The Barbie Project: The Super Powers of Being Yourself

A couple of weeks ago Amelia enjoyed decorating her very own super hero cape sent to her by the Barbie Team as part of the new #BeSuper campaign featuring the Super Squad caped crusaders. She never really got into super heroes like some girls do, I think because for her the overall lack of female characters left her disinterested. Amelia was super excited when she discovered all of the new dolls in Barbie’s super hero line were girls – she loved the little girls on the scooters best.

I believe one of the reasons Amelia has taken to playing with Barbie is that her stories and play time are filled with adventurous female characters who travel the globe, explore under sea and outer space, hold interesting jobs, and perhaps the greatest adventure of all – live as a family. Unlike so much of children’s media, when it comes to Barbie the girls are central to the story, adventure, discovery and fun.

This past week our family has enjoyed some gorgeous spring weather in Wisconsin, a couple of days hitting the 70’s! Now, Wisconsin has four seasons – Fall, Winter, Summer, and Mud. It just so happens, my daughter has never met a mud puddle she didn’t love or that she could resist wallowing in. I could hear her whooping and hollering in the back yard as she played with one of our dogs and I decided to see what the commotion was about.

I was greeted by this in the garden…..

Amelia being super!

Amelia being super!

The sign of Amelia and a hose during mud season – or really any time of year – is never a promising discovery. The giant patch of dirt seen here is the result of a massive mud pit she made last spring.

Amelia has a magnetic draw to mud.

Amelia has a magnetic draw to mud.

And where there is mud, there is always MORE mud…..

Ugh. Mud!

Ugh. Mud!

I asked what she was working on and she replied that she was developing an “infinity water source” for our dogs ahead of summer time so that they would never be caught thirsty in the summer heat. She said if it proved successful, she’d patent it and sell it to cities so that stray animals would never die of thirst. (While Amelia was decorating her cape she decided she would be a rescuer of animals who were abused, neglected, or homeless.)

Amelia explaining how the suspension element works on her "infinity water source" system.

Amelia explaining how the suspension element works on her “infinity water source” system.

I asked Amelia what her super hero name would be and her answer left a huge smile on my face.

“Mom, I don’t need an additional name or secret name. I’m Amelia, and I’m a hero just the way I am.”

At our house we believe there are many ways to be a girl, and I’m so pleased my girl has figured out the ways that work just right for her.

 

Pink, muddy boots, and somewhere a girl who believes in herself.

Pink, muddy boots, and somewhere a girl who believes in herself.

 

 

Barbie Project LogoLearn 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.}

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

We Are Approaching This All Wrong: It’s a child

“What is it?” is usually the first thing expectant parents are asked. It does seem a bit odd that we bring a new life into the world and our custom is to zero in on itty bitty baby genitals and predetermine who that person will be based on biological sex and our cultural understanding of gender.

I suggest we let gender be the least salient quality we see in a children, and instead see each child for the unique person they are.

But I digress…….

“What is it? It’s a child.”  by European children’s apparel company Villervalla.

 

Which approach seems a more fitting way to welcome into our world a newly born life?

Villervalla

 

And this isn’t a bad idea either……

Source unknown

Source: idiopathicsmile tumblr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just over half of parents find out the sex of their baby during pregnancy, the rest choose to be surprised. Important to note here – parents find out the sex of the baby, male or female, in ultrasound. The gender of the baby comes later, and may not always align with the biological sex. All those “It’s a boy!” and “Congrats on your little girl!” balloons should more accurately read “It’s a male!” and “Congrats on your little female!” For many parents, once the sex of the baby is revealed their world begins to fill with gendered items in a wave of pink or blue. Ballerinas or baseball bats, princesses or pirates. When it comes to baby items, it is usually “either or” not “this AND this”, which is a shame because when we limit our children we limit our children.

For those parents who don’t find out their baby’s sex in utero, some feel it helps them get through the delivery knowing the “big reveal” is just a few (or fifty) pushes away. Or they feel the sex of the baby doesn’t really matter, either way they are having a brand new child –  a very tiny person who will need to learn, explore, experience, and love all there is to life regardless their “boy or girl” status.

Some parents feel knowing the sex helps them connect to the little life they will soon be in charge of caring for, for others it makes the pregnancy seem more real and parenting more doable. For some it helps with planning, deciding on a name, or they are just so excited to meet their son or daughter and want to know everything they can as soon as they can. Happy healthy families is what we’re after so we should be respectful of individual family’s choices and joyfully welcome them to parenthood.

Whatever your family chose to do or chooses to do in the future, let’s just remember one really important fact: There are many ways to be a girl and many ways to be a boy. And all of childhood is magical.

 

*Hat tip to @HippieHappy_ and @LetToysBeToys for the Villervalla video.

** If you know the original source of the Parenting Tip image, please let us know so that we can properly credit. (Update: Found it!)

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Childhood Should Not Be Defined By Limitation: The Powerful Play Experience

Media has a strong influence on us and these days media is everywhere. Media helps craft our norms, leverages our opinions, inspires our wants and desires.

“Media” sounds powerful, doesn’t it? It is. For children, toys are a form of media. Toys can confine children, imposing gender stereotypes and finite versions of play. Childhood was never meant to be defined by limitation.

Toys can be playtime companions, imagination igniting objects, teaching tools, and concept creators for something bigger and better than what originally came out of the box. There are no better experts in the world on creativity than children.

Lightbulb IdeaOpen-ended play means the child does the creating, not the toy. This usually means no batteries. The toy is character free and gender stereotype free, the toy does not tell a story to the child. The only thing that brings that object to life is the creativity swirling inside the child’s mind.

There are no ‘boy toys’. There are no ‘girl toys’. Toys are for the imagination, which by definition should have no restrictions.

Sidewalk chalkOutside Toys:

bubbles, sidewalk chalk,hula hoops, sporting/biking/scooters, water station (cups, buckets, paint brushes, spoons, etc), sprinklers, squirt guns or water shooters, materials to build a fort or tent hideaway, bug collectors/binoculars/magnifying glass, picnic blanket and play dishes

 
Rainbow of toysInside Toys:

cars, trains and wooden tracks, people figures and dollhouse, dolls and stuffed animals, dress up box, blocks, puzzles, magnets, dominoes, art supplies, science experiments, materials to build a fort or tent hideaway, Play Doh and clay,  board games, area to set up a play school/restaurant/bank/hotel/business/hospital

Some other play ideas we love:

Idea Factory:  The power of “tinkering” = have boxes of various sizes, washed out food containers, art scraps, fasteners, tape, crayons and markers so kids can build anything they want. (The Maker Movement is the tech side of this idea.)

Turn a laundry basket or large cardboard box in anything.

Self Portrait: Have kiddo trace their hands and feet, and then fill in this unique style of self portrait, adding in special interesting or word clouds of things important to them.

Lemonade Stand: This is a busy project more than play, excellent for bigger kids and offers so many opportunities for learning business skills. There is planning, organization, money management, promotion, and customer service skills that will be gained from the experience. (Not to mention the art of upselling, as in charging your neighbors an extra fifty cents to play hop scotch after they finish their lemonade.)

What are some creative ways that your children play and discover? 

 

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

LEGO Gets It And Seems To Not Care: The Elves Spa Edition

When the new LEGO catalog arrived I tossed it at my kids and said I needed birthday present ideas. While I love that my kids create and build with LEGO, I have really come to despise LEGO as a company and hate giving them my money. I want to love them, so badly I do, but I just cannot. I dislike toy companies that attempt to instruct kids on how to be kids. The “build it this way” boxed sets and gendered marketing give me hives.

Once a favorite toy of my youth, I look at the pink and blue LEGO world of today and part of me wonders where they went so wrong. In the 1990’s they painted themselves into a corner by solely marketing to boys. It worked so well they lost the girl market and struggled to get it back until their recent run away hit with LEGO Friends + Disney Princess license. But to get the girl market back LEGO went with the lowest common denominators of femininity. The Friends line has improved since the initial sets of hair salons/beauty, cupcake bakeries, and shopping malls. Now we have jungle rescue, multiple sports, hot air balloons, sea planes, lighthouses…..at least girls are getting the message they can go out into the world and take up space (and by ‘world’ I mean Heartlake City, where Friends live separate from the rest of LEGO world). Separate but equal, right? Wrong.

The new LEGO Elves line seems promising, and much of it is. You’ll still find it in the pink “girl’s LEGO aisle” and you’ll still see the hot pink and purple LEGO coding “for girls” in the bricks, but you’ll also find sets called Creative Workshop, Crystal Hollow, Adventure Ship, Treetop Hideaway……and then you’ll fine the requisite beauty spa and magical bakery.

Lego Elves spread in new catalog.

Lego Elves spread in new catalog.

You know if I were creating a mystical, completely imaginary world for girls where I could think up absolutely ANYTHING, baking and beauty are two things I’d probably move right past on my way to Unicorn Training School and Lava Ball Factory.

The requisite beauty spa for LEGO.

The requisite beauty spa for LEGO.

But good ol’  predictable LEGO – what is a ‘girls LEGO set’ without a little spa magic and cupcake charm? It’s as if LEGO knows exactly what is hard wired into the DNA of our girls. In fact, the LEGO Elves set “Naida’s Spa Secret” comes with ‘beauty cream’  – a nod to all little girls knowing beauty comes from a jar you spend your paycheck on and their worth comes from that beauty. And the number of sparkles on their purple pet dolphin.

The set is marketed with the text “Pamper yourself at LEGO Elves Naida’s Spa Secret….”. I think if I were a kid today playing with LEGO I’d be less worried (and most likely completely unaware) that I need pampering and more concerned about getting more pegasuses (pegasi?) for my army so that I can defeat the invading trolls….or whatever it is that attacks elves.

(Related must read: “Beauty Tips for Girls, from LEGO” on Motherlode.)

Whenever I read posts like the one from Motherlode or lead discussions on Facebook about the gendered, sexist marketing by LEGO I see so many people ask “Doesn’t LEGO get it?!” And I think LEGO does get it. I think they do not care.

It is probably unprofessional for me to write “Bite me, LEGO” in this post, so I won’t do that. Instead, I would like to say that while I see some improvements from LEGO with the shift in focus of the Friends line to girls doing things and I like the Elves line including male and female characters ready for adventure, I’m just really finding it hard to understand the undying LEGO commitment to beauty spas and bakeries for girls.  Why does LEGO hold that stereotype when consumers have so clearly said that is not what our kids want nor what we want for our kids? If the wold’s largest toy maker were paying attention to the girls apparel and toy market in the past 36 months they would see run away hits and crowd funding darlings focused solely on building girls up to be smart, STEAM-focused diverse adventurers and parents can’t get enough of it. Let’s not forget the massive petitioning and then consumer demand for the LEGO Female Scientist set which LEGO will not keep stocked nor commit to expanding or keeping long term.

Ideas like Ruth Bader Ginsburg LEGO? Yes, that is a choir of angels you hear singing. LEGO rejected the concept for its IDEAS fan page, saying it will not accept “politics or political symbols”. Ironically, the Supreme Court along with the need for greater, more inspiring representation of females in LEGO isn’t about politics. It’s about equality and justice.

Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News.

      Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News.

supreme court lego

Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News. 

 

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

 

The Barbie Project: The Whole Conversation

The song that never ends.

The song that never ends. (Image source unknown)

We are overdue to change a conversation. A conversation is only as good as the information that travels through it. In order for a conversation to be a good one ideas need to be introduced, then ideas need to shift and evolve. The evolution might feel like an abandonment of principle at first, but it is the natural order to how ideas grow and realign as new information enters improved awareness and understanding.

All that is to say, this conversation we’re having around little girls, Barbie, and body image needs to evolve. We need to change with it. That is not to say we dismiss or forget what has already been discussed, nor disown those who disagree with any particular position. It means we move forward. Together. Because walking and talking in circles doesn’t get any of us very far.

Barbie is made out to be the most villainous of children’s toys, the chief complaint being body image and her “toxicity” to empowered little girls. I can find myself agreeing with some parts of that, for example, I’d love to see Barbie come in different body sizes but I understand from a manufacturing perspective why that doesn’t work (although, it would not be difficult to incorporate into digital and print media). I’d love for retailers to strive for greater diversity and offer children more Barbies of color on the shelves. I’d love for Overtired Working Mom Barbie and Stay-at-Home-Dad/Freelancer Ken. Stores should stock more Career Barbies like the astronaut, presidential candidate, teacher, doctor, veterinarian, and computer programmer. Less brides and more business entrepreneurs is fine by me, which also feels more in tune with the girls of 2015.

Barbie has held 150 careers since the 1950's.

Barbie has held 150 careers since the 1950’s.

But for all this, the conversation about Barbie always goes back to what Barbie looks like. 150 careers later the gal can’t win for losing.

We can’t seem to get over Barbie’s looks, to the exclusion of all other points of conversation. Barbie was never meant to be an exact replica of a human body yet anyone who builds a life-size Barbie is guaranteed a viral Huffington Post article. Any researcher who can gather a handful of young girls to ask a batch of questions about Barbie’s looks and the girls’ lifetime aspirations then publish with a headline grabber like “Barbie’s Long Legs Measurably Crush the Souls of Young Girls” guarantees being highlighted on all the girl empowerment sites, never mind how good the science is or isn’t. Everyone loves to hate Barbie. While we focus ALL of our energy on what Barbie looks like we teach our girls to do the same, ignoring all the careers, places traveled, financial independence, and friendship the Barbie story also offers. The media literacy around body image is very important, but to the exclusion of all other things? When we do that, what are we teaching our daughters is the most important thing about a woman?

Consider the speed at which articles about this super model or that older actress being “brave” or “our beauty hero” for posing in un-retouched photos made public race across the internet and into the nightly news, all while actual achievements by women barely make a blip. I think we are not being honest with ourselves when we simultaneously bash Barbie’s body yet focus our entire conversation on how we look or how someone else looks. If the bravest thing a woman can do in 2015 is show up in public free of make up and Photoshop we’ve got MUCH bigger problems than Barbie.

The intent of my words is not to defend Barbie, rather I’m asking if we all can expand this well-intentioned conversation we’re having. We’re missing the whole conversation. Life isn’t black and white. Life is full of gray, full of “yes, buts…” and “on the other hand” and new perspectives.

Image from The Barbie Project.

Image from The Barbie Project.

I find myself wondering, are we really being honest with ourselves or distracting ourselves when we use every mention of Barbie bear the cross of all negative body image issues? Let’s allow body image to be part of the conversation, and then let’s keep talking, observing, listening, discussing. After a year on The Barbie Project, I’m not convinced this is how little girls see their dolls until we teach them to. Granted the Barbie brand extends over multiple media platforms (toys, clothing, books, cartoon dvds) but at the end of the day, for most children, she is just a doll laying on the bedroom floor. Probably naked.

Over the years I’ve asked my large social media community when was the first time they can remember as a child feeling as though some part of their body was “flawed”. The second part of the question is who played a role in assisting that realization? What began as research for my book is now a bi-annual cathartic, eye-opening event. Hundreds of answers later reveal insecurities ranging from too much body hair to refusing to shave, skin color being too pale to too dark, hair color being too red or not blond enough, being too thick, being too thin, being too tall, being too short, needing a bra early to not needing a bra until college, having freckles, crooked teeth, acne……the list went on. And the people who made these insecurities rise when these women were girls? Moms. Aunts. Grandmas. Fathers and step-fathers and uncles. Classmates, from the first day of kindergarten all the way to middle school. Other parents. Teachers. Doctors. Friends. Above all, moms were mentioned over and over and over again.

Yet no one mentioned Barbie. Literally not once in any of these threads has the toy been mentioned which is why I find the preoccupation with her looks to be so very distracting from the larger conversation we could be having, for which Barbie should be a part of but not the entire focus. I think bashing Barbie really isn’t the whole conversation and when it is, we lose sight of where our focus and energy should really be in order to bring about meaningful change for girls and women.

Let’s focus on what women do, instead of what they look like.

Let’s focus on our individual influence and impact on the children in our lives.

Let’s recognize that Barbie as she is now represents one kind of beauty, but WE should be the ones defining endless versions of beauty and making it more inclusive, expansive for our daughters.

Barbie is a complicated doll, and can mean many things in many different ways. Perhaps that is a good thing to teach our girls - Women are layered and complex and not linear beings.

Barbie is a complicated doll, and can mean many things in many different ways. Perhaps that is a good thing to teach our girls – Women are layered and complex and complicated. (Image via When You Choose Hope)

I think we are wringing our hands and giving Barbie way too much power as we simultaneously fail to see our own. If there is one thing we teach our girls, it is that we should care more about what we DO with our life than how we look living it. If anything embodies this that belief I hold to my core, it is this comment left in the thread about when in girlhood did you come to understand your body was seen as “flawed”:

I was nine; I’d just played Bach’s ‘Minuet in G’ on the piano, for my school’s Parents’ Day. This was in Pakistan, where almost no one learns to play musical instruments; it was a big deal and had involved a lot of work. I was incredibly proud of myself. Photos were taken of all the performers and displayed on the school notice board.
As I approached the board, people were laughing and pointing. They’d found a photo of me. I looked at the photo, and for the first time, I realised that my cheeks were chubby, and that when I concentrated, my mouth fell open. I looked stupid.
That was the moment when I became aware that I was an object. I didn’t have words for it, but I knew that it didn’t matter what great things I did – what mattered, and what I would always fail on, was how I looked while I did it.
From then on, I’ve never been able to do anything with my full attention. One part of my mind has always been nervously policing the way I look: can I hold my chin higher to hide my cheeks? Is my mouth neatly set? Is my face pleasant? And I wonder what amazing things I could have achieved (or could achieve, still!) if I was freed from that mental burden.” -Noreen

When I read Noreen’s comment, tears sprung to my eyes and I gasped for air. Tears sit in my eyes now. I think about the mental energy women and girls waste thinking about how they look instead of what they do. I think about what the world has missed out on, contributions left ungiven and I feel a painful weight on my chest. I anguish over the amazing girls we are raising who might choose to sit something out because of worry over being pretty or worry about that she is worried about being pretty, and instead of taking over the world she remains still in a world of self doubt.

Our conversation currently is running like this: Instead of what a woman can accomplish or discover or enact or defend – we bring it back to what she looks like. Instead of what girls say or think or whom they inspire or rescue – we bring it back to what she looks like. Just like we do with the conversation about Barbie, which is like the song that never ends.

I’m asking us to shift the conversation. Can we evolve it, please? For example, there are some little girls out there with some incredibly confident mamas who are bashing the heck out of all of these stereotypes and we’re doing it by using Barbie and play as a teaching tool instead of an instrument of demise. We’ve chosen to take a step back, get a few deep breaths, talk out the tricky spots, and sit on the floor to play so that we can see the world through our daughters’ eyes.

I don’t care whether or not you or your kid plays with Barbie, I just hope you find inspiration from some of these posts and understand the conversation has to evolve past what we look like and move to WHAT. WE. DO.

We should care more about what we DO with our life than how we look living it.

Ruby's daughter exploring outer space.

Ruby’s daughter exploring outer space. (Image via GUB Life.)

Yolanda, on learning through play with her daughter. “She’s taught me so much more about body image and self love that I could have ever done.”

Ruby explores a rich heritage and cultural tradition through fashion design. ” I shared that grandma (my mama) has an embroidered dress given to her as a gift, something very common in our culture. I got to wear it a few times.”

Brandy empowers her daughter by allowing her freedom to choose her own wardrobe. “It’s clear she was expressing her adorable self and her growing little personality.”

Eliana discusses how dolls become a girl’s friend. “At her age, and with her individual circumstances, Barbie is a friend of hers.”

Tammi witnessed her shy twin daughter finding her voice. “Katie is finding her way. Her strength. Her ability to shine and be the star of the show after all these years.”

Kara and her daughter explore the difficult truth of how segregation and racism impacted their family. “As she played I asked her how she would feel if she was not allowed to go into certain places just because of the color of her skin.”

Kara's daughter explore social justice through play. (Image source Empower Her Inc)

Kara’s daughter explore social justice through play.
(Image source Empower Her Inc)

Jenny sees the power of children’s imaginations. “We tend to lose sight of how much we can add with our minds by expecting everything to be realistic and tangible.”

Brandy learns the power that mermaid effect holds on a timid swimmer. “The whole way home she talked about how she couldn’t wait to swim like a mermaid in class tomorrow.”

Ruby’s daughter travels out of this world to the moon. “Walking on the moon with Barbie was definitely done in an unexpected way.”

Yolanda discovers her daughter is a business mogul in the making. “I walked in on my daughter playing with her Barbies and overheard the dialog she had for her dolls. Her dolls had taken on the roles of my friends and I, and as such, each was a business owner, freelancer and influencer.”

Tammi sees what has been important to her three daughters over the year. “Again the summer memories are brought back to the forefront as their experience is reenacted in play.”

Eliana realizes Barbie is a reflection of her daughter’s unique personality. “Barbie has the most amazing and beautiful shoes any woman can dream of, but many times my daughter decides to let her walk barefoot and just have fun. Barbie is the reflection of my daughter’s personality and interests.”

You can read my Barbie Project posts here, where my daughter and I focused on all the incredible things her imagination can do with a doll dressed for 150 careers, who drives a jeep and a hot pink camper.

The confident, intelligent, diverse, amazing group of moms blogging for The Barbie Project as we coach our daughters through girlhood.

 

Barbie Project LogoLearn 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.}

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at:www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).