The Barbie Project: Barbie Meets the Man Eating Lions of Tsavo

I played with Barbies as a kid and I can’t quite recall what sort of stories my girlfriends and I acted out, but I feel like there were several sinking cruise ships, attempted kidnappings by Russians, and weddings that ended in disastrous emergencies requiring Barbie’s immediate attention and quick thinking. Which she always did best in a pale blue ball gown while leaping from her purple Corvette.

One thing I have noticed as I watch my daughter play with her Barbie dolls and act out dramatic scenes with the characters she develops is that the adventures she creates exponentially outpace what is sold to her through commercials or media built around products. I can’t think of anything specific, but shopping for prom and makeup disasters come to mind. I recall Amelia watching a video with a bunch of mermaids and there was some issue with a hair-product delivering prince. My brain didn’t really know what to do with that.

I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never seen a commercial aimed at the 3-8 year old girl demographic themed around man-eating lions. 

We were on vacation for the first two weeks of July and last week Amelia did nothing but practice riding her bike in order to earn a kitten, so she hasn’t played with her Barbies in a while and was happy to pull them out again. She was also mad at me last week after I dashed her hopes of living in the Chicago’s Field Museum because I told her if she tried to live in the Field Museum she’d be arrested for squatting and because she is a minor I’d have to do her jail time.

So I have been exiled from her room since returning from vacation and therefore have not been able to observe her playing with her Barbies. I tried to mend fences by saying we could build a rocket ship and launch her Astronaut Barbie into space or build a ninja obstacle course and time her Barbies and they tried to make it to the finish line….

I thought I had her with the promise of pyrotechnics, alas I was only able to get into her room by saying I needed to check on the new kittens.

Amelia setting up the Barbie animal training camp sit, pre-man-eating lion attack.

Amelia setting up the Barbie animal training camp sit, pre-man-eating lion attack.

 

“Hi. How are the kittens? What are you playing?” -Me

“I’m playing with my Barbies. They are on a safari because they train cats and dogs to help people and this is part of the training.” -Amelia

“Oh wow, that is so cool. I really like their camp site. I like the little girl, is she so brave going out into the bush and training the kitten as her service animal?”  -Me

Tragically I do not think young Barbie ever saw her doom coming.

Tragically I do not think young Barbie ever saw her doom coming.

“What? Oh honey. No. She was dragged away from camp by a man-eating lion of Tsavo. You can’t go out into the bush or you will become prey. That is her body laying in the lair. Jabban is a porter and he shoots the lions with tranquilizers if he can see them in time. The team has lost six members already, the survivors are mourning. That’s why Barbie is up on the mountain now, she’s calling for reinforcements and she can guard the camp from up high.” -Amelia

“Wow.” -Me

“Listen, they were all told there were man-eaters in these parts. You have to understand the terrain. Scientists have to have respect for how violent nature can be. Why are all of their feet pointy? I have to pretend all these shoes are hiking boots. Will I really be arrested if I live at the Field Museum? Do you know anyone who has ever been arrested for that before? When I buy the Field Museum they won’t be able to arrest me because I will say it is my house.” -Amelia

Amelia uses her Barbies as trainers for service animals.

Amelia uses her Barbies as trainers for service animals.

 

And that’s the thing about girls, I’ve come to learn as I watch my daughter and her friends play. Sometimes what we find for them in the marketplace is limiting them based on gender stereotypes, but when girls are raised with the message the world is theirs to explore and nothing is off limits to them and their desire for learning and adventure…..you never know where they will end up taking you.

I don’t mind that Amelia uses Barbie to take her on these adventures.

Has your daughter ever surprised you with the stories she plays out with her toys? Has it shifted your perception of who girls are and what things they are interested in?

 

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.}

Barbie Project

 

*No Barbies nor kittens (nor man-eating lions) were harmed in the making of this post.

**The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo were real and are on exhibit at the Field Museum. They were two young male lions that terrorized a rail camp in Kenya killing 135 workers.

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: Our Barbie Dream House

My daughter has gotten into playing with dolls recently and it is fun to see the stories unfold as her imagination takes over. Sometimes she enjoys sitting and changing their clothes and putting together different outfits. Like a cute shift dress with an astronaut helmet and moon boots, or a wetsuit underneath a ballgown….because a girl never really knows what is going to happen with her day.

Amelia has been asking for a Barbie Dream house. The ones for sale are cute enough I guess, but they are big and expensive. As I looked the options over I didn’t feel like they represented Amelia’s dreams. Also, the pink. Just so much pink. I know that is Barbie’s thing, but Amelia loves blue. She loves science, art, travel, dogs and books.

Then I thought maybe it would be a fun project for her and I to build a house together. My mom made a castle for me when I was Amelia’s age and it was my favorite toy. My Barbies and My Little Ponies and Strawberry Shortcake dolls spent many, many hours playing in that castle. So did my cat.

The doll castle my mom made for me when I was Amelia's age. Beloved by me and my cat.

The doll castle my mom made for me when I was Amelia’s age. Beloved by me and my cat.

Amelia was a little unsure of how the project would turn out, but once I showed her the photos of my old castle she was hooked. And begging for a kitten.

We started by me handing her a pile of cardboard boxes I had been saving. Amelia was put in charge of designing the house how she wanted it, as well as choosing the right sized boxes to make it structurally sound. She spent about half an hour playing around with different options, realizing certain configurations posed a building collapse threat, and which boxes would give her the space needed for the different rooms she wanted.

Amelia designs the structure for her house using some simple engineering concepts.

Amelia designs the structure for her house using some simple engineering concepts.

Next we talked about what rooms/elements she wanted and how she would design it. As she looked over arts & crafts scraps for inspirations I wrote down her list:

– fireplace, elevator, singing shower + bath tub, television, carpet, chandelier, fancy couches, and pink, yellow, green, blue, red, and purple rooms.

Amelia develops concepts for her very own dream house.

Amelia develops concepts for her very own dream house.

We spray painted the boxes the colors that she had chosen. I guess we didn’t succeed in getting away from all that pink! This was the only step she didn’t participate in, mostly because she is a well-known rascal and learning how to operate spray paint is not a skill I want her to possess right now….

Our Barbie House gets under way....pink and turquoise.

Our Barbie House gets under way….pink and turquoise.

Next we got out art supplies, crafting scraps, and old magazines. We talked about what rooms would need what (the kitchen needs a fridge, she suggested it also needs a candy store). It was interesting to watch her pick styles and colors and personal touches that were important to her. And I learned fascinating facts from Amelia, like white shower curtains “are rather in bad taste” and that pools should always go on the roof.

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Interior decorating begins. LOTS of imagination went into this.

Interior decorating begins. LOTS of imagination went into this.

We had to hold off on fixing interior lighting (I may or may not have started a small fire in one of the boxes with some faulty wiring. Oops.) and the elevator endeavor needs more work. We’ll have to postpone those as STEM projects for Mommy Summer School.

Each room offers things Amelia loves, and I’m so proud of what she created. This is really her Dream House…. 

She has her travel-themed bedroom that has a map of the Washington DC metro for a floor and pictures of kayaking, camping, and exploring on the walls. A sliding door takes her to her “outside hangout room” that she wanted. The other side of the second floor has her laundry room/sports equipment room and her art studio. The walls of the art studio feature inspiring words and a photograph of her hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The master bedroom on the third floor has a library, a rocking closet that features a photo of the monarch butterflies she loves to raise from eggs, and bathroom with a huge counter and dual sinks (a concept she is obsessed with). The third floor also features her rooftop pool.

The main floor of the house has her big front porch, fancy Paris bathroom, a “living room that dogs and cats can go in but kids can’t run”, a dining room with a nature theme, and a kitchen with an ode to the Wisconsin cheese this kid lives on. And a chihuahua in a fancy bed to boot.

The finished house! It features all of Amelia's loves and dreams.

The finished house! It features all of Amelia’s loves and dreams.

Here’s some more detailed photos…..

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The rooms of Amelia's Barbie Dream House.

The rooms of Amelia’s Barbie Dream House.

I think it is safe to say, she likes it…..

Relaxing in her Dream House.

Relaxing in her Dream House.

It was so great to watch Amelia’s creativity and imagination blossom as she put this project together. I helped her with steps, but she the design is all her.

Have you ever created something like this for your child? What kinds of things do you think she would include that would reflect who she is?

 

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.}

Barbie Project

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: Base Camps, Brains, and Beauty

This past Tuesday evening my eight year old daughter and I drove up to the UW – Madison campus to hear Dr. Mireya Mayor speak as part of the National Geographic Live tour. I had read Mayor’s book, “Pink Boots and a Machete” a couple of years ago and really enjoyed following her work. To my second grader Amelia, Mireya Mayor was a hero, part scientist and part Indiana Jones-like international explorer.

I think it is important for Amelia to have contemporary female heroines so when I saw that Mayor was coming to Madison I immediately bought tickets and I’m so, so glad that I did. Amelia and I had a GREAT time at Mayor’s talk. It was exciting, beautiful, inspiring, funny and touching. When Mayor first walked on stage in her sleek black pants, black stiletto heels and pin straight hair Amelia whispered to me, “Oh Mom! She looks like my Barbie scientist!”

I smiled and said yes, Dr. Mireya was indeed very pretty and that I was excited to hear about all of the adventures she had been on. Over the next hour we traveled around the globe with Mayor, going in and out of African rain forests and field sites in Madagascar and tent camps hanging off of cliffs in South America. We heard about Mayor being inspired by Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall. We learned about never-seen-before frogs and mouse lemurs Mayor discovered on expeditions, and we saw the ugly side of trekking around the world in the form of mud, blisters, hunger, and illness.  Amelia was breathless, hanging on Mayor’s every word. At one point Amelia became so excited I thought she was going to rush the stage.

And that is what I wanted for Amelia out of tonight — to see a woman standing in front of her who would say, “I did all of these incredibly amazing things and you can too.” I was thrilled to see so many young girls also in the audience. Entire Girl Scout troops had come to see her! In fact, during the Q & A following her talk I approached the stage and handed Mayor a copy of my book while I asked her to tell all of the girls in the audience what are two or three things they could do now as tweens and young women if they wanted to become scientists and explorers.

Mireya’s answer was beautiful, but it was also incredibly empowering. She shared with the audience that she had been told all of her life that she was a pretty girl. Her Cuban mother and over-protective aunts wouldn’t let their little doll be in Girl Scouts because they felt it was too dangerous. Mayor worked hard in school because she knew she was very bright (Fulbright scholar-bright), but her prettiness always came first to other people. In college she was treated poorly by professors who thought her too much a girly-girl to go on expeditions or be taken seriously about earning a PhD in anthropology. She experienced bias and stereotypes because to help pay her way through school she was a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. People couldn’t see past her attractive exterior to get to the intelligence and grit and confidence that lay underneath.

And as she talked about this, I kept thinking about Amelia’ comment about Barbie when she first saw Mayor. Amelia is a gorgeous girl, truly beautiful, and I wondered what she was thinking as she was hearing Mayor describe the bias she encountered because of her looks. It reminded me of another awesome and also beautiful female explorer we follow, Alison Teal. I didn’t want Amelia getting the message that the world would say you can be beautiful, or you can be brainy and brave. In our family, women are all three.

Because of her pretty face, no one took Mayor seriously at university. Until she made them. She proved herself over and over again in the field, has made remarkable discoveries in the field of primatology, and has done fantastic work traveling the globe as a National Geographic correspondent. Oh, and during all of this she just so happens to be a mother to five kids under the age of eight. Like I said, serious hero material right here.

She told the girls in the audience not to allow anyone to hold them back. She encouraged them to always believe in themselves and to believe in the power of their minds. She promised them there was so much left in the world to discover and it was just out there, waiting for them. And she told them that it didn’t matter what other people thought of them, they could become whoever they wanted to be.

After the show Amelia and I grabbed a slice of pizza and while we were eating I asked her what her favorite part of the night was. She chattered about needing a passport and wanting to drop out of second grade to begin attending UW Madison.  Amelia said that she liked how Dr. Mireya was pretty and proud to be a girl but that what was most important was how smart and brave she was.

Amelia looked up at me in that moment, her eyes a little misty and she said in a tone reflecting awe, “Mom? Remember the part when Dr. Mireya was talking about sleeping above the clouds? I’m going to do that some day, too. I’m going to be just like her.”

Amelia is speaking of an expedition Mayor took to remote mountains in South America, described as lost islands in the clouds. On cliffs thousands of feet in the air Mayor and her crew spent the night in tents sitting on a three foot wide shelf, secured to the rock face with climbing pins. When she woke the next morning she was face-to-face with the sunrise, having slept above the cloud layer.

Something like this….

Climbers with tents secured to the cliff face.

Climbers with tents secured to the cliff face.

Which is why the following day, I should not have been shocked when I walked into Amelia’s room and discovered this:

Amelia's recreation of one of Mireya Mayor's expeditions.

Amelia’s recreation of one of Mireya Mayor’s expeditions.

Base Camp Barbie and her porters are cliff camping, in my bras, just like Amelia’s hero Mireya Mayor. Amelia was using her Barbie dolls to play out the exhilarating adventures flying through her imagination. The human lungs and heart are from her medical school mannequin, I’m guessing those are supposed to be the rocks at the base of the cliff.

I’ve been criticized for allowing Amelia to play with Barbie, and I understand some of the concerns and I think everyone has the right to their own opinion. But what I notice when Amelia plays with Barbie is that she isn’t really focusing on the beauty or the fashion. She uses her Barbie to play out adventures, just like I used to do when I was little with my Barbies. I think craving adventure must run in the family.

I think raising healthy girls is all about balance, so Amelia and I talk about body diversity and defining beauty for ourselves and we make sure her Barbies are wearing clothes that aren’t too sexy and shoes that allow Barbie to accomplish the adventure at hand. I have great conversations with Amelia as she questions or calls out ridiculous body proportions and homogeneous beauty she sees in media. She sees me model a positive, healthy body image.

So I can handle a little Barbie. After all, Amelia is using the world’s most beautiful and most vilified doll to prove to me that she knows that pretty’s got nothing to do with it. Bravery and brains are what we value most in our family. Amelia has shown me that beautiful Barbie and adventurous play are not mutually exclusive.

Maybe Amelia will grow up to be a world-exploring, cliff-camping, jungle-trekking anthropologist who repels off some of the globe’s steepest cliffs in search of unfound species while coming face to face with some of the deadliest snakes. I hope so, if that is where her heart takes her. Considering the rest of Amelia’s bedroom looks like this, I see a prescription for Xanax in my future…..

Amelia's desk, full of specimens, a camera, magnifying glasses, and homemade satellite phone and computer.

Amelia’s desk, full of specimens, a camera, magnifying glasses, binoculars, and homemade satellite phone and computer.

 

Amelia's prize possessions, her giant microscope and whale chart.

Amelia’s prize possessions, her giant microscope and whale chart.

 

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.}

Barbie Project

 

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: My Little Girl Has Two of Everything

The other day my daughter and I were sitting under a sun-filled window in her room, setting up her Barbie camping set as her Elsa doll and Dolphin Trainer Barbie were going camping with Elsa’s pet Golden Retriever and the trained dolphins. I took this quiet moment to share with my daughter that very good friends of ours were going to become foster parents to a girl her age.

She thought over my words a bit, and then asked if the girl could come over to play with her. I said that after the girl had had some time to adjust to her new family and home, a playdate would be a great idea.

Amelia looked down at her dolls and said softly, “Good, because I have two of everything.”

I wondered what she meant by that, did she mean all of her dolls? Her outdoor toys? Her science kits? The fact that she has a bedroom upstairs she never really uses because she still sleeps in the bunk in her little brother’s room? Did she mean all of the clothes she has?But in that moment I did not want to pry because she seemed to be in a very reflective state. Was she thinking about what would happen if her parents were unable to take care of her? Was she thinking about having to move into a new home with a new family?

She focused intently in setting the scene for her Barbies to begin acting out the script it seems she had written in her head. Accessories and props were being set just so. Outfits changed and changed again until the perfect cast had been assembled for the day’s play. I can remember doing the same when I was a child, where the rules of the real world didn’t apply to the stories I created. I wondered what Amelia and her camping dolphins were about to say.

Amelia's Barbie dolls, waiting for the day's casting call.

Amelia’s Barbie dolls, waiting for the day’s casting call.

“I have two of everything, so it would be very easy for me to share everything with her. Do you know if she has brown skin?” Amelia asked.

“Oh, actually I don’t know what she looks like. I just know her name and her age. Why do you ask?” I know my child is enamored with Martin Luther King Jr (among other things, they share a birthday), but I thought it was an odd question for her to ask.

“I asked because I only have one brown skinned Barbie. We need to go get another one before she comes to play. I want her to see that my Barbies can be different people and when you sort them out I have too many that are blonde with blue eyes. I have two green eyes and four brown eyes including the dolls from Jordan but only one of them who isn’t a mermaid has brown skin. But all skin is beautiful so we should just make sure there is a nice mix,” Amelia said and I have to admit, I was really proud that she thinks about these things when she plays. My kids have been raised to noticed gender balance, body diversity, and racial diversity in the media they consume.

“Well, sure, diversity is important and we should have it in our toys, too. So we should definitely get another brown skin Barbie.”

“Right,” Amelia agreed, “because either way we’re going to need two Rosa Parks. And Rosa Parks was not a mermaid, let me tell  you.”

“Ah, sure. I had not thought of that.”

“Oh, honey. I know.” And with that Amelia turned back to playing, arranging the camping tent, pail of fish for the dolphins, and glowing campfire just so.

And I think sometimes we need to pause and recognize toys we may or may not love as parents can mean something different to our daughters. We can be aware of and decode the messages these toys send and I feel that is very important, but not at the expense of missing the messages our children are sending back to us.

A Barbie doll is a toy my child owns. It is a tool operated by her imagination. It is not what defines her, nor writes her future. What a girl owns is not necessarily who she will become. I want to give my daughter a great variety of toys to engage her imagination. I also want to give her the space to show me who she wants to be in this world. This afternoon playing with Barbie allowed her to do both. I saw her imagination at work, as well as the kindness and sharing in her heart.

The camping expedition gets under way.

The camping expedition gets under way.

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.}

Barbie Project

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Barbie Project: Amelia and I Embark on a Journey

The Barbie Box arrives. Naturally, we spent lots of time just playing with the box!

The Barbie Box arrives. Naturally, we spent lots of time just playing with the box!

My daughter Amelia is eight years old, a wild, imaginative, creative, artistic, prone-to-mud and snail hunting kind of girl. She is in many ways so much like me when I was her age. She moves easily between dressing up as a queen and wallowing in the mud pit she built in our back yard. She loves building things, reading, playing outside, and recently, she really lovesplaying with Barbie dolls.

When I was her age, I loved playing with Barbie dolls, too.

I had a tempestuous relationship with Barbie  in my early years of parenting, but as my daughter has grown in maturity and demonstrated really solid body image and critical thinking skills I’ve relaxed on my stance on the twelve inch doll.

We balance hours of play with our Barbie Mermaids or Dolphin Trainer dolls with a discussion on whether or not Barbie’s eye makeup comes off when she swims or if her pointy feet are safe to balance around the edge of the animal enclosures or sea rescue boat. We talk about how we like that Barbie comes in different skin colors just like our friends but how all Barbie dolls have the same body. We enjoy putting cool outfits together and sometimes we adjust ensembles with a really short skirt and pair it with leggings. Amelia enjoys the fancy outfits and shoes, as they allow her to play at being sophisticated and grown up. She also enjoys the uniforms like the astronaut suit and wetsuits, as they allow her to see her Barbies as a change agent or hero in a story.

What I’ve learned while watching Amelia play over these past few weeks, and while getting down on the floor or climbing into the fort to play with her, was that Barbie can be many things. According to my eight-year-old, Barbie can be more than meets the eye.  I had spent the summer playing with her and her mermaid dolls in the pool, combing hair tangled mermaid hair, rescuing mermaid tails from the back of the dog’s throat. I wondered how or if our Barbie play would change as we were stuck inside during the long Wisconsin winter. Would we still make up great adventures?

Amelia really enjoyed opening her astronaut and dolphin trainer dolls that arrived in the big box from Barbie. She carefully inspected each package and carefully unpacked each item, outfit, and high heel. She spent quite a bit of time experimenting with the pooping Barbie Pet Trainer dog. She then madly stripped all of the dolls naked and began rearranging their outfits and creating new character roles. She was making the dolls her own. You could almost hear the wheels turning in her head as the story churned and developed.

I had thought it would be super cool to play with Astronaut Barbie and then watch “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” together and do art projects about space. I had thought wrong. Amelia had every intention of turning her Barbies into pirates, the space suit was needed to serve as a ghost pirate, natch.

And so we played, in a giant fort built by Amelia in the family room. The ghost pirate had stolen the treasure of the mermaids and the mermaids needed the pirate Barbies to help them recapture the treasure and return it to its rightful place in the sea.

While Amelia played her characters worked together and the dialogue was hysterical. I got to peek into her imagination and see her resolve conflict, create leadership roles among the characters, and demonstrate bravery, evil, and justice. If we didn’t like the ending, we’d go back and rework the story.

It was so interesting to see how the story shifted and sorted itself while we played. I never really knew where we were going to end up. And I think that is what interests me most about The Barbie Project, I have no idea where Amelia’s imagination is going to take us. I cannot wait to find out.

Exploring all our new Barbie dolls....and Barbie dog poop.

Exploring all our new Barbie dolls….and Barbie dog poop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.}

Barbie Project

 

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.