When Do We Allow Our Girls To Partake in Commercialized Sexualization?

That is a serious question, when do we or when should we allow it? I hope your head and your heart are saying never, but often times that gate opens before we are ready or give our permission. How do you push back a marketing tidal wave? How do you keep your children from breathing toxic air?

The thing is, none of us are raising our children in a vacuum. They live in our homes and grow within our families, but they are also members of the culture at large and try as I might, I have no control over how other people raise their children or what media they decide to consume. I also don’t walk around protecting their ears or covering their eyes.

Case in point, while dropping my kids off at school today we were walking behind a first grade girl wearing this backpack featuring the Winx Club.

Winx backpack seen at school this morning, on the back of a six year old girl.

Winx backpack seen at school this morning, on the back of a six year old girl.

Why would you send your young child to her place of learning with THAT on her back. What messages does that reinforce? Where are the Amelia Earhart and Maya Angelou backpacks? Why is it okay to sell adult sexuality to kids? If the actual six year old were dressed and posed like that on the internet people would be screaming about child pornography but because it is a cartoon, it is okay for the six year old? Folks, I just don’t get it.

Try this test: If the image can be lifted from the child’s toy/backpack/t-shirt and placed on the billboard for a strip club and not look out of place, then things are seriously fucked.

You have to be blind not to see it.

Given what we know about how early sexualization harms young girls,  I cannot understand how parents allow this kind of imagery and media in their homes. Isn’t their some pause at the store, some alarm bell that sounds internally that says, “Ya know, my daughter is six years old and these characters are oozing adult sexuality. I need to tell her no and that we need to make a different pick.”

The problem is that this isn’t happening frequently enough and marketers then argue back to activists like me that they are just giving the people what they want. I mean, it is selling, right? But when sexualization is the only choice so widely available, how much of a choice do we have and can we be successful avoiding it? How much can parents be to blame? And why is it that many times we have to spend two to three times as much money on healthier options?

Our girls are being turned into mini-adult consumers at a fast and furious pace. Where is the respect for girlhood? Why are we in such a rush to grow these girls up? We’ve been talking about this for so long that I am now the second generation of parent to come behind trailblazers like Jean Kilbourne, Susan Linn, Sharon Lamb, Mary Pipher, Lyn Mikel Brown, Deb Tolman, and Diane Levin. I am continuing to carry the torch because over my dead body will my daughter get this as her definition of girlhood and femininity:

Bailey Richards Shoemaker took screen shots of the top selling dolls. What common denominators do you see?

Bailey Richards Shoemaker took screen shots of the top selling dolls. What common denominators do you see?

Things were not this far gone when I was a child. This is why the “But I did ______ and I turned out fine” argument never holds water. Our generation and those younger than us have always been swimming in the waters of objectification and sexualization to the point that they don’t realize when they are soaking wet. (Peggy Orenstein said this to me the other day.)

In fact, this great series of cartoons does an excellent job of pointing out just how much pop culture has changed for our girls, and how raunchy it has become. Please make sure you read the follow up post that goes with it.

So I do everything I can to keep the sexualized garbage away from my kids, but no one can do this with 100% success. And while today it is my almost-eight year old asking me about Monster High, soon it will be the bigger questions that come with raising bigger kids (like the one shared below).

As I parent my kids and respect their right to childhood I will continue to look this slide of sexualized and objectified sludge in the eye, stand toe to toe and say, “Oh HELL no.”

I do not accept this. Not for my kids. And hopefully, not for yours.

 

PPBB Community Member Question: My daughter is 12 and wanted to watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. I am against most fashion focused things for all the obvious reasons, so my first reaction was no way is she watching that. She mentioned that she’s recording it, so that got me to thinking this could be a great discussion point for dress and media. Can anyone point me in the direction of the Psychologist who spear headed the exposure of all the ugly sides of marketing? Also any thing else that might help me have a good conversation with her.

Models from the Victoria's Secret 2013 fashion show.

Models from the Victoria’s Secret 2013 fashion show.

Melissa’s answer: I think you are smart to turn it into a conversation starter instead of a stopper by saying “no way”. My first reaction would be “no way” as well, but then we need to dig deeper and allow our kids to learn media literacy skills and resiliency to these messages marketed to them.
Ask her why she wants to watch the show and why it is important to her, maybe it is because Taylor Swift is performing. Not by accident, mind you, because VS desperately wants brand loyalty out of Swift’s young fan base.

I would make a deal with her. She can watch the VS show, but only after she watches Miss Representation or Killing Us Softly by Jean Kilbourne (I think this might be the person you were thinking of) with you.
You can find Miss Rep here: http://film.missrepresentation.org/watch-film
And Killing Us Softly 1-4 here: https://www.youtube.com/results…

If, at 12yo, she is grown up enough to handle one of those documentaries then she is old enough to handle the VS show. I would tell her that your concern with her watching the VS show is that as she reaches puberty and her body starts to look more womanly you don’t want her growing with the idea that there is only one way that women can be beautiful. The ideal height of a Victoria’s Secret Model is 5’9” standing barefoot with body measurements of 34-24-34.
I would expose the ugly side of what the VS models go through to look that way, despite looking glamorous and sexy for cameras. A good, scary read: http://www.stylelist.com/read/the-honest-often-ugly-truth-about-teenage-modeling/

I would Google some of the models names like Jessica Hart or Adriana Lima, then I would Google that name (model + no makeup) to see what they really look like.

Finally, I would review with her the findings of the APA Task Force: http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx

And if, after all this, she still wants to watch the show I’d let her. I guarantee you she’ll no longer enjoy it because you’ll have shifted the way she sees those things forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. From where I’m sitting, the fairy(?) in the upper right of the backpack looks like her nipples are showing… Just saying.

  2. Thanks for this piece! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially while doing Christmas Shopping with my small children. I try to encourage my children (especially my daughters) not to be limited by gender, in the toys and clothing I purchase for them and in the media they are exposed to- looking for positive, healthy and strong representations of women and girls. Despite this, when we go shopping they gravitate towards Barbie and My Little Pony and other sexualised toys I am trying to steer them away from. A few weeks back my 3 year old and I were selecting a picture book for a friend’s birthday present, I found one about a wombat and suggested it, my three year old ignored it and ran straight to a pink, sparkly Barbie book. I’ve never even bought her a barbie.

    While there are some toys I refuse to budge on, like Bratz and Monster High, I am really feeling the pressure. I look around at all the clothing for girls in various shade of pink with cupcakes and love hearts and slogans like “I’m cute and I know it”, or else all the commercial brands like Disney Princesses, Tinkerbell, etc and I want to scream!

    My daughters are still very young. I would love any suggestions (or links) on navigating through this! Thanks!

  3. I love your approach to the 12 year old wanting to watch VS. I would never have thought of that. I read the linked articles, and will be watching the documentaries later. You should make backpacks with the REAL female role models on them. I thought of you when I saw a book all about female role models in real life at my local bookstore. <3 you and your littles!

  4. Each to their own I suppose.
    But, to me, you guys aren’t so different from those mums who put their kids in pageants. You’re both forcing your ideals and beliefs down their throats, scaring them into line and restricting their freedom. Let kids grow up however the hell they want (within reason).
    I played with plastic dinosaurs, barbies, play-dough and my little ponies until the age of seven or eight, and I have no self-esteem issues nor do I dress like a hooker. Kids aren’t stupid, which some of you parents seem to think. By the time they’re ten years old, they can tell what’s real and what’s not, most have stopped believing in Santa, the Easter Bunny etc. I never looked at Barbie and thought ‘real people look like this’, I looked at her and thought ‘hey, she’s like a store mannequin, except with a face’.

  5. Yes, thank you.

    Your test is perfect and exactly what I use regularly to discuss gender inequality and gender based violence with young people and professionals. Your wording, however, is probably the best sentence in the history of the Internet.

  6. I’m totally with you guys on this topic. I just have a question – we haven’t watched the monster high show but I love the dolls! We opt for them over Barbie but am I still teaching the same lesson? Someone above likened them to the Bratz dolls which I can’t stand – educate me. Thanks for all of the great resources

Trackbacks

  1. […] Kids are watching that ‘girls have gone missing’ and that when they ARE depicted in toys and goods in mass market merchandise, they’re sexualized and sold as ornamental props. […]

  2. […] concepts of sexuality to our children in the form of toys, that act desensitizes all of us and especially blurs the taboo I talk about. As my colleague Margot Magowan says, “Here, in the home of the free and the brave, […]

  3. […] through one of her recent posts on her Pigtail Pals blog “When Do We Allow Our Girls To Partake In Commercialized Sexualization” it made me consider some of the advice in her book which I’ll put to use in “guest […]

  4. […] through one of her recent posts on her Pigtail Pals blog “When Do We Allow Our Girls To Partake In Commercialized Sexualization” it made me consider some of the advice in her book which I’ll put to use in “guest educator” […]

  5. […] Kids are watching that ‘girls have gone missing’ and that when they ARE depicted in toys and goods in mass market merchandise, they’re sexualized and sold as ornamental props. […]

  6. […] When Do We Allow Our Girls To Partake in Commercialized Sexualization? […]

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