Girls Build Giant Cake Out of Legos, Which Is Not The Same Thing As Baking Lego Cupcakes

 

Remember my little pal Callie, the young girl who wrote the amazing letter to Lego regarding their sexist Lego Friends line?

I’m hoping when members of SPARK meet with Lego next month, they show the execs the contrast in these images.

Apparently awesome runs in Callie’s family….check out the birthday cake made of Duplo blocks that Callie, her grandma, and her cousin built for their great aunt’s birthday.

The women in Callie's family celebrate a birthday with an amazing Lego Duplo cake.

 

Not quite the same building experience you’d find, say….. at Lego Friends “Stephanie’s Outdoor Bakery”.

Lego Friends "Stephanie's Outdoor Bakery" marketed to girls.

I think Lego needs to change the way it thinks about our girls. I think Lego needs to Redefine Girly.

Media Literacy for Itty Bitties, with Lyn Mikel Brown

Media Literacy, for both parents and children, needs to start when our kids are itty bitty.

 Last week I came across an excellent article about parenting with media literacy on a site I use a lot, www.commonsensemedia.org. The site is a great parenting resource for age-appropriate media for your kiddos. The article, “Too Sexy, Too Soon”, was about the crush of sexualization in girlhood, happening as early as the preschool years. I feel it with my five year old daughter,especially as we move into bigger girl toys and clothes.

Here is what the article advised for parents of young kids:

Don’t buy in. Help your kids stay kids by not buying outfits, makeup, and other “grown up” accessories. Stay away from clothing that reinforces the message that looking “sexy” is a way to get noticed.

Seek out positive role models. Lots of little girls love to dress up as princesses. Help expand their horizons by finding role models in books, on TV, in movies, and in real life that show kids how they can be recognized for their talents and brains rather than their looks or behavior.

Watch out for stereotypes. Our kids look to their favorite actors and musicians for cues on how to act. Point out when the media rewards girls for being sexy and boys for being strong.

Resist consumerist messages. On mother-daughter days, do something outside the mall, like crafts, hiking, or biking. Not all mothers and daughters have to bond by shopping.

Challenge the status quo. Reinforce behaviors that don’t involve kids’ looks. Kids develop self-esteem by doing things they feel proud of. If your kids are getting their self-worth from attention-getting behavior, they’ll have sold themselves short.

 The article is really great….but leaves parents with little kids wondering, “I still don’t know what to do.”

It is my very firm belief that media literacy and girl empowerment starts when our girls are itty bitty. This is something our girls must be raised with. I am writing a book on this very topic – so that new parents can have a jump on the game. We shouldn’t have to wait for school age to get help, or for each of us figure it out on our own, or be left wondering what to do about a topic that is going to impact every kid in this country.  
 
So I contacted Lyn Mikel Brown, one of the authors of the article (also one of the co-auothors of the great book “Packaging Girlhood”), founder of girl advocacy group Hardy Girl, Healthy Women, and Professor of Education at Colby College in Maine, to ask for more specifics on how to apply all of the awesome advice to small children. In my message to Professor Brown, I questioned the idea of “protection” that the article mentions, stating that when our girls are tiny and too small for critical thinking and age-appropriate explanations and conversations, that should be the very age when we are protecting them from harmful media, toys, and messages. My own home is a Barbie-Princess-Tinkerbell-Bratz free house. Read here and here on why. My daughter plays with dolls that look like children, stuffed animals, and lots of science-based stuff like plastic whales and bug catchers and vet kits. By the same token, my son does not have war guys or weapons or uber-muscly superhero guys. He mostly plays with his puzzles, dinos, and blocks (and his sister’s toys when she is at school). Especially during the preschool years, I want to protect my kids from commodification and sexualization and give them toys that honor childhood and help them explore this world. 
Lyn’s response: I stress this “protection” point often because too many parents think they can fully control what their little kids see, hear, and play with and then forget to talk with them in age-appropriate ways and give them what they need to protect themselves. Protection alone does not work…as soon as kids are engaged with media and can talk, we should be modeling questions and skepticism, helping them create their own media, and encouraging them to talk back and insert their own ideas in the media they see. 
 
I couldn’t agree more, especially about the part of kids creating their own media. I’m a huge believer in open-ended play, the power of imagination, and critical thinking. The same goes for parents — be creative about the toys and media you bring into your home, especially in the beginning years. We are under no obligation to buy the products marketed to our children that have licensed characters on them, that make us uneasy, or that we outright disagree with. My daughter has one Disney Princess book, but has otherwise grown up free of that kind of nonsense. Being a princess isn’t even on her radar. She does love to dress up and wear jewelry when she says it is time for a “glamorous date” with my husband, and the two head down the street to the local coffee shop to play checkers and Candyland.  
 
It is somewhat easy to control your child’s home environment when they are preschool aged….but when they hit school age or if they go to childcare, all bets are off. Your parenting lessons and family values will remain, but think about how many new people and ideas they are exposed to. That isn’t a bad thing – it creates conversation. The idea of sheltering our kids forever from this just isn’t realistic. We instead need tools to help navigate the rough waters.
 
I have a lot of parents tell me they want to home school, or are afraid to send their kids to school because of the garbage out there. I can understand that concern, but we can’t parent from a place of fear. Media literacy isn’t about sheltering our kids, it is about containing the bad stuff until they are able to process it, and as soon as they can process it, to start talking about it. And to keep talking about it, because the conversation changes as our children age. For us, the questioning started at age 2 1/2 years old with my daughter. I teach her to question everything. Everything. My son will be three years old next month, and we already do the same for him.
 
It crosses over everywhere we go….”Why can’t we have the cereal with Dora?” she’ll ask. “Because that is too sugary and we don’t buy food that is junky for our body,” I’ll answer. Amelia came back with, “But I like Dora.” So I explain more, “I like Dora, too. But the cereal inside the box isn’t healthy for us, so let’s make a better choice.”
 
“Better choice” is a phrase we use a lot around here. When she spent most of last year lobbying for Sea World Barbie, we talked about why she wanted Barbie and that Mommy & Daddy felt there were healthier choices for little girls. Instead of Barbie we turned to Bindi Irwin, Groovy Girls, Animal Planet toys, and Sophie & Lili dolls. She couldn’t be happier with the toys she has, and hasn’t mentioned Barbie since.
 
When the kids are watching tv and “Penguins of Madagascar” ends and “Sponge Bob” comes on, they know to change the channel. I usually hear, “Op, Benny. We need to make a better choice.” Or I’ll hear her gasp if she hears “Shut up” or “stupid” on a tv show, and she’ll say “Oh man, this must be a teenagered show. Mom, change it to a better choice please.” Amelia, at five years old, is starting to recognize commercials and understands they are trying to sell her things. That’s not to say she doesn’t still want some of the toys she sees, but she is realizing what is going on. She calls it “Buzz Lightyear Voice and Sparkling Girls”….pay attention next time to a few children’s commercials and you’ll see how right she is.
 
Here’s more from Lyn Mikel Brown:
…being sexualized/commodified and understanding what that means are different, so the onus is on parents to help girls understand the stereotypes and eventually, the sexualization, in their media. When they are little and forming gender identities, it’s really about categorizing things–this is girl, this is boy–so that’s why the pink blue stuff has such power. Parenting well means interrupting this, limiting those messages when possible, offering a wider range of choices and experiences and questioning these stereotypes out loud. It’s all about interrupting the marketers’ narrow version of gender (and also race, sexual identity, etc.) and giving kids a range of experiences so that we are helping to fire all those synapses.
I don’t think it helps to be really anxious about sexualization when girls are too young–because if parents aren’t careful, they give unintended messages about good and bad girls (those who wear pink, own Bratz dolls), good and bad bodies, etc. (little kids are very concrete). We want kids to get comfortable questioning fake/idealized stuff and embracing the wonderful complexity in their worlds. So yes, dolls contribute to a larger pattern of sexualization and contribute to a world where little girls are more at risk, but that’s different than what I do as a parent. The issue for parents is parenting where kids are and that means getting what they are actually taking from this stuff–so not assuming or overeacting, but listening and talking with them.
 
So, for parents of itty bitties, what can you do?
  • Provide your child with a diverse range of toys that encourages all kinds of exploration, gross and fine motor skills, creativity, and open-ended play.
  • Fill your child’s world with a rich variety of colors. Color, color, color, and do not let yourself be limited to those assigned to gender by our culture.
  • It is okay to feel uncomfortable with characters or toys for children that look like stereotyped, sexualized women and steroid-ridden men. My kids love making up their own characters, so apart from the body image issues, we try to avoid those things and give their creativity room to run.
  • Expose your child to media that depicts boys and girls working together, and not participating in gender stereotyped activities.
  • Characters that pass the test at our house: Dora and Diego, Sesame Street, Wonder Pets, Land Before Time, Dr. Seuss, Team Umizumi, Bubble Guppies, Little Bear, and Olivia.
  • When at the toy store, question why one side is blue and one side is pink. That’s all a bunch of marketing garbage. Then cross the aisle and buy a car for your girl and a doll for your son. There isn’t a boy or girl side to early childhood.
  • Know that you have the right to ask family members to respect your wishes about media literacy in your home. Example: When asked about birthday gift ideas, it is within your right to request that certain type of toy not be given, and then provide examples of what your child would enjoy. My friends and family have been wonderful about honoring my requests and respecting my daugther’s love of dinosaurs and sea creatures.
  • Stock your playroom with art supplies, dressup clothes, bean bags, scarves, musical instruments, puzzles, books, blocks, puppets, play food and dishes and/or a tea set, toy animals and dinosaurs, trains and cars, doll houses, stuffed animals…any toy that doesn’t come with instructions or batteries!
  • Kids love to mimic adults, so by 18months most kids enjoy cooking sets, caring for a doll or lovey, tool sets, and dress up clothes. My 5yo and almost 3yo love playing hospital, grocery store, zoo, school, restaurant, museum gift shop, and animal rescuers. As of late they have been building aquariums, but their ticket prices are really steep.
  • Positive body image starts as early as “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”. NO Fat Talk is allowed. Exercise and be active with your kids, show them all the amazing things healthy bodies can do!
  • Repeat after me: NO Fat Talk is allowed in your home. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
  • Explore. Go look for birds nests and worm hunt and count cars and pick clovers and chase butterflies. Nature doesn’t run commercials. Last summer my kids were intent on bear hunting. There aren’t too many bears in southcentral Wisconsin, but boy if they didn’t tire themselves out while looking for footprints in the woods.
  • Take those couch cushions off and build a fort, or throw a bedsheet over the table to create a tent. Then let them create their own world.
  • On the days you are out of ideas, throw them in the bath with swim goggles and a bubble wand or a popsicle.
  • Write down a story your child tells you, then help him/her illustrate. Create a music band or parade. Have them act out little skits and catch it on video. Write scripts for puppet shows.
  • Know that it will be impossible to escape this stuff. Work on being smart about it – and teaching those smarts to your kids. It is a family effort, and you’ll all be better off for it.
  • Most of all – allow yourself grace, not one of us is a perfect parent, but staying engaged and in touch with our kids will make all the difference in the often times crazy world. 

I hope this information helps and gives you a good starting point. If you have more questions or specific problems, leave them in the comments, or email me (info@pigtailpals.com) and I’ll get you the best information I can.

For MORE resources, Hardy Girls Healthy Women has a Resources page with excellent Tips sheets. Soak all of them in, they are all great!

You bet there is a lot of crap out there, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. As parents we choose what our family buys, and what comes into our home. We are not powerless, and we need to find our voices again and say “NO!” to the products and media and marketers we feel are harming our kids.

 

Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: A Book Review

Dr. Robyn Silverman, author and leading expert in body and self-esteem development

 That’s what we are told, right? Don’t get fat. Almost from birth, it seems, our girls are told only certain body shapes are acceptable. Desirable. Achievable. Researchers are starting to see weight concerns in girls as young as five and six. The average dieter begins her career at the tendor age of 11. Eleven. Eleven years old should be outside climbing trees and practicing piano. Not counting carbs and ab crunches. I’m all for healthy and fit kids, but people, we’ve got problems here. When many feel that girls’ negative body image has gotten out of control, Dr. Robyn Silverman PhD has authored a new book that puts some sanity back into the conversation. “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls And How We Can Help Them Thrive Despit It” has just hit stores in October and is getting rave reviews, from experts and parents alike. See more here.  Whether you are a parent of tween or a two year old, this book is a must read. I work in the business of girl empowerment and self-esteem and the first 50 pages blew me away. I’m the first to tell you that I’m not an expert on disordered eating or full blown Eating Disorders, but I know a thing or two about healthy, self-confident girls. And our girls are being failed.   

 The book is 233 pages of practical advice, tips, talking points, and a resource guide. It covers issues for both mom and dad, siblings, teachers, and friends. “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” includes help deconstructing media and ads, provides asset builders, and current research. This book, that was ten years in the making, will leave you with the confidence and tools needed to raise your daughter (and son) in a Fat Talk Free Zone where she can shine on to becoming her most healthy, most confident self.   

I was so moved by Dr. Robyn’s book, and the easy way in which she presents some heavy hitting material to parents whom she knows are busy and pressed for time, that I offered to do a t-shirt for her. Our artist, named Melissa (not me, I can’t draw, people) did a magnificent job of capturing the feeling we want EVERY woman and girl to have when she looks in the mirror. Notice all those words in her silhouette? Dr. Robyn provided those, hoping every girl carries each word in her heart. You can find the tee HERE.   

Collaboration tee from Dr. Robyn and Pigtail Pals, comes in four rich, delicious colored Ladies tees.

  SMART ~ CONFIDENT ~ LOYAL ~ AMAZING ~ ACITVE ~ CREATIVE ~ INTUITIVE ~ OUTGOING ~ UNIQUE ~ LOVING ~ FRIENDLY ~ CARING ~ LEADER ~ COLORFUL ~   

TALENTED ~ PASSIONATE ~ SINCERE ~ AMBITIOUS ~ BEAUTIFUL   

I had a couple of questions for Dr. Robyn after I finished “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat”. Dr. Robyn and I are friends, and I knew I could be very frank with her because I was having trouble putting my head around some of the info in her book. Here, read:   

Me: Dr. Robyn, I’ve always known that as girls go through their teens, some of them are extremely, maybe overly concerned about their bodies. But the stories in your book shocked me, literally shocked me. Girls aren’t just skipping a meal here or there or exercising a whole bunch, they are truly hurting themselves. I tend to Mother Hen, and there were times when I was reading your book and I would let out a little “Oh, no!” or an “Oh! Oh honey, no no no!” as I read about what these girls were doing to their bodies. You and I both have very young daughters, what can we do as moms to help prevent this kind of body hatred?     

Dr. Robyn: Believe me, my stomach was turning and my mind was shouting as I heard the stories as well from girls who ran the range between disordered eating and actual full blown eating disorders. Yes, girls engage in a variety of scary behaviors to keep themselves from eating.  The good news is, that as mothers of young children, we can start early with building up our daughters’ body esteem and sense of positive self worth. There are so many tips throughout the book for moms—so here I’ll highlight a few!     

We’ve talked a lot about the impact of media, toys, and positive role models a lot before—and you certainly discuss this with your savvy moms on the Pigtail Pals forums.  If we want our girls to understand that there is a range of bodies—acceptable, beautiful, worthwhile, and common—then we need to show it to them. We need to watch the toys and media that come into the home—do they show a wide range or a narrow range? This provides a template.      

Also, we have to think about real life. When we expose our girls to a range of fantastic role models in real life who are talented, successful, beautiful, and vibrant, girls can see that they can be this way too. Think of the girl who knows her Aunt is a Scientist or an Astronaut.  She knows that these professions are not only possible but actual real serious positive options for a girl.  The same goes for body type and size. The only way to beat the myth that there is only one acceptable, beautiful, and worthwhile type and size of body (very thin) is to provide an alternative—the truth!     

And speaking of the truth—young girls typically believe whatever they see in print because they think concretely.  That’s what’s age appropriate, after all. So we need to talk to them about the “tricks” the media uses to get them to think a certain way. Girls don’t like to be duped.  Even saying something like “look at the 5 girls they use in this advertisement! They all look very similar, don’t they? But we know girls all look different from each other, right? Let’s talk about all the beautiful girls and women we know…”     

One more thing—when you are talking about beautiful girls and women—don’t forget to include yourself! Our girls need to hear that not only do their Moms believe that their daughters are beautiful (inside and out) but that they believe that they are beautiful (inside and out) too! We can’t expect our girls to see the beauty in themselves if we can’t see the beauty in ourselves.     

There are hundreds of tips in Good Girls Don’t Get Fat—I’ll look forward to hearing which ones the PigTail Pals Parents love!     

Me: Okay, I know I’ve asked you this two or three times on the phone, but are all of the stories real? I cannot put my head around some of the atrocious things parents say to their kids. And the girls who beat their stomachs to stop the hunger pains, or jab book corners or pencils into their sides to punish their bodies for expressing hunger….I just have to ask, this is all real?     

Dr. Robyn: Unfortunately, you can’t make this stuff up. So, yes, the stories are true.  The first one that I had heard from a woman a few years ago that made me gasp was the one in chapter 2 (p. 40) where the girl, Sage, age 5, was so eager to see her mother after being away from her all summer, and the first thing her mother said to her when the car door opened was “What happened to you? How did you get so fat? What have you been eating?” I knew then that this book was going to send me reeling. There were many nights I couldn’t sleep because of what the girls and women would tell me.     

Another story that really got me angry and sad was in chapter 4 (p. 120-121) where the mother didn’t speak up for her daughter, Rita, when she was continually bashed by the neighbor, in her own home! I could just hear the pain in the young woman’s voice as she told me what was said—about her body (i.e. “fat,” “ugly”)—about her character (i.e. “slut,” “will end up fat and pregnant and living off you”)—and how nobody came to her rescue even at the young age of 10 years old. Rita is admittedly broken as an adult and remembers clearly that any expression of hurt was quickly labeled “too sensitive.”     

When I spoke to my site’s eating disorders blogger recently about the ‘pain for pounds’ section that you mentioned, she told me that it didn’t surprise her at all that people were doing these things to stave off hunger.  Yes, I was shocked when I initially heard about it too. While it’s a more severe approach, some girls will do whatever it takes to maintain a thin body. The most shocking part? Many of these unhealthy techniques are written about in plain sight on “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) or “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia) websites- from snapping a rubberband against your wrist each time you feel hungry to tightening your belt.     

Me: You and I both have very involved, hands-on husbands who spend a lot of time with our young daughters. You talk about this in Chapter 3, but how important are dads in this issue of raising girls with healthy body image? Its not just a mother/daughter thing, is it?     

Dr. Robyn: Yes, chapter 3 is devoted to Dads– Fathers play such an important role in shaping their daughters’ opinions about their bodies.  Dads are the first man in their daughters’ lives. They set the expectation about what men think is beautiful, acceptable, and worthy in women.  How fathers treat their spouses as well as what they say or do around their daughters regarding body size, weight, dieting, food, fitness, and boundaries all contribute to how their daughters view themselves. In my book, I talk about many different ways fathers can send the wrong message to their daughters. Do they make comments about people’s weights? Are they very controlling about what their daughters eat, the times they eat, how much they eat—influencing their daughter’s ability to learn self moderation and intuitive eating?     

One of the ways many fathers influence their daughters’ opinion about themselves is when they don’t say anything at all.  This may be surprising to some.  I call it “ghosting.” (p. 86) When fathers simply walk out of the room or stay quiet when the topic of weight, calories, fat, or body size comes up, they send a message that they endorse what’s being said.  Our daughters need to hear from their fathers that the information out there (“girls are worth more when they weigh less”), is a myth. They need to hear that men think women and girls with all different body types are beautiful and worthy and what is represented in the magazines is shallow and inaccurate.  They also need to hear “you are beautiful” from their fathers but also the many other things they admire in their daughters; strength, talent, smarts, effort, goals, and personality.     

Me: I love how your book includes dealing with siblings, teachers, and peers as we work to create a Fat Talk Free Zone around our daughters. Just this weekend my family had a party where I overheard two of my adult girlfriends and two of their teen daughters participating in Fat Talk right in front of my four year old. I wanted to scream, but instead I said something polite, trying to reframe the conversation for my daughter’s ears. With the holidays coming up, where special foods and diet talk prevail, do you have any tips for parents trying to raise their kids in a Fat Talk Free Zone?     

Dr. Robyn: (Funny, this is something I’m writing about for the Holidays!) In order to create a Fat Talk Free Zone (p. 117, 123), you first need to declare it.  The Holidays are a perfect time to do so because food and weight is often discussed.  I tell parents to go ahead and hang it right on the door.  Even something like; “You are now entering the Fat Talk Free Zone: Inquire Within” can give you an opening to discuss your new “rule” for “Healthy Holidaying.” If you have someone who repeatedly talks negatively about her body or someone else’s, talk to that person about your hope for the holiday. Feel free to blame my book or to ask him/her to help you establish the Fat Talk Free Zone for the sake of your girls. Next, be sure to set the tone. Be the one to break tradition and ask everyone to say one to three things about themselves that they’re grateful to be blessed with—and don’t be afraid to start. “I’m grateful for my beautiful curvy body, a mind that’s great with numbers, and a family that supports me in going a little against the grain.” You might also flip this and have everyone say something they admire about another person in the room. Finally, stick with it. This needs to be more than something you do on the holidays.  Establishing the Fat Talk Free Zone is something that takes work, patience, and practice so we need to do it all year long.      

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Folks, usually I don’t tell you to buys stuff (except Pigtail Pals stuff!) but I really believe this book is a must. Ask a couple of your parent friends to buy a copy and read it together. Talk about it. Get a copy for your babysitter. Share about it with the teachers at school, your pediatrician, anybody willing to listen and who is interested in ending this societal insanity of body pressure surrounding our girls. My house is a Fat Talk Free Zone. I demand it. We need to restore some health and common sense to the messages our daughters receive. “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” is an excellent, accessible, informative tool every parent needs.     

“Good Girls Don’t Get Fat” is available on Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble.  

Praise for “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat”:
“Good Girls Don’t Get Fat offers another deeply important layer to the conversation about body image and self-esteem. It is a vital and delicious read for anyone wanting to further explore the connection between our self-worth and appetite for life.” –Jess Weiner, author and Global Ambassador for the Dove Self Esteem Fund