Dr. Megan Bradley, Associate Professor of Psychology and Frostburg State University in Maryland asked that I participate in an interview via twitter to talk about the sexualization of girls and what it means for parents. I was really excited about this opportunity because the sexualization of childhood is something that affects ALL families, and needs to be broken down into short, usable messages for parents to implement in their homes.
Sexualization is the children’s rights issue of our time. I aim to change the way we think about our girls.
Here is our interview that took place today (August 6th):
1) You’ve tweeted about the sexualization of young girls in our society. How is that defined & why is it harmful?
Sexualization is much different than the healthy, innate sexuality human beings have. Sexualizaton is manufactured and age inappropriate.
Sexualization occurs when a person is taught their worth is their sex appeal or behavior, fitting into a narrow definition of “sexy”.
Sexualization is the objectification of a person for other’s sexual use, and forcing sexuality upon a person at an inappropriate age.
In 2007 the American Psychological Assoc released findings on harms of sexualization bit.ly/d45Zlo. It interferes with girls’ healthy development
The APA’s research & that of other groups has found that sexualization hurts self esteem, body image, mental health, and sexual development.
2) What messages are girls receiving from a culture that sexualizes young girls?
Girls receive the message their worth, their social currency, is their sex appeal as it fits inside of a narrow definition of “sexy”
In our culture girls are sexualized at extremely early ages w/ images of sexy princesses & fairies, dolls w/ distorted body proportions.
As a parent, I’ve seen a direct marketing campaign at my preschool daughter that encourages a girl’s focus to be on beauty & catching guys
It skews ideas of feminimity, introduces them to adult concepts of heteronormative sexuality, and distorts their developing body image
A girls’ worth is more than her beauty. There is more in this world for girls than their level of “hotness” or “sexiness”.
3) How do some businesses promote sexualization through their products?
There are corporations whose profit margins are structured on exploitation of children. It is a bastardization of childhood I do not accept.
Manufacturers of toys/apparel/media that sell girls sexy characters, dolls, sayings on clothing, etc are complicit in sexualization.
Several corporations have built empires by selling hyperfeminine, overtly sexual, age inappropriate toys to children (Barbie, Bratz)
Anytime a business sells a product that rushes children into an synthetic sexualized mini-adulthood, they promote sexualization of our kids.
4) You’ve decided to make a change at the cultural level – to redefine girly. You aimed high there! What challenges have you faced with your message?
I did aim high, but every day I look at my little girl and know not enough is being done to protect our smallest girls from sexualization.
I aim to take back girlhood for our daughters, and allow them their right to be little girls. That is why we are Redefining Girly.
The biggest challenge is to change the way people think about girls. Parents are catching onto media literacy, and want changes.
I don’t agree with teaching girls to sit pretty and be quiet. Or worse, teaching them to be raunchy and sexually available to men.
I want people to see that girls have a natural desire to be smart, daring, and adventurous. It is vital to their time spent growing up.
The girl market is completely saturated w/ products focused solely on beauty, shopping, and fashion. Girls deserve a wider world than that.
5) Who are good role models for young girls?
People in real life: parents, extended family, neighbors, teachers, local teens, sports coach, babysitter, local artist or business owner
I don’t think celebrities/famous athletes are good role models. Parents have no way of vetting those people in line w/ their family values.
Role models should be people in a girl’s life who can build her up, help her out, listen to her, and who care about her.
6) What can a parent do if a daughter idolizes the wrong role model or wants a sexualized toy to fit in w/her friends?
That’s a sticky wicket all parents will encounter. When my girl asks for inappropriate stuff, I ask “How much fun can we have with that?”
Teaching girls to read the media, and think critically about products they want to buy and how they will use them is important.
The desire to fit in w/ the crowd is a strong & normal need for children. Its all part of how they figure out how to navigate socially.
Its okay for parents to say “We don’t watch that tv show” or “Our family will not be purchasing her new album”. Set boundaries & explain why
It is okay to make unhealthy products off-limits in your family. You can help shape your child’s thoughts, but you can’t control them.
As for the misplaced idolization – talk to her about why she likes that person, and ask her questions that make her analyze her choices.
Examples: “In what ways is she talented?” “What would you do if you could meet her?” “What would you do if that had been a photo of you?”
Those questions apply to a celebrity role model or a real-life friend who may not be the best choice. Thinking critically is key.
Whatever her answers may be, they aren’t nearly as important or powerful as the time spent talking with a trusted adult.
7) Overall, what can parents & teachers do to empower girls?
Empower girls with knowledge they have worth. What they think matters. What they say and dream matters. Who they are has worth.
Specifically, focus compliments away from how she looks or behaves, and shift focus to what she does and thinks.
8 ) How can redefining girly also help young boys’ development?
Boys need to grow up respecting female peers. Redefining Girly shows boys that girls are fun, smart, and strong. Girls make good friends.
Boys consume huge amounts of objectified females in the media. Having friendships w/ girls & respect for women deconstructs that.
9) Why did you choose 2 focus on clothing apparel for young girls on your site (www.pigtailpals.com)?
I chose to start w/ apparel because t-shirts are a staple in childhood. A little girl can wear her Pigtail Pals tee like a coat of armor.
I was sick of “Daddy’s Princess” & “Sweet Little Angel” clothing when my girl was a baby. I wanted her raised w/ stronger messages.
In August Pigtail Pals is super excited to be offering hats, stickers, school supplies, greeting cards, and workbooks for girls!
10) How have girls and parents responded to your t-shirts? Got any deals 4 our audience?
Parents are in love with the message and our designs. The shirts are selling well and I have a strong parent community embracing the message
At trunk shows and workshops,I’ve had both parents and girls hug me, shake my hand and thank me, cry…People want better for their girls.
Of course! We’ve always got sales going on at Pigtail Pals. Our audience can use coupon code: launch for 15% off, no expiration date.
Thanks so much for having me today. I enjoyed sharing the message of Pigtail Pals. We’ve also got a great Facebook page & blog to check out