Pretty in Pink at Costco Part 2: The Forest Through the Trees

A Guest Post by: Lori Day

Sarah and Poppy Burge, infamous beauty-obsessed mother/daugther duo.

Was this a fluky experience? I think so. The lunch area being comprised of all moms and daughters was unusual. The fact that all eight girls were wearing all pink was unusual—I mean, girls wear a lot of pink these days and it definitely is “the uniform,” but there are usually some girls wearing purple at the very least, or even some other colors. (Although, if you’ve never noticed this degree of little-girl pink- ubiquity, start paying attention in public places like malls, airports and food co-ops!)

The fact that two of the eight girls were wearing Disney costumes out to Costco and it was not Halloween or a dress-up birthday party seemed a tad above the usual ratio.

Taken all together, the amount of pink in the form of tulle, satin, glitter, make-up, kitten heels, and little girl bling was highly concentrated in space and time. But you know what? That’s what made me realize that culturally, we now have somewhat of an alliance between princess culture and mommy culture. Executive summary: For a lot of our daughters, the real world of girls and the Disney World marketed to girls have become the same thing.

Yesterday’s post about the invisible girl with the book came about from a question Melissa Wardy asked during a discussion on the Pigtail Pals’ Facebook page about why parents stopped questioning all of the tremendous changes in what is marketed to girls over the last ten years and how it is marketed:  

I believe that many parents have stopped questioning because they, too, are desensitized by our 24/7 media-saturated culture in which the value of females lies less in what they do than in how they look while doing it. Perhaps in these hard economic times, the fantasy that your child is the fairest in the land—or could be with the right focus on her appearance—seems normal, and even beneficial, in the eyes of those parents who do not spend much time intellectually contemplating the commodification of female beauty.

Perhaps parents also stopped questioning because there can be tremendous enjoyment and camaraderie in shared beauty play for females, young and old. Moms usually have the best of intentions. They are supporting each other, acknowledging each other’s children, expressing femininity, and having a great time together being girly. On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with this, and it has always been this way to some degree…just not to this degree.

My concern is with the amount of focus our society now places on female appearance, the enormous multi-billion dollar industry that has grown up around it, and the necessary insecurities these corporations must instill in females, from a very young age, in order to turn them into lifetime consumers. Personally, I advocate for a deeper consideration of these issues by all parents, but I also recognize that a whole lot of parents really like things the way they are, and believe that good parenting will take care of it all, despite the research that has emerged on the tremendous number of hours of powerful marketing and media messages kids consume every single day.

I think it’s like rolling dice. Remember when it was legal to advertise smoking? Strong parents sometimes managed to raise children who did not smoke. But the millions of dollars spent on the seductive advertising campaigns for cigarettes was a Siren call to many kids who did all, eventually, leave the close supervision of their parents and wander out into the big world where they consumed this advertising, and joined a peer group of kids who thought smoking was cool. What was needed was strong parenting and laws that forced the tobacco companies to recognize the harm to children (and adults) inherent in their marketing and profiteering.

So I think it all depends on how one views the world. If you are the kind of parent of who is inclined to look below the shiny surface of pop culture to understand the unhealthy role being played by money and corporations in the lives of girls and women, and are prepared to raise your daughter in ways that might occasionally make you look either out of touch or antagonistic to mainstream girl culture, then you will naturally question, question, question. If not, not.

While I hope more and more parents will go back to questioning, I equally hope that the vigilance and activism of advocacy groups like Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly  and so many others (see the blog roll on my website for other recommended individuals and groups to follow who are working on making the world a better place for all children) will eventually change the ground rules for the marketers as did happen decades ago regarding the cigarette companies. Social change takes a long time and a lot of hard work by a lot of individuals, but it can happen, and I am proud to be a small part of this massive grassroots effort. What is at stake is nothing less than our girls’ future, and that is not something to gamble.

Poppy Burge, 7yo, received several vouchers for cosmetic surgeries for her 7th birthday.

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Lori Day

Lori Day is an educational psychologist and consultant with Lori Day Consulting in Concord, MA, having worked previously in the field of education for over 25 years in public schools, private schools, and at the college level. She writes and blogs about parenting, education, children, gender, media, and pop culture. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Comments

  1. I will admit I have passed on my own love of shopping and mani-pedis to my daughter but I also talk to her a lot about what career she wants to have and the importance of being self-supporting. She goes to a progressive elementary school that focusses on the social-emotional and keeping kids “young.” I feel that her love of clothes is in part creative expression; if she weren’t as responsible and well-rounded as she is I would probably be more worried about the attention to appearance. But 7-year-olds geting vouchers for cosmetic surgeries?????? That’s downright abusive.

    • My almost-6yo daughter and I like to paint our toes and sip lemonade on the front porch in the summer. It is fun, girly, and I like things that sparkle. We also talk about bioluminescence, space, and kids in Africa. I think it is fine to partake in things that are seen as traditionally “girly” like shopping and mani-pedis, as long as it is only one slice of the pie. It sounds like your daughter has a full plate, and not a plate of beauty-focused play and experiences. Her love of clothes may be more out of appreciation for design and textiles than it is vanity. But that is the importance of diversifying our daughter’s girlhoods.

      Her school sounds wonderful!!

  2. I just wanted to write and tell you how much I love your blog. I’m home for a short bit after graduating college before I move out and I spent all last night and today reading all your blog posts back to 2010! Geeky, I know, but I really enjoyed learning more about media literacy with children and girls. Your daughter reminds me a lot of me when I was a little girl :)

    I definitely want to get some of the books you mentioned in your blog and was wondering if there are any other blogs you read yourself or reccommend for someone (me!) to continue learning about this? Thanks!

  3. It seems like part of the problem is in determining the difference between appreciating our daughters’ explorations into femininity (and occasionally ultra-femininity) and actually TEACHING our daughters to value femininity above other traits. It sounds like the little girls in this story have been saturated in princess-culture marketing, but in my mind, what really cements it is the ubiquity of adult reinforcement.

    • Megan, I agree. But look how much it takes to get parental attention on this, and how much MORE it takes to reach parents intellectually and emotionally at a deep enough level to drown out the very loud voices of the media. It is so hard. We must keep trying!

  4. Sue Carney says:

    Sadly,many of these girls will be the same girls who, in junior high, are dressing and behaving provocatively because they have learned that this is the surefire (and perhaps only?) way they will get attention. And the same adults who thought the pink/princess/beauty routine in early childhood was so darned cute will be the ones wondering why…..connect the dots, people. Please!

    • YES!!! Around puberty, a lot of girl morph from “pretty pink princess’ into “sexy Lolita” because, by then, their self-worth is so tied up in appearance and in eliciting approval for their looks from others. Meanwhile, all the studies show their self-esteem is plummeting because this is superficial. Eating disorders, cutting, depression, anxiety all go up. They’ve built the foundation of their personalities on what’s called “erotic capital,” and not only is is hollow, but it disappears by age 40! This problem is systemic and lifelong for females. From baby onesies that say “princess” to preteen thongs that say “juicy” to adult botox and boob jobs, females are commodities who need to spend huge amounts of time and money on their appearance so they can be desirable to OTHERS, not themselves. But they will tell you they do it for themselves! Very screwed up, and as parents, we need to get out in front of this for our daughters. We’re David and the media ia Goliath, but we all know how that story turned out. We MUST fight!

  5. I wonder exactly why you branded this blog, “Pretty
    in Pink at Costco Part 2: The Forest Through the Trees”.

    Regardless I really loved it!Many thanks,Cathryn

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