Why I Am Participating in the Barbie Project

The Barbie Project

Mattel invited me to be part of a play experiment.

A few weeks ago I received a unique invitation from Barbie™ to participate in a play experiment with the brand. The idea behind the project is to have a group of moms with young daughters observe and engage with our girls as they play with their Barbie dolls and share on our blogs what we learned about the space the girls create with their play. What stories and characters, creative themes, adventures, and challenges did they imagine while they played?

Our two main objectives with the play experiment are:

  1. W e are to watch and engage with our child during play, challenge our own stereotypes, and get to know our child better by discovering more about the stories they create while at play. In fact, the only real directive we were given about the project: Get down on the floor and play.
  2. We are to focus on the act of “play” in general, the value of it, and think about how little of it we really allow our kids these days and how we can increase that.

Before I go further I want to say this, because I realize my involvement in this project with Barbie™ may come as a surprise, but Mattel and Barbie™ knew exactly who I was and what my brand and message was about when they invited me to join this project. I think that invitation is really important, and here’s why:  It creates conversation.

Through my work with Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, the Brave Girls Alliance, and my book “Redefining Girly” I am committed to two things: honoring childhood through the value of quality play and media, and creating meaningful change.

I feel The Barbie Project gives me this opportunity. This project brings together a diverse group of mom bloggers from the United States and Canada to share what we learn from our daughters. Most importantly, we get to share what we learn in our own words, on our own blogs. Our observations, comments, and photos will then be shared with the Barbie social media community. None of us are sure what we will discover along the way or how this will end, so it feels like an organic journey. I’m really interested to see what I learn from my eight year old daughter Amelia, and I’m particularly interested to read what the other seven mother-daughter teams will share.

We learn from each other by listening to each other. I have a seat at the table. Amelia has her voice represented at the table. What can all of us learn from each other? During the lead in weeks to this project the Barbie Team has been really wonderful to work with, right down to the thoughtful products they sent Amelia to play with. I requested Barbie dolls that focused on doing something and we received a huge box of toys that included Barbie I Can Be….Astronaut, a scuba diver, and dolphin trainer among other things. (They also included a great learning game for Ben so he wouldn’t feel left out!)

As you consider my participation in this project and as you read my posts each month along the way, here’s what I want you to consider:

  1. I am working from within. To be invited inside requires trust and respect. I am making strides and working internally with stakeholders in women’s and girl’s conversations and experiences, especially within the parenting space. This is a unique and difficult position to earn.
  2. Working internally isn’t always splashy, viral, or “press worthy”. A lot of times it is slow, quiet work. It isn’t about making someone right and someone wrong, it is about understanding and educating and the best way I have found to do that is to have a respectful conversation.
  3. I was invited to have a conversation on a platform where I can share my experiences, Amelia’s experiences, and our points of view on girls + empowered play with a new and enormous group of parents. By virtue of showing up for that conversation I am bringing our voice and our POV to a new community.

 

I am bringing my points of view on girls + empowered play directly into the center of Barbie’s space. I want that to be what you take away from this post.

If nothing changes, nothing changes. Change is a journey. I hope you’ll join me on this one.

 

Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lying for The Scale: To Hell With That

Image via Fit Vs Fiction.

Image via Fit Vs Fiction.

Yesterday my friend and colleague Carrie Goldman (author, “Bullied”) tagged me in this post she wrote about her 10 year old daughter, K:

“My 4th grade daughter told me that yesterday the kids each stepped on a scale in class as part of an exercise to calculate how much they would weigh on Jupiter. Of course, the kids began telling each other how much they weighed. My daughter told me “I was afraid people would think I was F-A-T, so I said a lower number.”
 
So young, yet already worried about body size as a reflection of value. My daughter said she weighed a full fifteen pounds less than she does. We then had a very good discussion about our bodies, what they do, what they mean, why we look the way we do, and more. I’m so glad she told me about her concerns so we could talk.”
 

This was my reply to Carrie:

“It is so funny that you tagged me on this because I was reading the top half of the paragraph and my head was exploding. Tell K that I think if her peers were S-M-A-R-T they would have thought she was T-A-L-L or S-T-R-O-N-G when she said her number. That is 15 pounds of muscle and brains she may have just short changed herself. No way, Baby! She is too intelligent to give away some of those brains and has worked too hard in swim earning those muscles!
Also, you can tell her that her good buddy Melissa was at the doctor today and I’m 5’7″ and weigh 188 pounds. <— And I didn’t fudge that number. My brain is super heavy. So’s my funny bone. And my sense of adventure. And my dancing feet. xoxo to K!” 
 

Further in the thread, Carrie said this: “I have kids on both ends of the bell curve. My 10-year-old is bigger than 95% of her peers, and my 6 and 3 year-olds are smaller than 95% of their peers. We talk a lot about how bodies come in all shapes and sizes, especially within our own family, and it’s what we do with our bodies that matters. They allow us to make our mark on the world!”

It is time we take very seriously the job of teaching our girls how to love their bodies. This body shame takes root far too young, in FAR too many girls. We have to work together to stop this.

We also need to remember our boys are not far behind. 

Why and how do even our youngest girls learn to be ashamed of their amazing bodies?

Why and how do even our youngest girls learn to be ashamed of their amazing bodies?

Later in the day someone messaged me to say I was “so brave” to put my weight out there for the world. Is that really brave? I mean, isn’t brave more like fighting fires, teaching a difficult student population, staring down cancer, searching for the lost in a landslide, providing medical aid in a war zone…..I get the point but at the same time, I’m proud of my athletic frame and I guarantee you that telling the public my weight is the by far not the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

Me and Dr. Jen Hartstein behind the scenes at the Today Show.

The ironic thing is, Carrie had just messaged me a few days prior to say that she thought I looked great when I was on the TODAY show the week before but also that she could tell I had dropped a lot of weight and wanted to make sure that I was losing weight safely. I did lose a lot of weight and I am under a doctor’s care (thyroid issues are FUN!) and I thanked my dear friend for being invested in my health and well being.

188. I’d never cheat myself out of any part of my body. I work hard for my muscles. I’ve spent years making my brain smart. I think my funny bone is hilarious. My tummy is squishy because I carried and birthed two children I was told I would never be able to have. Like I’m going to give ANY of that up so I can fit some superficial definition of beautiful? Of worthy? To hell with that.

And that’s what I wrote in my note to K when I sent her a gift in the mail yesterday, so in the 4th grade she hears her mom and her dad and her buddy Melissa tell her that she is great and she is worthy just as she is.

 

Need help with talking about body image with your kids?

I cover that topic in my book: “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween”

Marci Warhaft-Nadler’s book is also great: “The Body Image Survival Guide For Parents”

Day of the Girl

I’ve been feeling badly all morning because I’ve been away from my desk and running like a crazy person since 5:30am.  I’ve not been able to really focus on or participate in any Day of the Girl festivities. I had to run a breakfast at my daughter’s school, drop my son at his school, dash to a doctor’s appointment, pick my son up from school, race home to make a lunch for Amelia, and then zip back to my daughter’s school to eat with her and her friends. I thought I would have time to write something this afternoon, but I have to grab Benny from a playdate, catch up on messages, pick up Amelia from school to come home for a rest before we have to go back to school to run yet another event. And, breathe……

And then I thought, maybe investing time and energy in my daughter’s education, giving lots of compliments to girls I encountered today, providing my girl with healthy food that will enable her to learn and grow, chatting with the school staff who does such an incredible job educating our students, and taking care of my reproductive health (free of threat or oppression) at the doctor IS the perfect way to celebrate Day of the Girl. Girls the world over should have the right to education and full agency over their bodies. Isn’t that what today is all about?

I wish I had had the time to write a beautifully worded blog post about the significance of today. Something eloquent and moving and inspiring. The kind of post that makes your heart feel warm as you sigh out loud and feel so proud to be female (or know and love one). But I just can’t get it done, not today.

And then I thought to myself, “Self, every day can and should be Day of the Girl. Every day is a good day to honor, celebrate, and hold up our daughters.”

So maybe that blog post will come, but for now, I just wanted to share this picture of my wonderful sister-in-law, who lives on the other side of the world, raising her two daughters in Madagascar. She is a photographer, and many times my brother sends us pictures of her as she works (when she doesn’t know she is being photographed). That is the case in this shot, where my SIL Lisa is teaching this toddler how to work the camera in order to take a picture of her visitor, and become a storyteller in her own right. Lisa is showing this tiny girl she has a voice and that her voice matters.

And it might seem so simple, just a moment or two in time, but teaching girls to use their voices and tell their stories of their view of the world is a powerful thing. It is a very powerful thing indeed.

 

My sister-in-law Lisa, traveling through a village in Madagascar.

 

Judgy: Girls, Heels, and Playtime

Image via Ritika Kamal

We enjoyed the evening at a park watching the sun set while the kids played and splashed in the stream. A group quickly formed, with the older girls initiating a building project on a rock in the stream while the little brothers brought them giant handfuls of sand. The girls would get the sand wet, and then drip it onto the tower that was forming. During this a girl walked up in an all-pink and sparkly outfit, tiara headband thing, complete with white tutu and white heeled sandals. The girl then proceeded to kick off her heels, and get right into the mix, getting wet and grimy from the sand and even became the leader of the project. A bit later I watched her climb to the top of a nine foot log in her heels. She wasn’t able to run or climb as well as the other kids, but she was right in the thick of it.
Her outfit isn’t something I’d send Amelia in to the park to play and explore, but it was an important reminder for me that we can look critically at media and products for our kids, but we need to see the child first and foremost. We can disapprove of the inappropriateness of girls clothing without disapproving of the girl. If there is one thing this group knows, it is the limitlessness of how amazing our girls can be. No matter what they are wearing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I posted this on facebook last night, a large discussion followed mostly from moms defending their daughter’s right to be a princess. I agree, their daughter has the right to be a princess…..and a doctor and a potter and a organic pepper farmer. I’m anti-limitation, and that’s it. My issue isn’t with sparkles and tutus. It is with the limitation of play and movement that girls apparel can create. I replied with this:

“I love childhood. I love the little people who compose it. But when we teach half of those people that their role is to be pretty and sweet and to act in a certain prescribed way, I have issues. Certainly, we can redefine what “princess” means in their play and many of us do. But there is a larger cultural context that is much harder to escape, and one which “little girl princess” becomes the gateway drug to the fast-forwarded tween years and the age compression, Beauty Myth, and consumerism we see going on. (Ultimately, no matter how you play, being a princess is about entitlement, which I’m not big on.) I love me some sparkle and bling and fair wings. Both Ben and Amelia have been known to rock that look. And my kids wear super hero masks and take magic wands to the park, so I can’t very well be snarky about a tutu and some sparkle.

But what I do have issue with is the restriction of movement and play. A visual example of this is the video I posted in the beginning of the week that shows young teen girls on the soccer field at play, only to be brainwashed by the beauty messages coming over the loud speaker and leave the field teetering in heels and hot pants. The Beauty Myth is constricting, both emotionally and physically, and that is my focus here.

I’ve seen girls tear around in dresses or skirts or fancy outfits, so that isn’t an issue for me. I tend to offer my kids soft leggings or jeans and t-shirts to romp in, but to each their own. My issue is the shoes, or the outfit that is so fancy the girl might not want (or not be allowed) to get dirty. Amelia has and loves her sparkle shoes, and didn’t mind when she busted the sparkles off while playing on the playground. If she had become fussy about that, she would have been told to leave them at home for dress up and get her sneakers on. Play is the work of the child, and she needs to dress appropriately for work. If what she is wearing inhibits her play and her gross motor movement during play, then she is asked to change. We see how skimpy and tight older girls clothing is, and the ridiculousness of their shoes. I hear time and again from coaches and dance teachers how oddly some girls move their bodies, because they are used to standing still and being pretty due to restricting clothing. I remember seeing this myself when I was a teacher of elementary girls wearing tight, low cut jeans and belly shirts. They had to stand perfectly still in order for the outfit to work. When we know sports (including dance) to be a partial cure to the wretched body image stats we see coming out of the 8-18yo demographic, I connect the limiting of movement and play into the spoon fed monster that is poor body image.

Girlhood is a magical time to be whimsical and imaginative and enchanting. If the girls are also encouraged to be astronauts and artists and farmers, playing princess can be great. Girls need the freedom to move their bodies comfortably during play to really be able to fully explore and take in the world. Many times their apparel does not allow them to do that, and we need to question that. But we have to stop and ask ourselves, is this a question we have to ask of our boys? If the answer is no, we need to take a look at why then is it only an issue of limiting our girls, and why we accept that.”

High heels cause damage to the feet, knee ligaments, and bones in the legs, feet, and back.

Sparkle Shoes

Sparkle Shoes, sans 80% of the sparkles.

“Your shoes are ugly,” said the kindergarten classmate.

“No they are not,” replied the 6yo Original Pigtail Pal, Amelia.
“They are. Look how pretty mine are,” the classmate taps her toes for emphasis.
“They are the same pair of shoes. Like the exact same,” explains Amelia.
“They aren’t the same. Mine still have all of the pretty sparkles. I didn’t get them messed up,” boasted the girl, in full sparkle.
“Well, mine get busted up when I run and play. My mom said she doesn’t care but I gotta stay out of the mud because then she hollers like a lady. And she said we could glue more sparkles on so who cares,” Amelia shrugs.
“But they aren’t pretty,” insists the classmate.
“Listen, who cares about pretty? All I care about is playing,” retorts Amelia.
{I’m listening to all of this take place, wondering when it is going to get snippy.}
“Amelia, you should care a little bit about being pretty or you won’t get a boyfriend,” says the classmate.
“You should care less about being pretty and more about playing with us. My mom says there’s lots of different ways to be a girl,” Amelia informs her friend, bringing on the snippy with a head bob or two.
“I don’t want to mess up my shoes,” says the classmate, which is met by an audible sigh from Amelia, who sprints off to play in her busted up not-so-sparkly-anymore shoes.