Little Girls and Dangling Earrings

11209742_10153317049122460_1277328579789775883_n

Nine-year-old Amelia wears dangling earrings for the first time, and relishes the feeling of sophistication it brings.

Originally written May 8, 2015 (Thank you, Facebook, for the tour through Memories!). Updated May 10, 2016. 

Here’s the thing about rushing our girls prematurely through girlhood – if they act like miniature teenagers during their childhood they miss out on that special feeling that comes from being just a smidge more grown up. When you can feel yourself getting just a little more sophisticated by the new thing you are doing and you can see what is ahead of you as you continue to grow. If you’re 5 going on 21, those special little moments don’t mean anything because you’ve already done it all.

Like tonight at my husband’s birthday dinner, my nine-year-old daughter was allowed to wear dangling earrings for the first time in honor of the special occasion. She chose to have her ears pierced a year ago, a decision we felt was important for her to make for her own body, and we’ve limited her earrings to small styles that just cover the bottom of her earlobes. Maybe for some families it isn’t even a consideration, but my husband and I told her dangling earrings are more for older girls and grown ups, and little earrings are for little girls who run and play hard and wrestle. Not that older girls can’t do those things, I just don’t usually wrestle with my friends when I get overly excited. Usually.

Because we had her wait to take the next step to being an older, more sophisticated girl these dangling earrings were a big deal to her. She felt special. She felt fancy and excited to be exploring something new. She felt the power that comes with becoming a woman.

Our mothers give birth to us, but it is through the process of girlhood that we give birth to ourselves.

I believe that is one of the reasons society rushes girls through their girlhood. Aside from the billions of dollars there is to be made in the beauty and apparel industry when girls act like appearance-conscious women, culturally we rush girlhood in order for our daughters to practice the script of being a woman. Think about the bulk of what is marketed to girls: princesses, glitter art, fashion, makeup, fancy pets, boyfriends. Culturally we sell our girls out to the lowest common denominators of expected femininity.

When we take away girlhood we rob our daughters of so many opportunities for self discovery, achievement and failure, curiosity, and confidence building. We rush girlhood because the patriarchy understands the power there and does everything possible to dismantle it.

My husband and I winked at each other during dinner when we would catch our girl tossing her head just to feel the dangling earrings swing and dance from her ears. For the evening she was trying on being a grown up. She was temporarily borrowing a part of being a lady with fancy grown up jewelry; visiting adulthood soon to return to being a happy nine-year-old girl.

There’s no need to rush. These children grow so, so quickly. In a breath, your daughter is taking a photo before dinner and she looks more like a preteen than your baby girl and you fight back tears as you think “Where did all this time go?”

She’ll be grown soon enough. Hopefully she’ll be her own strong version of being her own woman, who may or may not wear danging earrings. But tonight, I’m so glad for my little girl that fancy earrings were a big deal and she looks forward to growing and maturing and figuring out what all this grown up stuff is about.

All in due time, as tonight there are earrings to put back in the jewelry box and little brothers to wrestle with.

What is the cost to our girls when we allow or encourage them to rush through their girlhood? What do little girls gain when they are given the time to try on womanhood one bit at a time?

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Bonding Over Beauty Isn’t So Pretty

Do you bond with your girl over beauty and the process to achieve it?

Shouldn’t we be bonding with our girls over applying Band Aids to skinned knees, wiping dirt or finger paint off faces, fixing lopsided pigtails messed from running around all day, unhooking a dress caught in the branches mid-climb of a tree, and shaking dirt out of softball or soccer uniforms? How did our generation of moms get this so, so wrong?

Some occasional play make up or a night of pedicures never hurt a girl, but is that all we limit it to? Or are we drinking the Kool Aid and sharing the glass with our daughters? How much of your daughter’s toys, clothing, books, and screen media focuses on prettiness?

A preschool teacher told me that yesterday she heard one four year old ask another four year old if she wanted to come over after school for a make over. As a one-time event, this is probably no big deal. But what if “beauty” is all the girls ever played together? What else are they missing out on? What stories, adventures, and skill building are they rushing right past?

Could something that seems harmless now, day after day after day lead girls to obsess and despair over their looks? Hate their amazing, healthy bodies during what should be one of the most carefree times of their life? Strive for beauty so greatly they pay to have their sexual organs butchered to achieve a false ideal in order to attract and keep boys’ sexual attention?

It sounds extreme, but as my colleague Soraya Chemaly points out in her post on the subject, girls as young as three years old are changing their eating habits to avoid becoming “fat”. Three. Years. Old.

Girls need the time and space to be little kids. As parents, it should be our goal to allow them this space.

When does innocent fun stop being innocent and become a major problem?

When does innocent fun stop being innocent and become a major problem?

Must read post on this subject: http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2014-01-do-you-bond-with-your-daughter-over-beauty-products

Sexy Toys, Little Girls, and the Big Picture

I do not have a sign posted anywhere in my home saying “Barbie and Princesses Forbidden”.  They simply aren’t a part of our media diet. Not on our radar. We have dolls and we have stories that involve a princess character, but they fall into a menagerie of toys, books, and characters.  

Amelia, my five year old girl.

I like that my daughter is five years old, going on six. I cherish childhood. I don’t shelter her, I just offer her a more healthy diet of influences for her childhood. At our house, it is Bindi Irwin over Barbie. Dr. Mireya Mayor over marriage for a princess. My daughter loves science, nature, art, and the Penguins of Madagascar. This weekend she discovered Star Wars when my husband gave the kids some little action figures from his youth. It is not so much that I have forbidden things from my home, as it is more my husband and I offer different choices. My daughter sees toys and images we don’t have in our home when she plays at other people’s houses, or when she is at school. It isn’t a big deal. I do not feel this will undo my parenting. She doesn’t consider them to be the proverbial “forbidden fruit”. She simply has been raised to have different interests and influences.

There has been an on going discussion on the Pigtail Pals’ twitter and facebook pages about toys for girls that some parents feel are too sexy and aren’t allowed in the home. Everyone seems to have a different opinion. Some allow Barbie, but say no way to makeup. Others allow makeup, but say no way to Monster High and Bratz. Some moms allow Tinker Bell, but say no way to Princesses….you get the picture. Everyone has their different line of acceptable/unacceptable.

In my opinion, sexy toys undermine the woman I am trying to raise my daughter to become.

I do not find the behavior of sexually precocious children to be cute. I do not like when little girls are dressed like mini adults. I especially do not like that the toy aisles geared toward my daughter are a pink explosion carrying messages about sexiness, narrowly defined beauty, narcissism, shopping, and becoming someone’s bride.

I think girlhood is an extremely important time for our daughters, as these years will lay a foundation for the women they will grow into.

So where your line sits will be up to you, what you allow or don’t allow. Maybe you think all of it is a big deal. Maybe you think none of it is a big deal. Maybe you pick and choose your battles.

I just want you to think about this when you make your decisions:

“It’s undeniably true that girls are encouraged to sexualize themselves at early ages, and that this can harm their developing sense of self. But our cultural sense of responsibility is deeply skewed. We condition young girls to aspire to an extremely restrictive standard of beauty and sexuality from almost the day they come into the world. We surround them with sexualized images of women, and tell them that these women have special value. And then, when little girls start behaving or dressing like those beautiful, desirable, special women — when they engage in the very childlike activity of imitating their role models — we condemn the girls and their parents…” –Sady Doyle for Global Comment.

I do not ban anything. I simply choose not accept any of the following for my daughter and her girlhood.

And my daughter seems to be doing just fine.

                                               

“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