All people should be treated equally and with respect. I think this right extends down to the tiniest of people, our very young children. I am raising two young children, a girl and a boy. I hold a firm belief that my children have the right to a childhood. My children have a right to a childhood that is not stolen or bastardized by marketers willing to sexualize and harm them in order to meet the bottom line or condition them into lifelong spending habits. I will not stand for that.
Ending the sexualization of childhood is the children’s rights issue of our time.
That’s why Stripper Barbie came with me to meet with Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D -WI), co-sponsor of The Healthy Media for Youth Act (H. R. 4925). You’ll notice, in the lower right hand corner of Stripper Barbie’s box, it says “Ages 3+”. I thought Stripper Barbie provided an excellent visual aid for the kind of sexualization that goes on during the preschool years.
You’ve read about the 4925 legislation here, when I went to Washington DC this past spring and met with memebers of Rep. Baldwin’s staff to ask for inclusion of little girls in the wording of HR 4925. Stripper Barbie is the kind of media preschool aged girls see, and right now there aren’t many groups specifically advocating for preschool aged girls and their familes and their right to healthy media and products. In my opinion, image after image after image of Barbie, Tinkerbell, the Disney Princesses, and Moxie/Bratz dolls are just as harmful to a tot as the constant viewing of photoshopped images of models in magazine are to a teen girl. Both examples reflect a fake perfection to being female. We have to know that if it is affecting our older girls, it is affecting our little girls, too. Preschool girls are too tiny to be involved with amazing organizations like Girl Scouts, Girls Inc, or Girls Leadership Institute. These pint size girls are too young for that kind of outreach, yet are marketed to relentlessly, and have precious few examples of anything outside of the beauty myth disguised as toys offering fashion, beauty, shopping, makeup, pop stardom, etc.
There is a lot of focus right now on tween and teen girls, the images they see in magazines and the media, and how it harms their developing sense of self and worth and body image. That is all VERY important and relevant and cause for concern because much of the advertisting and media out there is junk. Older girls are bombarded with a sexualized, false version of womanhood that skews their development into healthy, balanced young women. There is immense pressure on girls regarding their appearance and body size.
My little four year old girl doesn’t watch television commercials or read fashion magazines. She doesn’t know the words “diet” or “sexy” or “boyfriend”. My husband and I have worked hard at making sure our daughter is four going on five, instead of four going on seventeen. Yet try as we might, when we go shopping we come across toys and clothes and accessories that carry messages that have no business in a child’s world and twist the meaning of “girl”. Like a plastic doll with heavy makeup and impossible body porportions dressed like a prostitute. “Miss Sassy” is not something I would ever hand to my daughter.
I asked for the meeting with Rep. Baldwin so that we could talk about the sexualization that affects very young boys and girls, how it affects both genders as to their own identities and how they view each other. We discussed that kids are being introduced to manufactured ideals of feminimity/masculinity and sexuality at ages that should be criminal. For girls, it begins at birth. And it is relentless.
What I stressed most to Rep. Baldwin is that 4925 needs to include the support and promote outreach to preschool families and their girls who are being sexualized from infancy. If we can train families to raise their girls the right way, programs that help girls to grow, like the Girl Scouts, will be that much more successful. We discussed a movement I would like to see (and will be helping to create in the coming months) led by older girls on behalf of themselves and their little sisters. A mini-suffragette movement of sorts, teaching empowerment and media literacy to each other. Raising an entire nation of strong, confident girls. (insert happy, happy sigh)
We also discussed the notion that small, parent-owned businesses like Pigtail Pals that offer healthier products for girls needs help with funding and PR to have a fighting chance against giants like Mattel and MGA Entertainment (who give us Barbie and Moxie Girls and Monster High). We discussed education programs (like the one I am starting this fall) reaching parents and caregivers of kids ages 0-5 years.
Here are the notes I left with Rep. Baldwin, and what I wanted her to take away from our conversation:
- Media Literacy efforts and girl empowerment initiatives need to begin for parents and girls at a preschool level.
- Media Literacy efforts and girl empowerment initiatives should be made available to girls who are preliterate and therefore most vulnerable to sexualized imagery. Images and pictures are a child’s first language.
- Young children’s toys and media characters need to fit within guidelines that limit the violence and sexual stereotypes and sexual content conveyed to the young consumers who use them.
- Groups, like Pigtail Pals, that serve girls before they reach the ages of school and extracurricular programs like Girls Scouts, need to be funded and supported in order to empower our youngest of girls so that these are messages the girls are raised with, as opposed to introduced to sometime during their elementary years.
Rep. Baldwin asked excellent questions, and was very receptive to my suggestions. Maybe it helped to have a photograph of my daughter, age three at the time, sitting next to Stripper Barbie. I will continue to serve as an advocate for the bill, and be a source of reference for Rep. Baldwin’s office. The bill, as it stands, is great and will do much good, especially for older girls. As for our littlest girls, Rep. Baldwin said “The bill doesn’t preclude them, but it doesn’t promote them either”. I am here to make sure our tiny girls aren’t forgotten.
I am here to make sure that our little girls are raised with age appropriate messages and toys so that when they are five or six or seven, becoming a Brownie or Girl Scout is the coolest thing in their world. I am here to make sure that girlhood doesn’t become a twisted training ground for shopping and boy obsessed gradeschoolers, so that Girls Inc can focus less on deprogramming these girls and focus more on the amazing potential each one of them holds. I am here so that when little girls like the two above are sent to Girls Leadership Institute, my friend Rachel Simmons doesn’t have to spend time talking about negative body image because these girls will already love the skin they are in.
Early childhood is such a magical time, so full of learning and wonder and color and exploration and dreaming and the soaking in of everything that enters a young child’s environment. It is the time during which children come to learn what it means to be human being, and all of the profound graces we enjoy in this world. In a way, those tiniest years can be the most majestic. Let’s work to keep it that way.
What YOU can do today: Go to the Girl Scouts page to Take Action – click here – they have made it super easy for you to contact your Congressperson and encourage support for this bill and the protection of our kids.