How to Talk to Kids About the Viral Adobe Photoshop Video

Image from Adobe Photoshop video. Smoke and mirrors!

There is a video making the rounds that shows the transformation of a normal looking woman into a supernatural looking model via Photoshop. I see a ton of people posting it, but not a lot of discussion on how to break it down for our kids. Thank you, Dorothy, for your question because it is a great reminder that sometimes parents know they have a teaching tool in their hands but are unsure of how to deliver the lesson.

Question: I want to share this video with my 8 1/2 yo daughter, but I’m not sure what to say. My gut reaction is “Eww, the “finished” girl is actually creepy-looking.” But that’s not constructive. Any advice? -PPBB Community Member Dorothy

Answer: Good instincts to share this with your daughter, I think she is at the right age to see it and think critically about it. I would start by talking about how the media (tv, movies, magazines, commercials) try to sell us an image we aspire to in order to buy their stuff. It is a trick that actually makes us feel bad about ourselves, especially because as an industry they use a lot of magic tricks to make the people we see in ads be beautiful in a way that isn’t really true. I would show the video to her as an example of what you are trying to teach her, and then ask her some open ended questions when it is over.

Some good ones to start are:
~ “I think the woman at the start of the video looked like a lot of the women we know in our life. But what about when it was over, do we know anyone who looks like that?”

~ “Were you able to count all of the different changes they made to the model before we saw the finished “person”? Should we watch it again to count?”

~ “What things about the finished girl are not real? Meaning, what was change from real life by a computer program?”

~ “Do you think the company that uses this image to sell a product is being truthful or deceitful? Does it make you want to give them your money?”

~ “Can you think of other times or places you might have seen images like this that have been altered to play tricks on people that companies want money from?”

~ “If your friends saw this video, do you think they would still consider themselves Full of Awesome and beautiful, or do you think they would want to look like the finished product and feel like they don’t measure up?”

~ “Why do you think companies create a fake sense of beauty? What might they trying to be tricking us to do?”

~ “Let’s talk about the ways the women in our family are beautiful. What are some traits and things our family shares that make us beautiful?”

~ “Sometimes when I see things like this my tummy hurts. It hurts in a flip-flop kind of way because I think about girls who watch this who don’t have parents who talk to them to teach them how fake it is. If these girls think this is how they are supposed to look, they might never feel good about themselves. What would you want to say to those girls?”

Listen to her answers, and build from there. Answer additional questions she has in an informative and succinct manner. Ask a lot of “What do you think about that?” questions after you give her a piece of information, like how advertising negatively affects kids’ body image and leaves very young girls feeling insecure and not beautiful. If she starts to get really passionate about what she is discussing, encourage her to write a Letter to the Editor of your local paper or a teen magazine or a guest post for our blog. And finish up with, “Anytime you want to talk about this stuff or see images like that and you want to talk about it, just let me know. I like talking to you about smart stuff like this.”

I just asked my 7.5 year old all of these questions and she breezed through the answers. Don’t underestimate how quickly your kids pick up media literacy if you treat it like a puzzle for them to solve. Kids love to be on the inside of a secret and call out a marketer every time they see bogus advertising.

The sooner we teach our kids this is a smoke and mirrors show, the sooner the magic loses its effect.

Forget What the Media Is Telling You About Your Body

I need 4 minutes and 34 seconds of your day. I need you to watch this — every woman, man, girl, and boy — and I need you to absorb it.

I need you to give yourself permission to start loving and enjoying the body you have been given to live this life with. All of the advocates and bloggers and celebrities in the world cannot do that for you. YOU have to do that for you. Whether you are a parent, a friend, a mentor, a teen….you have to start appreciating your amazing body. It will impact how you live the rest of your life.

Forget what the media is telling you about you. There is nothing wrong with you. YOU write your story. In that story, make sure you are awesome.

Please watch this with your boys and girls. Share it with your classroom, your sports team or Girl Scout troop or church youth group. Share it, because we are spending way too much time thinking about what our bodies look like in life, instead of LIVING LIFE.

Go live. You look amazing.

M&M’s and Jim Crow and Sexism

Hey Kiddies! Step right up! We’ve got some delicious candy covered milk chocolate here! We’ve got candy for White Kids and candy for Black Kids! Different candy for different kinds of kids! Use the correct side and step right up!

Well now wait a minute. That’s incredibly offensive.

Hey Kiddies! Step right up! We’ve got some delicious candy covered milk chocolate here! We’ve got candy for Christian Kids on the left, Jews and Mormons on the right! Grab your quarter and don’t mix it up! Different candy for different kinds of kids!

Stop right there. We don’t work like that in this country anymore. People aren’t so different that they need separate machines from which to get their candy. That is really offensive.

Boy M&M's and Girl M&M's seen in Vegas this weekend.


Could you imagine a side for White Kids and a side for Black Kids, like the drinking fountains from the 1950’s? Different sides because the two groups are so unequal, so different they cannot live as one? That is so offensive, it makes my face feel hot. Our old Jim Crow ways have shifted from black and white, to pink and blue.

Despite every marketer in the United States telling us otherwise, boys and girls actually are not that different, and do not necessitate different vending machines nor color of candy to enjoy a sweet treat. They do not need to be reminded of their gender every single time they touch a product.

If everywhere we turn, our boys and girls get the message that their sex makes them inherently different species, they will start to accept that as the norm.

If everywhere boys and girls turn, they see children categorized and boxed and labeled, they will lose the ability to see themselves outside of those parameters. They will lose the ability to see each as equals, as friends, as playmates, as fellow schoolmates, and eventually as co-workers and colleagues and partners in life.

Boys Rocks and Girls Rule, and don’t fall off your chairs in surprise….but what if that all went IN THE SAME BOX!?

If you arent’ mad, you aren’t paying attention. We need to change the way we think about our kids.


This image was spotted by our Body Image Workshop co-leader Marci Warhaft-Nadler and her family while in Las Vegas this weekend. Her sons quickly told her to get out the camera and take a picture for Pigtail Pals. Once your eyes are open to it, you cannot unsee it.
Marci’s 10yo son Logan asks, “So what happens if you eat the wrong ones?”

Great question, Logan. Great question.

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.


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+.

Lowest Common Denominator

Lego wordle from Lego Friends tv commercial. Any of that say STEM to you?

I know we’ve been talking about Lego quite a bit.

What I find so fascinating about this story is how it is the perfect microcosm of all things girlhood these days. Corporate pink-washing, relegating girls to all things pretty and sweet, beauty over brains, using sexism to defend sexism, make-up on 8 year olds in a Lego tv commercial, and the list goes on.

So while this is about Lego, this is about so much more. Lego is just a symptom of ginormous problems staring down our girls. I just hope we are raising them to be tough enough to take it on and squash it.

Lowest Common Denominator

To be fair, the new Lego Friends isn’t all bad. It is just that it isn’t all that good, from a brand parents go to as an amazing brain-boosting toy. This new line leaves many parents wondering how Lego sees their girls’ brains, as the girl’s line is heavy on the cute, light on construction (I don’t count putting flower petals on stems or bows on dogs as building). I do like the science lab and tree house, and even the cafe (a little bit) and vet clinic. Olivia’s big house looks like it would be fun to build. Amelia, my almost-6-year-old would like them, but we would both be left wishing the majority of the sets required more actual construction. And challenging construction at that. There are so few building pieces, it would be hard to take them apart and build your own creation. That is the kind of stuff that breaks my Lego-loving heart.

The other part that breaks my heart is how segregated by gender Lego has become. Amelia received and loved the Lego City Marina for Christmas. For her birthday next week, my mom and dad got her another section of Lego City. I bought her a tub of primary colored bricks and a green and blue building board. But I wonder in a couple of years how my kids will view Lego, with the boy-dominated licensed sets and the all-girl Heartlake City. Lego has drawn a rather thick pink and blue line in the sand. Try as I might, I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep Lego gender-equal in my home. As it stands, Lego seems to have some pretty sexist messages jumping off their boxes at kids, and I’m not a huge fan of teaching my kids sexist messages. Lyn Mikel Brown says,“The human brain is “fantastically plastic” and the best thing we can do for our children is to give them a full range of opportunities and experiences, especially in the early years. We don’t know at five how little Tierra’s or Tommy’s passions and talents will surface, so why pay good money to limit their options to the pink and blue aisles of toy stores?”

Lego is in the spot they are in not because girls changed, but because Lego changed on girls. To boost sales in the early 2000’s they focused on licensing deals with boys square in their sights. Girls stopped playing with Lego because Leg0 stopped including them. You’ve all seen the 1981 “What it is, is beautiful” ad circulating….1981 was 31 years ago. 31 years is a long time, Lego. Lego’s own marketing told girls that Lego wasn’t for girls. You can kinda see how girls went they way they did on this one.

Lego used the lowest common denominator  in girlhood to design their line. Lego says the end result is after four years of $4 million in global research and this is what girls and moms want. For reals, Lego? I guess they didn’t interview the several thousands of moms (and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and caring adults) who voiced their opinion on the Lego Facebook page, several thousand more from the Pigtail Pals Facebook page (and other rad groups like Powered By Girl, SPARK, New Moon GirlsPrincess Free Zone, Reel Girl; and the formidable girl culture expert, one Peggy Orenstein). A petition calling for Lego to try harder for our girls has a couple thousand signatures.  Lego says their research revealed girls play in the first person, are interested in beauty, and want to get to their role playing more quickly than boys. This fascinates me, as I have spent the past two weeks watching my female child play HOURS of Lego and not once tell herself to hurry it up so her Lego self can get her plastic hair done at the beauty salon.

Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth asks, “How (and why) are we missing profound opportunities to leverage neuroscience breakthroughs for positive change, wellness and play? How can we finally be tossing aside ‘hardwired corpus calossum theories’ on differences in boys/girls, acknowledging brain plasticity and realizing this play pattern/edu deficit stuff is NOT ‘set in stone’ and yet simultaneously standby to see Lego spend $40 million in mega-marketing bucks to proceed to SET it in stone.” Read the entire amazing post HERE.

You know how I always say, “I’m not anti-pink. I’m not anti-princess. I am anti-limitation. When we limit our children, we limit our children.”? Well, that pithy Amy Jussel says it this way and I like it:

I AM against stacking the deck of ‘learned behavior’ with pervasively marketed signals of stereotyped imagery embedding into the brain with stiflingly narrowcast assembly-line rote mimickry. I far prefer pure, imaginative, problem-solving free form fun.

I encourage you to watch the Lego Friends tv commercials, with the make-up clad third graders in the opener making a heart with their hands (awww, somewhere Taylor Swift just did one back) and the music sparkles and we are introduced to Heartlake City, the pinky-purple enclave where the Lego Friends live. With hearts on sky scrapers not a male in sight. Weird.

Watch as the saccharine-sweet narrator talks about the Friends partying at the cafe with the girls (only after they’ve been styled at the salon) because they need to chill after decorating their houses. It is important to note the commercial doesn’t show the girls finishing up a surgery at the clinic and then heading over to the science lab to help Lego Friend Olivia with her latest experiment. Lego shows the girls get coiffed at the salon and then go party.  I think Lego needs to Redefine Girly just a tish.

I think the commercial speaks loudly as to how Lego sees girls, what Lego thinks girls are interested in, and how highly Lego holds girls’ capacity for spacial reasoning and construction play. Will this attract our girly-girls out there who think Lego is only for boys, or will only play with pink and pretty things? Maybe. I am yet unconvinced the ends justify the means. Being a girly-girl doesn’t make one incapable of building and planning and designing and reasoning, but Lego doesn’t seem to see it that way. Lego has a very clear idea of what “girly” means to them.

I am left wondering, in the age of childhood obesity, why Lego could not have created a juice bar/farmer’s stand with fresh produce and flowers? The all-female residents of Heartlake City are shown in the commercials rolling down to the cafe for burgers, shakes, and cupcakes. Instead of a cupcake baker, couldn’t Lego Friend Andrea be an organic farmer and we could build her a barn and big Chevy farm truck? And she could have a little laptop where she tracks weather systems and soil conditions and Skypes with other organic farmers around the world? No? Too much?   

I also wonder, why can’t a single one of the girls work in downtown Heartlake in one of those skyscrapers? Maybe as, oh I don’t know…an engineer or architect? Is that just crazy talk? Why are they in the burbs decorating houses and cupcakes? Did I miss the Lego Friends Time Machine that zapped us back to 1952? Were you to lay a track of the Lego Friends commercial over one for Barbie Charm School or Lelli Kelly sparkle toe shoes or anything Disney Princess, they all sound exactly the same. Somehow Lego and other marketers decided the way to attract XX-chromosome customers you need a syrupy-sweet female voice with blue birds singing in the background to sell girls on the notion their role in this world is to be pretty and sweet. Way to STEM it up, Lego.

As Daniel Sinker says in his post, “Legos are still held up as a gateway to engineering and science, and despite my misgivings about the current state of their kits, I still believe they are. But if they’ve become toys marketed to a single gender, then we’re just reproducing the already awful gender imbalance in STEM education and employment.”

If girls are playing in the first person, as Lego says their research found, why is Lego not making people that are amazing role models for girls? Why is Lego not taking this opportunity to promote STEM to girls? In addition to a cafe owner, where is the calculus teacher or surgeon or CEO or scientific explorer or rescue worker or geologist or…..anything but what they gave us that sells girls short. Mireya Mayor is a famous National Geographic wildlife explorer, author, and a total girly-girl, even when treking across the world discovering new animal species. Lego, the king of licensing, couldn’t send her an email? I’d buy Mireya Mayor or Bindi Irwin Lego by the bucket. I like the vet (short skirt-wearing vet, this was questioned by a vet on our Facebook page) and the invention lab, but instead Lego morphed Polly Pockets and Barbie into brick form. Lego had such an amazing opportunity here to break away from the pack at the quarter pole and be a champion for girls. They didn’t take it. It is still out there, Mega Bloks, in case your listening.

Somebody please have the guts to show our girls how strong and smart and incredible and powerful they can be. I do it with my shirts and I sell them by the thousands. Let’s put that into a little plastic toy form. I’ve got ideas, who wants to listen? Mattel, wanna talk? Manhattan Toy Company? Is there ANYONE out there who has not drank the pink Kool-Aid?? I think I’m going to make myself cry.

Let’s move on…..

NBC’s TODAY Show Uses Sexism and Stereotypes to Promote Sexism and Stereotypes

On Tuesday morning many of us watched incredulously (jump to 5:01 in the video) as Matt Lauer interviewed Star Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman. One of the topics discussed was Lego Friends, and the two minute discussion was a master’s class in using ingrained cultural sexism to defend sexism. The interview left many of us furious and offended. As was brilliantly said on the Pigtail Facebook page: “Having people with such a reach not GET IT is overwhelming.”

Margot Magowan of Reel Girl transcribed the segment:

Matt Lauer:
Star Jones: And they give you little electric mixers and brushes and combs and purses.

Donnie Deutsch: Perfect, perfect.

Matt Lauer: You’re sounding down on this.

Jones: When you’re a little girl, you want to build bridges also. You want to put them on top of each other. You don’t want–

Lauer: So go out and buy the architectural Lego.

(Nancy Snyderman laughs.)

Jones: Which is exactly the way my three year old goddaughter does. She has the architectural one. The big yellow ones.

Nancy Snyderman: These are perfectly okay. The reality is there is a gender difference. Girls like playing with girl’s things, and you’re still constructing things. If the cupcake girl can still do calculus, I have no issue.

Umm…I have an issue. A really BIG one. Nancy Snyderman is a medical doctor, which is going to have people seeing her as an authority. While I think I understand what she was trying to say, she didn’t say it well. I’ve been on tv, I’ve been on live tv, and I know the interviews move fast and you have 2-3 seconds to say what you need to say. So maybe she didn’t mean it the way it came out, though her laughing and body language during the interview suggests otherwise. But this “Girls like playing with girl’s things”? What is that, Good Doctor? Is that  your professional opinion? Or a categorical stereotype? My daughter likes to play with her giant whale/dolphin collection, her oceanographer figures, her marine biology boat, and her science kit. Before the ocean phase, she was into dinosaurs. Before that, volcanoes and she carried grotesque dock spiders around in little jars. Despite her love of sparkles and leg warmers, she has zero interest in princesses. So what are “girl things”, Doctor? Should I be concerned for my daughter? Could something be wrong with her? Oh dear!

Then there’s this part, Italics mine because there was so much interupting at this point it is hard to follow:

Deutsch: You’re teaching them to build! (Not really, the sets require precious little challenging building.)

Snyderman: It gets girls into architecture and math and design, I’m all for it!

Jones: Give them some alternatives for goodness sake. (Visibly frustrated.)

Lauer: There’s no law that says they can’t go to the store and buy the Frank Lloyd Wright line. (No law, but a hell of a lot of marketing.)

Jones: They (don’t) put the Legos in the girls sections. (Star was interupted here and not able to finish her sentence.)

Deutsch: Little Girls do like princesses and things like that. I like princesses. (Categorical stereotype presented as fact. My little girl does not like princess. I know many others like her.)

Snyderman: And will parents buy this for boys? (Laughs loudly)

Deutsch: No they won’t. (Laughs loudly, with an “Oh my God, that’d be so gay” look on his face.)

Lauer: That’s probably not going to happen. (Gives Nancy a “Are you crazy” side glance because everyone knows boys don’t touch girls’ things.)

(Matt, Donny, and Nancy all laugh loudly as Star sits slumped and defeated in her chair.)

Well then. If that isn’t offensive, I don’t know what is. First, for a segment on marketing, no one but Star Jones seemed to understand marketing. How a product is packaged, and who is shown playing with it, matters. Where the product is placed in the store, specifically the pink and blue toy aisles, matters. The images and messages and color coding our kids see over and over and over again, matters. This is called marketing, and marketers know all of this matters. That is why they spend so much money doing it. Keep in mind, Donny Deutsch is an ad guy. A famous one. And he uses a cupcake and princess analogy presented as fact, when what he is doing is missing the point that girls are programmed and conditioned to like those things because so often, they have no other choices. They like what they have to choose from. It is like Henry Ford saying, “You can have any color you want so long as it is black.” Girls who are given a wider range to choose from demonstrate a variety of interests. If from that wide range they choose cupcakes and tutus, bless their little hearts. But sweet baby jeebus give them choices. Choices! 2012 could be the year of choices!!

Second, the bigger issue is the laughter over the idea of boys playing with this Lego Friends line. And not just a chuckle. Three of the four “professional” panelists had cracked themselves up over the idea of a boy playing with a toy so feminine. Clearly the panelists feel there is a definite distinction over what girls and boys should be playing with, and the idea of a boy being interested in Heartlake City is hilarious.

The Sanford Harmony Program  said it best on the Pigtail Facebook page: “This was a tremendous missed opportunity for bringing boys and girls TOGETHER. If children are given more chances to establish some common ground, and work and play with one another, they will be more inclined to engage more often – learning from and about each other along the way. The messages and images polarizing our girls and boys contribute tremendously to the notion that boys and girls grow-up in “separate worlds.” In these single-gender peer groups, kids are honing their communication and problem solving skills in isolation of one another and socializing each other in different ways. The world is co-ed – let’s do something to help bring our kids together.” 

Vintage Lego ad, when Lego knew who they were and what they meant to kids.

 Side by Side Gender Apartheid: A Visual Reference

I headed to YouTube to catch some Lego tv commercials, and see if maybe this all wasn’t just in my head. So I watched two Lego Friends commercials, and then created a wordle from the words in the used by the narrator in the commercial, and the colors most represented by the brick colors in the sets. I then did the same for a Lego Dino and Lego City commercial.

You be the judge.

Apartheid (n): From the Afrikaans word for “apartness”, a system of segregation.

Words captured from Lego commercials, Lego Friends on left, Lego Dino and Lego City on right. (