The Peggy Orenstein Love Fest Continues

Peggy Orenstein's dispatches from the front lines of girlhood.

I’m so excited. And I just can’t hide it. For the last two weeks I’ve been doing little but talking about best-selling author Peggy Orenstein’s new book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”.  It is the kind of book that should be given to new parents when they leave the hospital with their infant daughters. It is the kind of book that will hopefully help to change a culture that is short-changing our daughters.

I have a massive girl crush on Peggy. Peggy is my Justin Bieber. I had a ZOMG moment when she responded to a tweet I sent her several months back after hearing about her upcoming book. Now I talk to her regularly and consider her another gem in this treasure chest of amazing women I get to work with. I read her book cover to cover in less than 24 hours in a frenzy of “Peggy is going to save the world and I need to buy her a cape” thinking. If there is a way for me to overstate how important I think the content of her book is, I have yet to find it.

If you are familiar with Pigtail Pals and our blog, it would not shock you to know that “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” now holds a sacred spot above my desk, nestled inbetween “Packaging Girlhood” and “So Sexy So Soon”….a trifecta Holy Grail of why we need to save girlhood for our daughters.

Have a read as Peggy answers some questions for us….

Pigtail Pals: You did an amazing job with the research for your book, and mapping out for the reader how we got to this state of girlie-girlz-with-a-z girlhood. What was something that really surprised you as you dug through the glitter and packaged Disney starlets and pink?
Peggy Orenstein: I was really surprised by the way the marketing of wholesomeness (princesses) so seamlessly led to the marketing of diva-hood (pink scrabble set that says f-a-s-h-i-o-n on the cover, even though that IS a 7-letter word) and ultimately sexiness. And I was both surprised and saddened, from a research perspective by the ways that early sexualization disconnects girls from healthy sexuality. I was open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, the “sassiness,” as they call it with little girls, was a sign that they were somehow liberated or empowered or freer with their bodies and sexuality. That they were enjoying their bodies. But it turns out that when sexualized images and behavior is pushed on girls at too young an age, they can’t understand it (thank goodness!) but it teaches them to view sexiness as a performance rather than something they feel from within. So later, when I was talking to Deb Tolman, who is the Goddess of all research on girls and desire, she told me that when she asks teenage girls to describe how they felt during an intimate experience, to describe feelings of desire or arousal, they describe how they think they LOOKED. She has to tell them that looking good is not a feeling. I am actually considering having that sentence tattooed on my forehead.

So when I started the book I wondered, like a lot of parents do, whether this whole princess thing protected girls from sexualization and defining themselves by how they think they look to others, or whether it primed them for it. And I pretty much connect the dots that show that while obviously there is no 1+1=2 connection, no “if you do this, then this will happen for sure,” there definitely is a connection and it’s something parents need to think about.

PtP: Your daughter, Daisy, was in preschool when you started taking notice of the limitations girls are sold. Now that she is a few years older, what challenges do you and your husband face as you help her wade through a media-saturated childhood? Are there any toys or products that are off limits?
PO: I try to think about options rather than restrictions, what I can give her that celebrates being a girl but reflects values about femininity that I embrace. One of my personal lines in the sand, though, was makeup. It wasn’t something I expected. I loved playing with my mom’s old makeup when I was little, I have really great memories of it. But now it’s an industry, child-friendly makeup. And it’s so intense and along with all of the other products it conveys over and over and over that how you look is who you are, that from the time you are 3 years old you define yourself through appearance and play sexiness. So it felt like collusion to me to participate even a little bit. I have a statistic in the book that nearly half of six-to-nine year olds regularly wear lipstick or gloss. And the percentage of 8-12 year olds who wear mascara and eyeliner doubled between 2008 and 2010 (why isn’t the percentage of 8 year old wearing eye makeup ZERO???). So it just didn’t feel the same to me to let my daughter play with lipstick the way I did when I was her age. And she wanted to, she really wanted to. But I would say, honey, makeup is for women, not for little girls. I did not, however, limit what she did at other people’s houses, just like I don’t go over there with a list of foods that I think are appropriate. But in my house? My rules.

We do have some Barbies. Everyone has an opinion about Barbie, right? And I am the first to admit I am contradictory ,hypocritical, inconsistent in how I approach these things. Who isn’t? I’m human. I’m a mom. I do my best. We all do. So my probably ridiculous compromise was to get Wonder Woman Barbie and Cleopatra Barbie (on ebay) and Indonesian Barbie. Is that a mixed message? Well, probably. But you do what you can do, just as with everything else.
 
PtP:”Cinderella Ate My Daughter” does such a great job of showing parents how we might think we are protecting girls with sweet pink and princesses, but you show a darker side to that thinking. Can you quickly tell me about that?

PO: Um, in 250 pages or less?? Is what I say above good enough (in question 1)? I do think that you can see the trajectory in what happens to the flesh-and-blood Disney princesses, like Miley, Lindsay, Demi etc. They start out wearing “purity” rings that symbolize that they’ll stay chaste until marriage. They say they’re role models and  in no hurry to grow up and that they pick clothes moms approve of. And then—whammo! They’re giving lap dances at age 16 to guys in their mid-40s. They sell wholesomeness and that leads right into selling something else. They’re still role models—and cautionary tales.

PtP:When you and Daisy were on the Today Show, Daisy told us how she wants to be a geologist, librarian, and bakery owner when she grows up. I think that is so awesome! How do you, knowing everything you know about girl culture and marketing, encourage Daisy to explore her interests?
 PO: That cracked me up. Well, we are really blessed in our school community to have a lot of like-minded families who approach not only femininity but education as a kind of inside out process instead of outside in—her school has Montessori roots. So the kids are deeply encouraged in their curiosity, creativity and engagement. Creativity is obviously incredibly important to me, for girls and boys. For adults. For cats. For anyone. And part of this to me is not only about the sexualization and the diva-fication and the narrowing of perspective and definitions of femininity but also about the destruction of kids’ creativity, telling them what to think, how to play. I quote a 9-year-old girl in the book who says she doesn’t like imaginative play bcause she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do, she can’t make thigns up. She prefers to play online. I never expected when I became a mom that such a huge part of my job was going to be to protect my child’s childhood. Her right to be a child. Her right to be a child that is not marketed to, her right NOT to be a billboard for some product line. So, we really limit screens. No Disney channel. No commercial TV (except she watches sports with my husband sometimes which leads to the excellent question, “Daddy, what is ‘Viagra?’”). Which is not to say she doesn’t watch stuff, but she watches on netflix or itunes or dvr so we choose what she can see. So again, it becomes about what she GETS to watch, not what she CAN’T watch.  Lots of open-ended toys, including those little Schilling and Papo figurines of royal figures and Maid Marion and such. Lots of art. Music. Books.  Books on CD. Playmobil. Legos. Citiblocks. Old school things. Things that aren’t licensed to the gills. And we go places and do things, of course. She’s heavily into swimming.  And as she said, she’s really, really into science. Which is a little befuddling to me, I have to admit. But luckily, she has two friends whose parents are physicists and our neighbor across the street is a retired engineer. So they do all kinds of science projects with her. They are, in fact, THRILLED to have a child they can do that with, so that does my heart good. There’s a lot you can do alone, but ultimately, really, you have to embed your family in a community that shares your values, and loves and encourages one another and one another’s children.

PtP: CAMD teaches parents how marketers have very carefully and lucratively crafted our culture’s current version of girlhood. Can you give me two or three ways parents can sidestep the crap and have their daughters emerge from girlhood unscathed? Do you have any tips we can put in our bag of tricks?
PO: Well, a lot of what I just said. But I think the very most important thing is to remember that you can’t tell your daughter no all the time and think that she’ll get the message that you’re offering her MORE choices. Girls need and want to celebrate being girls. So, though I sort of hate to say it, parents have to put in the time to find alternatives to defining femininity through beauty alone. Like I said (did I say this?) we looked to Greek myths. We looked to the Bible, to the story of Miriam. We looked to the movies My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. I mean, in terms of consumer products. Obviously, it isn’t just about buying, but we do live in a consumer-driven society and we have to deal with that. So you have to think about “get to”, not just “can’t”. And the good news is that making good choices for them when they are little really does affect how they’ll navigate through images and ideas about femininity when they’re older. It can make them more resilient.

And I really think about this like the food movement. 10-15 years ago who knew what transfat was (I actually still don’t know, but I know we shouldn’t eat it)? Who cared where food came from? But because a couple of books sparked national conversation, we are conscious of our choices, we try to be healthier, Congress is revamping school lunches. McDonald’s is offering healthier choices. MCDONALD’S!!!! If we could make McDonald’s blink, goodness knows we should be able to make Mattel blink.

Finally: there are all sorts of alternatives out there if you look. Wonderful alternatives….LIKE PIGTAIL PALS!!!!!!!

The New Girlie Girlhood: By the Numbers

 
Girlie Girl culture starts well before girls enter kindergarten.*

My hope is that with the huge amount of press and fan fare that author Peggy Orenstein is receiving for her amazing book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”, we will refresh a national conversation about what is going on with our girls and the bigger picture of marketing to kids. It is my firm belief that parents will soon start to see sexualization and limiting gender stereotypes as a social justice issue, and we will work together to turn this ship around.

Parent driven initiatives changed the way our nation thinks about and uses smoke detectors, seat belts, toxic toys, and flammable children’s apparel. The changes are now mainstays in our culture. 
Parents of my generation grew up with the massive national efforts in the 1980’s of MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I think with a little more education on the subject, and direction on what to do once we know the facts, parents will join together and start to fight back against the marketers and media.
 
Childhood is at stake.
 
A quick note to you mothers of sons who think you are off the hook — pause and think about who your sons will (most likely) be dating and marrying. These daughters that are sexualized from birth – from birth – will be the women whom our sons marry, have children with, raise the next generation of girls….This affects ALL of us.
 
By the numbers:
 
Global revenue generated by the Disney Princess products increased from $300 million in 2000 to $4 billion in 2009.
 
Percentage of 8-12 year old girls who regularly used eyeliner doubled between 2008 and 2010.
 
Nearly half of girls between the ages of 6-9yo regularly use lipstick or lip gloss.
 
$40 million a month: Amount of money 8-12yo girls spend on beauty products. A month. Biggest influence on their purchases is not peers or media. It is their mothers.
 
Barbie was introduced in 1959 with a target audience of 9-12yo girls. Today’s target audience is 3-7yo.
 
Age at which children express “brand consciousness”: 24 months.
 
25% of teen girls have posted nude or semi-nude photos of themselves online.
 
41% of 15-17yo girls and 29% of boys say they have participated in bullying someone online.
 
12,000 Botox injections were given to teens aged 13-19yo in 2009.
 
43,000 teens under the age of 18 had their appearance surgically altered in 2008.
 
48% of girls in grades 3-12 polled in 2000 asserted the most popular girls in school were “very thin”. By 2006 that number had risen to 60%.
 
60% of girls in grades 9-12 surveyed in 2006 were attempting to lose weight; only 10% of these same girls were considered medically overweight.
 
Only 15% of students taking the AP computer science exam are female.
 
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Stats are from Peggy Orenstein’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”. READ this book!
*Photo image is from Cozy’s Cuts For Kids.

“Cinderella Ate My Daughter”: A Book Review

Peggy Orenstein, author of the eye opening "Cinderella Ate My Daughter"

By now, I cannot really remember how or from whom I heard about Peggy Orenstein’s new book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“. Maybe it was one of my colleagues? A blog comment or tweet? Or during a Google search about girlie-girl girlhood, looking for an article to post on Facebook for our Parent Community….none the less, I slept with it under my pillow last night.

Really. Right under my pillow.

Because I wanted all of it’s goodness to soak into my brain. I devoured the entire book in less than 24hours, and took so many notes in the margins I had to twice wash the ink off of my left hand as it dragged through my stars and underlining and “YES!!” comments. When I realized I had underlined 2/3 of the book, I thought I ought to go back and write down the really important stuff somewhere else, so I wouldn’t forget. So I filled the front cover with more notes and page numbers. Then I wrote Peggy a love letter.

While I’ve taught myself a thing or two about sexualization, gender stereotypes, early childhood development, commodification, and children’s marketing…..at the end of the day I’m a mom to a five year old girl and two year old boy and I know deep in my heart of hearts that what I see happening to childhood is harmful to their development and that I must not, cannot accept the status quo. I know….way down in that mommy gut that speaks to you when you need it most…I know my kids deserve better than what is being sold to them.

Peggy’s book helps to make sense of all of this. She does such an amazing job of breaking down some of the most absurd things present in girlhood that you as a parent feel validated for questioning hooker-like fashion dolls for three year olds and kindergarteners limiting their future ambitions to princess or ballerina or butterfly. She breaks down the marketing  history of children’s products revealing that before Pinkification and the Disney Princesses became the marketing story board for every girl across the land, neither pink nor princess had all that important of a role in girlhood. She questions the innocence of All Pink All the Time, of boutique-like chain stores selling teen fashion to seven year olds, and four year olds getting regular mani-pedis. Barbie, Bratz, Spice Girlz, Twilight, Britney, Miley, fairy tales, American Girl, plastic surgery, Princesses, gender identity, sexuality, sexting, and sexy play are all discussed with such casual ease you feel like you’re talking to the mommies at playgroup.

Peggy’s wit and non-preachy way of questioning a hypergendered and sexualized childhood may feel like a coffee clutch with your favorite mom pal, but she ingeniously weaves in research study after study, and interviews with major leaguers like Lise Eliot, Deb Tolman, and the Sanford Harmony Program researchers Carol Martin and Richard Fabes. She visits a toy buyers market in Times Square, a children’s high Glitz beauty pageant in the South, a Miley Cyrus concert (good lawd!), and the American Girl Place.

This book is a MUST read for anyone raising a daughter, but specifically if you have a daughter 12 years old and under. So much of our work in girl empowerment circles focuses on teens. It has always been the belief of Pigtail Pals that girl empowerment must start in the toddler years, that these concepts and messages must be present from the beginning.  This book gives the reader an amazing awareness and inside look at what really is going on with girlhood, who is in control, and who is laughing all the way to the rhinestone covered bank.

I cannot stress enough how strongly I feel every parent of a daughter needs to read this book. I’d loan you my copy, but I wrote all over it. Go grab your copy at your local bookstore, or order online. I promise, you will not be disappointed. My great hope is that this book is a catalyst to a national conversation on what is going on to our girls, and as parents what we can do to take back control.

You all know how strongly I feel about this. The last page of Peggy’s book made me teary as she talked about the roots and protection we give to our daugthers during the few short years they are ours. You’ll understand this better after you read the book, but it is my wish that every parent see themselves as their daughter’s hazel tree.

I leave you with Peggy’s stirring words: “The good news is, the choices we make for our toddlers can influence how they navigate as teens. I’m not saying we can, or will, do everything “right”, only that there is power – magic- in awareness. If we start with that, with wanting girls to see themselves from the inside out rather than the outside in, we will go a long way toward helping them find their true happily-ever-afters.” 

"Cinderella Ate My Daughter" is available on Amazon and in stores on 1/25/11

 

G-Strings for Preteens

When I grocery shop, I find the peanut butter right next to the jelly. Side by side. Because they go together. Two products people buy in tandem because you use one with the other. You see, retailers intentionally merchandise products of similarity near each other to make the shopping experience more fluid for the shopper. Life jackets by fishing poles, sponges near the dish soap, lacy panties and thongs near the training bras…..

Wait, WHAT!? Did I spy with my little eye a lace and hot-pink python print g-string within an arms reach of the training bras? I did. I was at Kohl’s Department Store and the panties were from Candie’s. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and at first I figured it was out of place, put there by a customer who hadn’t returned it to it’s intended spot. Then I took a step back. I was looking at an entire wall of lacy, sexy panties all within an arm’s reach of the training bras. No other panties were closer, no discreet cotton bikini cut Days of the Week or rainbows, just this wall of semi-trashy looking unmentionables. What struck me is how tiny and sexy they were. Not a lot of coverage even from the hipsters or ‘cheekies’ (teeny boy short undies). An entire wall, right next to the training bras. Peanut butter and jelly.

This seemed wrong to me, that girls young enough to be wearing training bras (average age is 8-13 years old) would also be wearing lingerie-like panties. After all, lingerie is like gift wrapping for sex, so why in the world would a 10 year old who just bought a training bra also need a black thong with bedazzled skull on it? Who exactly is this 10 year old supposed to be gift wrapping herself for?

I didn’t know the answer to these questions, but I knew I was giving a talk in a couple of days on media literacy, the girl’s marketplace, and hypersexualization. So I bought a pair.

Candie's thong purchased at Kohl's next to training bras.

I came home and showed them to my husband and my mom, which elicited a “Good Lord, Melissa.” I told her where I had found them and she was very surprised. We are, after all from Wisconsin, home of family owned, Midwestern-values Kohl’s. Kohl’s even has a mission statement, something about being:  the leading value-oriented, family-focused, specialty department store. In 5th grade I got my first training bra at Kohl’s. I’ve bought every Father’s Day present for the last 15 years at Kohl’s. And now I had purchased a g-string for a preteen.

At the store I measured with a little tape measurer from my purse (I have a four year old who loves to measure stuff when we run errands) and sure enough, the Wall of Thong was less than 24 inches from the training bras, was facing the training bras and the whole Juniors section. At home, I put the thong, Size Small, on a dress form I use to display my Pigtail Pals tees. I picked my largest torso, an 8T. I had no problem fitting the thong onto the form that has a 29? hip measurement (US standard hip measurement for a 10 yr old girl is 28.5 inches). The image is above.

I went to Kohl’s website to determine if maybe this was just an anomaly at my particular store. Nope. Seems Kohl’s family-focused department store has no problem selling sexy undies to Juniors under several of their labels. In addition to Candie’s, Mudd also makse thongs for teens and Hello Kitty makes a hipster that barely covers the public bone. Certainly there were many choices online for more appropriate underwear for a girl sized 7-16. But that differed from how the store was merchandised. The appropriate underwear was back by the Kids section, nowhere near the Juniors. The sexy underwear was right next to the Juniors section, where these girls would be shopping, either with the family or their friends. Let’s be honest, if you’re 13 years old and hanging out at the mall with your gal pals and you want to buy underwear, are you really going to excuse yourself and walk over to the kids’ section? Is Kohl’s counting on peer pressure to make sales?

Well, next I went to Candie’s website, to see what they were about. Didn’t take long to figure that out. (Britney Spears is their new spokesperson) Candie’s seems to have a track record of taking young women, usually about to release a vocal project, and turn them into sultry, sexy spokemodels for a clothing line that actually isn’t that racy or sexy. The shoes and the underwear don’t really seem to match the vibe of the rest of the line. But, sex sells, and Candie’s markets to a young teen demographic eager to prove how grownup they are.

Britney Spears for Candie's Brand, 2010

What does this picture say to you? To me, I see a pop star notorious for her troubled past, dressed like “Slutty Slumber Party Girl” with a naughty pout and ‘Come hither’ look, complete with heels and tattoo. This is tame compared to much of Candie’s print advertisting. And this. Certainly Brit is a legal adult, and fantasizing about her in a sexual way wouldn’t be deviant by any means. But in this picture, Britney isn’t really portraying an adult woman, seemingly she is portraying a much younger female, specifically, one that is underage and illegal to have sex with. The teddy bear, for me, crosses the line and blurs what is taboo or not. Teddy bears are a child’s toy. Are our children supposed to be sexy? Considered potential sexual partners? How young is too young to wear sexy intimates and pout while teetering on stilettos?

I asked an attorney friend of mine, off the record, about general child pornography statutes. Obviously neither Kohl’s nor Candie’s does anything close to that or illegal, and I’m not suggesting they do. But I was curious,what if a person (an older teen boyfriend or adult male) created a photo like the one above, but it was a 10 year old girl instead of an adult Britney Spears? What would be the call? Lingerie is packaging for sex and retailers are selling lingerie-like panties to very young girls. In many cases these girls are too young to understand the messages they would be sending. That makes my stomach turn. My friend said it is a gray area, which I understand. But when it comes to childhood and sex, there is no room for shades of gray. There is NO amount of sex that is appropriate during childhood.

I started asking parents – eyewitness to their daughter’s development and clothing battles in their homes. Heads exploded. Comments ranged from “Inappropriate” to “Should be illegal” to “Not for my daughter” to “It helps with panty lines” to “They’ll look like strippers”. I saw eyebrows raise, mouths fall open, and faces turn angry. People couldn’t believe that a company would market this kind of underwear to young girls.

So this got me thinking, historically the tiniest of thongs is called a “G-string”, a name given to them by dancers and strippers in clubs who wear this as part of their costuming. Parents had expressed concern that if their daughter was wearing one, she would be perceived as ‘looking like strippers’. So I called up a stripper. I had a most fascinating conversation with Amber, a house mom at a local strip club here in my area. She is a former dancer and now mom of two small kids, and she seemed to convey a stronger sense of family values and social responsibility than either corporations you’ll read about in a minute. We spoke by phone, so I couldn’t see her face, but that allowed me to focus on her voice. And I heard emotion. Frustration. Anger. Amber felt girls are wearing this stuff to feel sexy, that they’ve been taught that’s what sexy is. She said parents need to be more involved because girls were doing this to get attention and schools were too lax on sex and conduct/dress standards. Amber said she had no intention of allowing her children to be exposed to this and that she would never allow her daughter to wear a thong like the python one described above while she was living with her. And then, she said this:

You know, there is a backlash against girls like me. And it isn’t fair. I think what you’re talking about is wrong. People may not agree with what I do for a living, but I pay my bills and provide for my family and people coming in the club to see the shows are legal, 18 and over. But in the stores, that isn’t the case. Girls can buy those thongs but they wouldn’t be allowed to even peek into the club if they are under 18. My industry gets criticized a lot, but we don’t take advantage of kids, we don’t make money off of kids like those corporations do. – Amber, house mom at a Gentlemen’s Club

I was in complete agreement with Amber, so next I wanted to ask a pediatrician what they thought about the issue. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making a mountain out of a molehill. I sent a message to a friend of mine who is a doctor here in WI and also a mom of a young girl. My question to her was “Can you give me any info, if there is any, on health risks associated with young girls wearing thongs?” Her reply:

A minor medical issue that may result is vaginal or labial irritation, or vulvovaginitis, caused by wearing a thong in the context of poor personal hygiene. My bigger concern, however, is the other choices these girls are being encouraged to make, with regard to their bodies and their sexual health. These young, preteen girls are just beginning to experience all of the physical and psychological changes that come with puberty. By oversexualizing their immature bodies, they may be at a greater risk for engaging in early sexual activity and therefore, at a higher risk for pregnancy and sexually -transmitted infection. – Dr.  H, Pediatrician in Wisconsin

Three mothers: A house mom, a doctor, and me. Interesting bed fellows, I agree. Yet, three mothers all with very young girls, each feeling like a mother to all girls as we looked at this issue.

When I challenged Candie’s about marketing sexy panties to young girls, a rep from Candie’s left a comment on my blog, then sent me a message on Twitter, then sent me an email, all with contradictory or absent contact info and three different age ranges as to who is Candie’s demographic. First it was 16-21 years old. But their own website says 7-16 and Juniors. Then an email response said 18-24 years old. Which is it, Candie’s? The print ads run in teen magazines, arguably read by girls far younger than the 18 years they claim to market to. I don’t know how many 24 year olds wear training bras. Even if their market is 16-21 years old like written by a Candie’s rep on my blog, wouldn’t the promotion on Twitter of Britney Spear’s song “Three”, an ode threesomes, be inappropriate?  Especially considering a 16 year old participating in a threesome, aside from being illegal, would have more chances of getting pregnant, not something Candie’s is trying to promote with their Candie’s Foundation against teen pregnancy.

I continued to press for answers, and was directed to Kohl’s. Fine. So I email Kohl’s, and get a corporate sounding response from an Assistant Manager in the Correspondence Department. I was told “the Candie’s brand is meant to be stylish and invoke self-confidence” and the other brands are carried to appeal to different tastes. I found this incredibly stupid for three reasons.

  • I don’t care if grown women (18 years+) are wearing thongs. I don’t give a hoot. My concern that the thongs were being merchandised to young teen/tween girls was not addressed.
  • Just because other brands are offered does not negate the wrong-doing of the brand over here. I’m not going to shift focus from the problem. Pump fake.
  • Candie’s may be considered stylish by some. But ‘invoke self-confidence’? Hypersexualization does not invoke self-confident girls. It creates confused girls and endangered girls.

I was invited to call with further questions. I had a lot of further questions. So I called and spoke with this same Assistant Manager in the Correspondence Department. I got the overall impression that one) Kohl’s should have given me someone higher up to speak to, and two) they seem seriously confused on what builds self-confidence in young women. Most of the same verbage from the email was regurgitated during the phone call. I questioned Kohl’s embracing a brand like Candie’s who uses overtly sexual marketing to capture the attention of young girls. I asked about the proximity of the sexy panties to the training bras and the Juniors section. I asked how this was meant to empower a young girl?

Here’s what I got, from the corporate representative who was handling my escalated customer service complaint and was told she was on the record:

  • “We offer other choices of brands and styles.”
  • “Candie’s will continue to be an exclusive brand for us. It does well for us.”
  • “We implement changes based on customer feedback.”
  • “I agree with you, and you can always vote with your money.”
  • “Bottom line: it sells”

Bottom line, it sells. Bottom line, it sells?!? The bottom line is this doesn’t sell with me. Hell no.

Had she crafted a prepared statement saying something about Candie’s brand really is meant for older teens and young twenty-somethings and that Kohl’s will look at how items are displayed and merchandised in their stores, I would have accepted that. I would have followed up, but I would have accepted that. I’m not out to burn people on stakes, I’m out to make positive changes for our girls and get people thinking about media literacy. I think Kohl’s has a lot to learn on the topic.

There was no carefully crafted statement. At least Huffy gave me a statement about bike paths. Kohl’s said it loud and clear: BOTTOM LINE: IT SELLS.

Is that acceptable to you? If something is sold to children makes a lot of money for a corporation, should that be all there is to it? Or should there be more? Should there be a sense of social responsibility? Should there be backlash from parents who are so sick and tired of their girls being exploited? Should the companies hear about it?

Many dozens of people have told me they have paid off and cancelled their Kohl’s cards or that they will no longer shop at Kohl’s. I will no longer shop at Kohl’s. There response was far from what I find acceptable. I think until there are changes made, that is the right thing to do. Let’s all vote with our dollars by taking our dollars elsewhere until Kohl’s puts our kids ahead of their bottom line.

Add your voice to the mix. Encourage your daughters to speak up, too. Here’s who I spoke with:

Candie’s: Cory Cole email: Ccole@iconixbrand.com

Kohl’s: Jessica Swearingen 262-704-9185, Assistant Manager of Correspondence

Kohl’s Customer Service: customer.service@kohls.com