mall yesterday running some errands when a marketing poster at the department store perfume counter caught her eye while I was making a return with the cashier. She has been paying a lot of attention to the images displayed in stores lately, and I can tell she is giving them a lot of thought. The woman in the photo was wearing an evening gown and was very thin. The angle of the photograph drew your eye to focus on her exceptionally long legs. She was in a seated position reclining backwards with her legs spread partly open, the high slits in her dress causing the fabric to fall between her legs. The position of her body made her look like a prop and look on her face was a highly suggestive “Come hither” gaze. It prompted Amelia to ask if the woman was being sexy.

I answered that she was, but then compared that photo to one of a different model for a different perfume brand. The second model was wearing a women’s suit jacket that was open with nothing underneath. Her photo was also sexy, but in a different way. In this photo her eyes were closed and she had a sublime smile on her face, Her head was titled back, her smile turned towards her shoulder, her hands gently touching her neck. Her image gave off a feeling of self love and radiated beauty. Those two things together made it sexy.

(Unfortunately I can’t find either photo online to show you here.)

Amelia and I talked about how the two different images made us feel, why the first model was so thin, why it looked like the first model was waiting for someone while the other woman seemed to be by herself, why one photo focused on spread legs and the other focused on a happy face, and why companies would use those pictures to sell perfume.

“If perfume is supposed to smell nice and it is grouped into the groups you talked about then why aren’t they showing the different smells inside the bottle so you know what you are getting?” -Amelia

“Because they aren’t really selling perfume, they are selling the illusion of beauty and sex. The perfume isn’t the only thing people are buying when they buy this.” -Me

“They buy it to be sexy?” -Amelia

“Right, they buy it to feel attractive and sexy. People are drawn to the various scents, but the photos influence our feelings around the products and how we want those products to make us feel. That is called advertising. The companies do this to get our money. Feeling sexy is totally fine, but companies trying to sell that feeling to you isn’t always a good thing. Feeling sexy isn’t something you buy or get from other people, it is something you feel on the inside once you are more of an adult.” -Me

“You probably have to be in college to feel sexy.” -Amelia

“Right, or maybe a little bit in high school. Also, if you notice in all of these photos around the perfume and makeup counters the women are all white, all thin, all young and all more or less look the same. Women of all shapes, ages, and colors feel sexy and beautiful, but you don’t see that in advertising and that is why Mommy doesn’t like those photos. I don’t like when companies tell women how to feel about themselves.” -Me

“I would never listen to that because I would just listen to myself that I am beautiful. And I guess for third grade I don’t really need to be sexy but I would like to do a ninja obstacle course.” -Amelia

My work here is done. For today.

Amelia and I then walked hand in hand down to Bath & Body Works, whose lotions and potions  feature images of the scents inside and doesn’t rely on sex to sell. I bought my favorite oriental floral perfume and then I bought a little lotion with a light, sweet floral scent for Amelia who has no business being sexy in third grade but can certainly be a nice-smelling ninja.

I don’t mind her wanting to try on little bits of adulthood here and there, like high heels, makeup and perfume. When she is dancing around in my bras or asking to try my lipstick I just make sure she understands she is a visitor here, that the bras are too big and the lipstick too dark for a little girl. I teach her that everything that goes into being a woman is fantastic, and worth waiting for. I tell her there’s no need to rush it because being a confident little girl is equally fantastic.

People will always be selling sex in bottles and limiting versions of homogeneous beauty to her. I can’t stop that, but I can raise a girl who understands from a very early age that she is under no obligation to buy into any of it.

A simple trip to the mall to return some dresses led to a big conversation with my daughter on the marketing of beauty and sex.

A simple trip to the mall to return some dresses led to a big conversation with my daughter on the marketing of beauty and sex.

Does Nicki Minaj’s Butt Become Our Problem When She Markets It To Kids?

The new art for Minaj's "Anaconda".

The new art for Minaj’s “Anaconda”.

This is an interesting conversation around Nicki Minaj, hip hip culture, influence of media on children, the responsibility/or not celebrities hold as role models, men commenting on sexualization of women, and the commercialization of sexuality.

At the root of it is a father concerned over the cultural role models his daughter is seeing and giving voice to that concern. And while not all consider Minaj to be a role model, she is most certainly a regular and accessible celebrity to many children as she has appeared on the Ellen show with two young starlets, worked as a judge on the family-friendly American Idol, and voiced a cartoon character from the Ice Age movie franchise.
Minaj or any artist has the right to take their work in any direction they choose. But if Minaj and her handlers have clearly marketed her to children, is she then responsible to take on the consideration of “role model” as she reportedly moves her content to “more mature”? And is it okay for dads to call that out?
Another good question is if a star has his or her body surgically altered in order to establish their brand – and make it worth $45 million – in order make themselves more marketable to the public, does that body become a product and are we then allowed to comment on their body, or parts, as consumers speaking up about products marketed to us?

The conversation hosted by Marc Lamont Hill isn’t really about Nicki specifically, but rather a look into sexualization vs sexuality and how the commercialization of such impacts young media viewers and consumers. Also at question is if and when men, especially in the role of fathers, can comment on that without being accused of policing women’s bodies and sexuality as Chuck Creekmur of AllHipHop.com experienced.
Yet can this really be Onika Tanya Maraj’s true sexuality when she is acting as her stage personna “Nicki Minaj” and what is on display is for sale in order to rack up sales? Can men be free to comment when the “sexuality” is a product and possibly not an authentic expression?
You can read Creekmur’s letter here.

The thoughtful counterargument presented by Ebony.com’s senior editor Jamilah Lemieux and titled “Nicki Minaj’s Butt Is Not Your Daughter’s Problem” is that Minaj is the least of hip hop culture’s problems and while Minaj is conflicting and multi-layered, other artists male and female alike present far more damaging content.
You can read Lemieux’s response here.

Minaj in true conflicting Minaj fashion (why I personally love/despise her) fires back to the criticism by pointing out the racist and sexist tones in this controversy by posting photos of white women in nearly identical poses for mens’ magazines. She makes the point and solidly so that when white women do this for the male gaze it is acceptable, but when a black woman does it through her own sexual agency we have a controversy. Minaj calling this out created…..you guessed it, more controversy. But on this I absolutely agree with Nicki — while Minaj’s image is slapped with a parental warning label and questioned for ruining society’s youth, the Sport Illustrated issue published for the male gaze was sold in plain sight, and at eye level, of my young children at the grocery and book store. Go figure.

Nicki Minaj astutely calls out the double standards at play here.

Nicki Minaj astutely calls out the double standards at play here.

Then again, is this “sexual agency and ownership over her own body” when she is using her body as a vehicle for sales while she plays the patriarchal bargain? Stated perfectly by Tiffanie Drayton at The Frisky, This implicates Nicki Minaj and her brand in an unforgivable way. As the face of the modern perpetuation of a stereotype created to serve and justify White male dominance, Minaj and her multi-million dollar empire represents everything wrong with our current perception of blackness and more specifically, Black female sexuality. If Nicki Minaj existed in a world where racial bias and stereotypes did not reign supreme and the Black female body was treated with the same respect as the White female body, then her brand would be a major fail. For that reason, it is best that she not challenge the status quo — not if she wants to continue having a successful career, anyways. For us, the consumers and participants in this continued injustice, we must begin to question and challenge our beliefs if our shared goal is, indeed, equality for all women. And we most certainly should not wait for those participating in and profiting from the degradation of the Black woman’s image to tell us to do so.”

 

Whether you are a fan of Minaj or not, what are your thoughts on the big picture issues that are at play here, especially with concern to how all of this impacts children and shapes their perceptions of gender, race, and sexuality?

Science Tees For Girls Is What We’ve Always Done

It is great that Lands’ End listened to customer feedback following the viral backlash that came with a mom’s letter calling out their sexist back-to-school shirts. This isn’t new territory for Lands’ End, I wrote about this three years ago when the company found themselves in more back-to-school trouble. When the story first broke Pigtail Pals was mentioned in this article on Huffington Post directing parents towards better apparel options and advocacy work against gender stereotypes in children’s media and products.

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies has been around for five years, and we’ve always made real science tees for girls.

Pigtail Pals paleontology tee for girls, 2010.

Pigtail Pals “Dino Dig” paleontology tee for girls, 2010.

If you would like to order some empowering apparel for girls and boys, visit www.pigtailpals.com

I’m pleased that Lands’ End is offering two science-themed shirts to girls that aren’t sparkly gendered science, but real science. The designs are great. They will reach the masses and that is superb. Congratulations on those two t-shirts.

Meanwhile, Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies has ALWAYS offered real science tees for girls. Our playtime apparel has always been free of gender stereotypes, it was the founding principal for our company in 2009. PPBB remains a small business, but our commitment to honor childhood and offer over fifty respectful and empowering playtime designs is one of the biggest in the business.

Our Redefine Girly line shows girls being smart, daring, and adventurous.

Girls astronaut design from Pigtail Pals. Our Redefine Girly line shows girls being smart, daring, and adventurous.

Chemists

Girls chemistry design from Pigtail Pals. Our Redefine Girly line shows girls being smart, daring, and adventurous.

Doctor

Girls doctor design from Pigtail Pals. Our Redefine Girly line shows girls being smart, daring, and adventurous.

Girls of all sizes love science!

Girls of all sizes love science!

It would be important to note that Lands’ End didn’t create a new science design for girls from this recent controversy. The headline making science designs for girls is actually two space designs Lands’ End took from the boys MIGHTY GRAPHICS! section and simply put on a girly tee with scalloped edge sleeves.

In fact, when you take in the overall offerings to girls and boys from their catalog we find twenty four long sleeved tees for boys, eighteen of which have a science or nature theme that looks like actual science and nature. When we look at the girls CUTE TO A TEE section (natch) we find twenty four tees that offer tutu and tiara wearing dogs, coral colored zebras, bubble blowing elephants, and mask-wearing foxes. The girls’ options carry nothing of the biology and physics messages the boys’ do. The girls’ options have been dipped in pink and bedazzled with sparkles to the moon and back. Except, of course, for the two boy designs they just inherited.

The girls’ designs are cute, when we take each one at face value. When we compare them to what the boys are offered the sexism and gendering is offensive. By Lands’ End own descriptions, boys are mighty whose imaginations need to go wild. Girls are cute and add smiles to their outfits. Oh giggle!

I applaud the big corporations when they make small steps like this towards gender equity and leaving stereotypes off of their children’s products. At the same time, I’m rolling my eyes. This is literally the smallest step that Lands’ End could have taken.

It is 2014 after all, and it isn’t like this girl empowerment and STEM stuff is new. I’m just not so convinced two science t-shirts out of an offering of two dozen should really earn the fanfare it is getting the retailer. The fact remains that Lands’ End, while wholesome, is one of the most gendered places out there for kids. Maybe selling gender stereotypes isn’t so wholesome? Or progressive?

I’ll be convinced there has been progress made when moms like Lisa Ryder and myself don’t have to write letters in the first place.

After, girls will be girls.

PPBB's "Girls Will Be Girls" designs turns stereotypes upside down.

PPBB’s “Girls Will Be Girls” designs turns stereotypes upside down.

 

If you would like to order some empowering apparel for girls and boys, visit www.pigtailpals.com.

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies is a small business operated by Melissa Atkins Wardy in Wisconsin, where are 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.

 

The Barbie Project: Barbie Meets the Man Eating Lions of Tsavo

I played with Barbies as a kid and I can’t quite recall what sort of stories my girlfriends and I acted out, but I feel like there were several sinking cruise ships, attempted kidnappings by Russians, and weddings that ended in disastrous emergencies requiring Barbie’s immediate attention and quick thinking. Which she always did best in a pale blue ball gown while leaping from her purple Corvette.

One thing I have noticed as I watch my daughter play with her Barbie dolls and act out dramatic scenes with the characters she develops is that the adventures she creates exponentially outpace what is sold to her through commercials or media built around products. I can’t think of anything specific, but shopping for prom and makeup disasters come to mind. I recall Amelia watching a video with a bunch of mermaids and there was some issue with a hair-product delivering prince. My brain didn’t really know what to do with that.

I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never seen a commercial aimed at the 3-8 year old girl demographic themed around man-eating lions. 

We were on vacation for the first two weeks of July and last week Amelia did nothing but practice riding her bike in order to earn a kitten, so she hasn’t played with her Barbies in a while and was happy to pull them out again. She was also mad at me last week after I dashed her hopes of living in the Chicago’s Field Museum because I told her if she tried to live in the Field Museum she’d be arrested for squatting and because she is a minor I’d have to do her jail time.

So I have been exiled from her room since returning from vacation and therefore have not been able to observe her playing with her Barbies. I tried to mend fences by saying we could build a rocket ship and launch her Astronaut Barbie into space or build a ninja obstacle course and time her Barbies and they tried to make it to the finish line….

I thought I had her with the promise of pyrotechnics, alas I was only able to get into her room by saying I needed to check on the new kittens.

Amelia setting up the Barbie animal training camp sit, pre-man-eating lion attack.

Amelia setting up the Barbie animal training camp sit, pre-man-eating lion attack.

 

“Hi. How are the kittens? What are you playing?” -Me

“I’m playing with my Barbies. They are on a safari because they train cats and dogs to help people and this is part of the training.” -Amelia

“Oh wow, that is so cool. I really like their camp site. I like the little girl, is she so brave going out into the bush and training the kitten as her service animal?”  -Me

Tragically I do not think young Barbie ever saw her doom coming.

Tragically I do not think young Barbie ever saw her doom coming.

“What? Oh honey. No. She was dragged away from camp by a man-eating lion of Tsavo. You can’t go out into the bush or you will become prey. That is her body laying in the lair. Jabban is a porter and he shoots the lions with tranquilizers if he can see them in time. The team has lost six members already, the survivors are mourning. That’s why Barbie is up on the mountain now, she’s calling for reinforcements and she can guard the camp from up high.” -Amelia

“Wow.” -Me

“Listen, they were all told there were man-eaters in these parts. You have to understand the terrain. Scientists have to have respect for how violent nature can be. Why are all of their feet pointy? I have to pretend all these shoes are hiking boots. Will I really be arrested if I live at the Field Museum? Do you know anyone who has ever been arrested for that before? When I buy the Field Museum they won’t be able to arrest me because I will say it is my house.” -Amelia

Amelia uses her Barbies as trainers for service animals.

Amelia uses her Barbies as trainers for service animals.

 

And that’s the thing about girls, I’ve come to learn as I watch my daughter and her friends play. Sometimes what we find for them in the marketplace is limiting them based on gender stereotypes, but when girls are raised with the message the world is theirs to explore and nothing is off limits to them and their desire for learning and adventure…..you never know where they will end up taking you.

I don’t mind that Amelia uses Barbie to take her on these adventures.

Has your daughter ever surprised you with the stories she plays out with her toys? Has it shifted your perception of who girls are and what things they are interested in?

 

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

 

*No Barbies nor kittens (nor man-eating lions) were harmed in the making of this post.

**The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo were real and are on exhibit at the Field Museum. They were two young male lions that terrorized a rail camp in Kenya killing 135 workers.