This Research Needs More Research

I have some issues with the new study out of Knox College that reported overwhelming numbers of very young girls choosing self-sexualization over a more appropriate choice. I was holding back sharing the links until I had time to digest it more and write about it.

I absolutely want more research out there on sexualization and young girls, and I absolutely want it to be good science. I’m not convinced this is it.

What stood out to me most was that the outfits are too extreme and too opposite each other for me to buy in to the stats coming out of this. I think the questions are leading, encouraging the girls to answer more to what culture expects them to think as opposed to how they truly feel. Also, unless these were children with no paternal influence in their life, I don’t understand how the influence of fathers is completely disregarded in this study.

Two paper dolls used during this study.

Maybe my issue is more with how the study is being headlined, because the important factors influencing the research are more notable to me than the “Nearly 70% of young girls choose to sexualize themselves in new study” media sound bites. It seems ridiculous to title something “Why 6-Year-Old Girls Want to Be Sexy” when the “WHY” was never asked during the study, and the “why’s” are speculative conclusions focused largely on the mothers of these girls. It also puts the onus on the little girls. Last time I checked, little girls are the collateral damage of a sexualized culture, not the reason for it. Little girls don’t want to be sexy, they are conditioned to thinking “sexy” equals “to be a girl”. A more appropriate title might have been “How Culture Teaches Little Girls to View and Relate to Narrowly-Defined Sexiness”.

I had a very similar experience with my two kids as the author of this post. My 6yo wouldn’t understand the nuance of a question asking her which girl is “more popular” because that is not a concept or word she knows. My daughter would have chosen both dolls as a choice to play with, because in her mind, the dolls equal people who have feelings and she has been taught to be a friend to everyone.
When Amelia chose the sexy doll for the questions I asked her, I then asked her why. (The “why” of the girls’ choices was missing from this study) She said it was too hot out today and she felt like wearing a skirt.

I agree with the conclusions the researchers made about moms being a key role in girls’ self-identity and push back against sexualization, low media is not a magic bullet (co-viewing appropriate media and teaching values is), getting girls in sports/dance, etc.

I disagree that religion is a buffer (often chastity instruction is equally sexualizing) and I do not think religion is necessary to creating a media literate family. Non-religious women can equally have “high body-esteem” and communicate morals and values. The inclusion of the dance studio girls seems odd to me. We talk frequently about how grossly sexualized many hip hop dance routines and costumes are for young girls. Mothers sign up their daughters for these studios, take them to lessons, and get them ready for performances. I’d like to know more about kind of dance studio it was, because it felt like that element was included intentionally to be able to draw the “sports is a booster shot” element. Girls ages 6-9yo are hugely influenced by their peers, and that was missing from this study.

How did you feel when you read about this study? It just never sat well with me, and I’ve been gnawing this over for a week. Thoughts?

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

Hey Mattel,

I am giddy. For three years I have been explaining to my little girl why your product lines Barbie and Monster High are not welcome in our house. I have dissected time and again the negative messages your “toys” give to little girls and their body image, sense of self worth, and developing sexuality. Quite a tap dance, I assure you, as my daughter is only six and the words I need to use to adequately describe your astoundingly sexualized dolls are not appropriate to say to her. Little ironic, don’t you think?

For over a year my little girl has been intrigued with Monster High and perks up at your commercials, or lingers near the boxes on the shelf when we’re shopping. She’ll ask for one, her four year old brother tells her they are “infropropee-it” (inappropriate) and off we go, leaving your craptastic dolls on the shelf.  Over and over and over again I would explain to her in an age appropriate manner, why your dolls are too sexualized for a little girl to be playing with, and how they diminish the values deep inside of her that she needs to stay strong and that I will fiercely protect. Over and over in my head I would be steaming mad at your 12 inch tall undead hooker dolls and thinking  “Mother bumping Monster High” to myself while I calmly and sweetly encouraged critical thinking and media literacy skills in my daughter. Over and over and over again.

People told me to just get over it, the dolls “aren’t so bad”, and to just accept them use them as teachable moments. Bullshit, I say.

These dolls are toxic. I know far too much about sexualization and its heinous impact on children, abysmal body image in girls of all ages, and the development of self esteem and healthy sexuality to relent. To be fair, you aren’t the only one adding to the sexualized cesspool that girlhood has become on the marketplace. But you certainly are one of the front runners and I guess the profit margin you have on these dolls helps you sleep at night. For goodness sake, you sexed up Merida. Seriously?

Listen up — You don’t get her. You don’t get my daughter. You’ll have to meet your bottom line and drive up your quarterly profits on the heart and soul of some other poor little girl, because you don’t get my girl.

See, two weeks ago she was lobbying big time for Monster High again, and wanting to wear make up out of the house. For the 6,429th time we discussed that she is a little girl, Monster High sends inappropriate and hurtful messages to little girls’ minds and hearts, and that when she is a teenager she can wear make up but not when she is six. Then she asked if Monster High dolls look like girls who smoke cigarettes. She is on an anti-smoking crusade this summer, and out of complete exasperation, I answered yes, Monster High dolls look like some girls who smoke.

My child recoiled in horror. She was shocked and offended. It was comical, and I felt a little bit like I was playing dirty, and then I remembered I was discussing with her plastic dolls dressed like tiny cheap sex workers that you somehow think are appropriate to suavely market and sell to children. We’re dirty six ways from Sunday on this one, so yeah, Monster High dolls now smoke.

The next day we were having ice cream with friends, and when my daughter heard me whisper something to one of the other moms, she asked if we were talking about something inappropriate. My friend asked my daughter what “inappropriate” meant, and my six year old clearly and eloquently said it is when something isn’t right or unsuitable. And then she used Monster High as her example, stating that they dress too grown up for children, the dolls are mean to each other, and wear too much make up and clothes that suggest the only thing they find important is what people think of how they look.

I was surprised and proud to hear her repeat back everything I’ve been saying about the awfulness of Monster High. I later asked her about what she said and she told me that knowing the Monster High girls smoke made her look at them differently, and suddenly they weren’t cool to her anymore. She said she understood the things I was talking about and she thought the dolls looked nasty.

Yesterday we had a colleague over for lunch, and when she and I were discussing sexualization, Amelia piped up and said the exact same things again about Monster High, adding in that the dolls dress in a way that is “too skimpy that makes boys want to kiss them but not be friends with them or see them as a whole person.”

The day we were eating ice cream wasn’t a fluke or rote repetition. My daughter gets it now. I refused to give in to the peer pressure and the cultural pressure, and I have a six year old who sees Monster High for what it is: sexualized garbage. She loves her monsters and walking through graveyards and creepy stuff, but we’ll stick to Tim Burton and Scooby Doo. She wants nothing to do with you and your trashy dolls.

I won this round. You don’t get her. You don’t get my daughter.

Cheers!

Melissa

Amelia at the Milwaukee Public Museum, on a trip to look at skeletons and "disgusting things".

Update 8/23/12: At this time, Comments are now closed to the post. This blog is for parents and concerned adults looking to fight the sexualized messages in the media and being sold to our girls. This post was meant to show one of many discussions I have had with my little girl about why Monster High is completely inappropriate for her, at six years old. This is also a blog that requires reading comprehension, and I sit here at my desk chuckling over the people losing their minds because I confirmed to my little girl that the Monster High dolls do look like the teenagers we saw smoking earlier that week when we were leaving the library. I fail to see the cause for attack over my daughter’s expression of her powers of comparison.

First Name Basis

While I was making dinner on Saturday evening, my husband decided to casually tell me that he had lost four year old Benny Boy at the hardware store that afternoon. Knowing  that I have drilled into my kids’ heads what to do in this situation (and have actually practiced it), I waited calmly for the rest of the story, pushing Nancy Grace-like headlines out of my head. He told me he had looked away for a minute to call me, and the kids were gone. They had walked away together, but then separated, our six year old going one way, and four year old Benny Boy the other way.

Ol’ Benny Boy knew to stay calm, find an employee, tell them my husband’s first name and our phone number, and that he needed help to find his grown up. My husband retrieved little Benny Boy from Customer Service, safe and sound.

When I talked to Benny about it later, I asked him how he felt about what happened and when did he realized he was lost. It can be difficult to get a straight story out of a little kid, especially when it deals with sequence of events. You have to be careful not to ask questions that are leading. I also didn’t want him to think this was a scary memory, I wanted it to be an empowering lesson. Essentially he told me it was fun until it wasn’t, and then he got scared and wanted his Daddy. He went up to “a nice old man” because “his tummy voice told him he was a safe man”. The customer (thank you, whoever you are!!) then took my son to an employee to have my husband paged to Customer Service. Benny told me he stayed calm the entire time and didn’t cry, but he did ask all the ladies behind the counter for hugs.

This is why we don’t make a big deal when our kids call us or other grown ups by our first names. There are more important ways to teach respect.

This is why I let my kids out of my sight, with room to explore and build independence. We have boundaries that are age appropriate, and those boundaries widen as the kids grow.

This is why I do not teach “stranger danger”, but rather my family treats people we don’t know as friends we haven’t met yet. My kids are very comfortable chatting with people. Benny can be very shy, but it seems he had strong social skills when he needed them.

This is why I teach my children to listen to their intuition, what we call our “tummy voices”.

We live in a generation of fear-based parenting, in everything from parenting magazines to news programs. I refuse to raise my kids to be scared of their world. I want them to be safe and aware, but never frightened. I want them out exploring and gaining independence and experiences away from me. I don’t necessarily want my four year old free lancing around a giant hardware store, but when he does, I’m very relieved he had the tool kit he needed to find his way back to us. Yes, I hugged him extra tight that night when I put him to bed, and gave him several long kisses on the top of his sweet head. When I said good night, I simply told him I was very proud of him for knowing what to do and listening to his tummy voice.

The moral of my story is to empower our kids to be self-reliant, and be able to stay safe by being able to get help for themselves when they need it.

 

Some great books that I’ve read on this subject:

“Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy

“Playborhood” by Mike Lanza

“The Gift of Fear” and “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker — both teach how to get to a place of awareness and intuition. My kids call this their “tummy voices”.

We also have a top secret family password for these situations. Every family should have a password that only their members plus 1-2 Emergency Contacts know. Growing up, mine was “strawberry”. If someone your child doesn’t recognize says they are to pick up the child because mom/dad couldn’t make it, they have to know the password or your kid doesn’t budge.

 

Bikini Babies, Outrage, and Making Change

Bon Bebe infant onesie being sold at Gordman's.

Folks by the dozen are sending me this, but I haven’t posted on it and won’t be starting the requested petition because I’m more interested in changing the conversation than leading one that goes “OMG this is so wrong. Who would buy this!?”

I have no idea why stores carry nor who would buy a sexy t-shirt for their baby. If it is supposed to be a joke, I guess it is as funny as racism and sexism are….not at all. I don’t see the funny in parents being willfully ignorant when it comes to the sexualization of their children. And I’m tired of doing blog posts that contain stories that get picked up by national news media with no mention or credit to me or the work Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies is doing.

The conversation needs to shift to the companies that are doing it right. PPBB carries over THIRTY designs that lift up and empower kids. The conversation needs to shift to experts telling parents the why’s and how’s of the harms of sexualization. Maybe if we start talking about healthier choices and the folks like us who are doing it right, the companies in the wrong will stick out to parents that much more. At the end of the day, are we just complaining and expressing faux outrage, or are we educating and making change?

Make change.

Educate people about Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, our apparel and our advocacy.

And when you see something damaging to childhood, use what you know about sexualization and body image to move off social media and contact the players involved in the making and selling of this constant stream of garbage.

Nothing changes if nothing changes. Be the game changer our kids need you to be.

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

Fifteen minutes of internet research found that this onesie is part of Bon Bebe’s “Wild Child” line, described as “outrageously funny” and “some are cute, some have attitude”. And many are sexualizing and make the unknowing child the butt of the joke. Aren’t some parents clever?

Bon Bebe has removed their contact info from their website, save but this phone number 1-877-3BONBEBE. Ask for Elan Rofe, the president or Michael Levine, the national sales manager.

Their address is 112 W 34th St, #1908  New York, New York 10120.

While I’m sure other store’s carry this tee and its offensive cousins from the Wild Child line, Gordmans is the one at the center of this controversy.
Gordmans, Inc.
12100 W. Center Rd.
Omaha, NE 68144
Ph: (402) 691-4000

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.

Taking Title IX for Granted

One of our best buds Z. and the Original Pigtail Pal Amelia.

I posted this photo on my personal page last night, celebrating the girls’ final game of t-ball (Home Run Derby, for the win!). This is 6yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia, and one of her best buds, Z. My mom left a comment under the photo saying how proud she was of Amelia, and to be sure to tell her that Gigi wasn’t able to play t-ball as a little girl and why.
Not having had any coffee yet, I didn’t understand what she meant…Had they not invented t-ball yet? Did she have a disease? And then my brain started chugging along and it hit me: Title IX.

I grew up playing soccer, baseball, volleyball, basketball, swimming, and learning to competitively sail. When my daughter was born, I dreamt about mighty mite soccer and softball games.

For every woman a generation older than me, who fought in big and small ways to get women and girls into sports, who played and practiced despite taunts and threats, who broke into coaching and professional competition, THANK YOU.
Thank you for working so hard and putting up with so much that for a minute, this mom was able to take for granted her daughter would grow up as an athlete, with every right to a strong body, confident heart, and all of the lessons learned on the playing field that will help her later in life to be an amazing individual.

Running her bases during the Great T-ball Home Run Derby of 2012.

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

Want to encourage athleticism in your girl? Check these out!

Women Talk Sports

Active Kids Club

Girls On the Run

KaBOOM!

Go! Go! Sports Girls

Chicks Play Sports

 

What are some other sites we should list?

Why Face Painting Matters

I’ve had several parents write in to our Facebook  page sharing their experiences with face painters at community events and children’s museums. One comment and photo came in, then another, and another. I took a step back to think about why this was important and why parents were sharing this with me. And then it clicked — this was more than the individual choices of these kids.  Face painting is one of the few activities where a service for children is marketed directly to children in real time, and the child present picks the product directly in front of the marketer, with the marketer being able to immediately influence the choice.

Why does this matter?

How many thousands and thousands of kids do you think face painters come in contact with? What messages could and should those people be sending? Several parents have written to me saying their daughter was discouraged from getting a sports ball on her cheek, and instead got a yellow flower. Or the little boy who was discouraged from getting a butterfly, until his mom had to step in and defend his choice. When face painters say “Oh, that’s a girl color, you don’t want that” they are directly impacting the child’s imagination and reinforcing gender stereotypes. They are directly using sexism to change what your child thinks.

It seems pretty obvious how sexist the reactions steeped in gender stereotypes are and how they limit our kids. I would like to instead focus on a few fine artists and kiddos who got it right:

A satisfied customer! Tiger Snake Girl.

 

“I just need to give massive kudos to the lovely woman who painted my daughters face today at Adventure Aquarium. B asked to be a snake, the woman asked if she wanted to be a green snake or another color. B opted to be an orange tiger snake. But she never once suggested the bright pink or purple and told her an tiger snake was an awesome choice!”  — Alicia, PPBB mama

A pigtailed baby jaguar.

 

“FULL OF AWESOME! I thought you might like to see who was totally full of awesome and getting her face painted as a baby jaguar in a sea of girls all getting their faces painted to be Hawaiian princesses at the local street fair on Sunday… :-) (Tallie, in her Full of Awesome Shirt!)”  — Roby, PPBB mama

A very delighted blue butterfly.

 

“I thought I’d share my son’s photo from the recent Renaissance Faire. We had to fight with the artist to get him the painting he wanted, rather than the “Boy one” she was insisting he would like better. Check out this face, does he look unhappy???” — Morgan, PPBB mama

This is one serious predator!

 

Natalie (7 yrs) to the face-painter: “I’d like to look like a tiger please.”
Artist: “Ohh, why that? You’re so cute, and you have such a pretty sparkly top on; wouldn’t you like some flowers or a rainbow instead? It would maaaaatch…”
Natalie: “No thank you. This outfit is for when I’m a dancer. The paint is for when I’m a predator. Tulips aren’t very good camouflage in the jungle.”
(You see that the frustrated artist couldn’t help herself and HAD to add some sparkle to Talie’s forehead and nose anyway. I hope it doesn’t glare and scare off all the prey.)” — Rachel, PPBB mama

Childhood is not a time for limitations. Childhood is a time for choices. We need adults to remember to respect and honor that, and pack away our preconceived notions of what boys and girls can and cannot do. In childhood, they should be able to do it all.

Is Mattel Brave Enough To Make An Un-Sexy Doll?

Despite not yet having seen the movie, my entire family is quite smitten with the new Pixar film “Brave”. We purchased three books this weekend about the movie, and we’ve read them several times over. From what I can tell, there is no prince coming to the rescue, those wild red curls are never tamed, and Merida is a fearless and determined heroine who saves her family.

Merida is the princess I’ve been waiting for. Amelia is counting the days until we are able to see the full story in theater on June 22nd. Her grandmother is driving down to see it with us. Our family is of Scottish heritage, and tales like the one Merida is in are the kind of stories about girls that I grew up with. A wild, adventurous, loud, weapon wielding, and independent princess is what I’m accustomed to. It is why, thus far, I’ve had no palette for the existing crop of Disney Princesses.

Merida is who we have been waiting for.

What does Merida’s body language say to you?

I shock even myself as I type this, but the marketing images and merchandise coming out of Disney/Pixar for “Brave” is something I support. I literally have nothing to complain about. Has Disney been listening? Did Disney read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” and read the “Redefine Girly blog? 

Merida is depicted as focused, determined, daring, fierce even. A Disney Princess, shown as fierce. Who knew? Her body language is confident, strong, athletic, and many times defiant. She is a skilled archer, rider, and swordfighter. She takes up space. Mulan would be pleased. I’m sure Sleeping Beauty has no idea what to do with herself. I have poured over the website, the Disney store, the story books, and I am in love with Merida.  

Sure, a parent could gripe about the commercialism surrounding this movie (and there is), but this is the larger-than-life character girls have deserved for a long, long time. Merida is our superhero. You bet I’ll be happily purchasing toys for my kids that celebrates a story of a girl who is strong and brave. Merida’s tale is epic, and I think it will sweep both boys and girls off their feet this summer. I think Merida is a game changer.

But before I get too carried away with my daydreaming, I was reminded this weekend why my family practices media literacy skills all of the time. Because certain habitual offenders force us to.

I’ve reached the point where I think Mattel cannot  help itself. When I compare the grab-and-go priced Mattel dolls (and descriptions) at Target to the more substantial action figure kits (at triple the price) from the Disney store, Mattel’s version of Merida falls flat. Is Mattel not brave enough to make an unsexy doll?

Is “unsexy” even a word? Given the fact that we are discussing toys for small children, does it matter? Why are there sexy toys to begin with? Because there is Mattel.

Mattel is home of Barbie, the recharged Polly Pockets, and Monster High. All three lines are aimed square at girls, and all three solidly hold a place on the continuum of sexualization. And then Mattel tried its hand at licensed Merida dolls. The Mattel recipe: enhance bust, princessify the dresses, add make up, and add sexy “come hither” bedroom eyes.

Contrast the Pixar character to the Mattel doll.

Mattel's version of Merida. Amelia thought it was Barbie.

 

 The image on the left is almost laughable. The toy that comes out of the package looks nothing like the character on the package. The toy looks like Merida’s hot older sister, who despite living in the Scottish Highlands during Medieval times, got her hands on some serious eye liner and lipstick.

The description to Mattel’s doll reads as such:

Product description for Mattel Brave toy.

 

So there is the word “adventure” in it. But the focus of the description is on Merida’s “gorgeous MagiClip fashion” and the “extra regal” look of the queen’s “elegant attire”. Comes with “additional fashion for Merida“. I’m also noticing the marketing photo from the website and the gown Merida wears on the doll held by my friend do not look the same. Also comes with a “dainty mum bear costume”. Uh, how many bears have you met that are “dainty”? And of course, the closer, the toy offers lots of imaginative playtime for “your little princess”. Not “you little archer” or “your little adventurer”. Mattel thinks all girls are princesses. The focus of this toy is on how the two females look, very little to do with what they are capable of doing.

Contrast that to Merida’s character description from Disney.com:

Disney’s character description of their new heroine, Merida.

 

Merida is described as passionate and fiery. She is most at home in the outdoors “honing her impressive athletic skills as an archers and swordfighter, and racing across the Highlands on her Clydesdale. I don’t get that from the Mattel toy.

The friend who sent me the images above of the Mattel product has this to say:

The girl loves princesses.  Seeing all of the little dolls wearing high heels, makeup, and a creepy “come hither” look makes my stomach turn every time my daughter gets a new one.  Where she only
sees Aurora, Snow White, or Jasmine (I hope), I can only see toy manufacturers throwing our kids and their self esteem under the bus to make a buck.  She is 4 and already wants to grow her hair because
princesses have long hair (she chooses to ignore the length of Snow White’s locks) and we just had a discussion yesterday about how everybody farts (don’t ask) and she is adamant that princesses DO NOT
FART.  What happens when she decides that all princesses are 5’10” and 98 pounds soaking wet holding a brick and starts starving herself to death?  One stupid little 4″ piece of plastic can be the one domino
that starts the “you’re not good enough” avalanche that could destroy my child.  And what about the boy?  That same doll shows him that girls are only desirable for their appearance.  I can think of no other reason for such a difference in appearance from the movie Merida and the toy than “sex sells.”  Even to 4 year olds.”   —Tawn M, PPBB Community Member

Do we need to sell sex to four year olds? Apparently not, and again shocked as I type this, Disney got it right. Look at their toys below. I’ll be going to the Disney Store, 45 minutes away, to purchase toys that are twice as expensive as what is available locally. Why? Because what is available locally is cheap, and my daughter and I have waited too long for a heroine like Merida to settle for second best. And I’ll never settle for sexy for my little girl.

Disney’s Merida doll.

 

   

?

??

Another Disney Store Merida toy.

Fairytales and the Next Best Thing

I love fairytales, like the one about a heroic unicorn my grandmother wrote and illustrated for me when I was a child, that I know read to my six year old daughter, Amelia. We are crazy excited to see “Brave”, and find out just how adventurous of a princess Merida really is. (Please, oh, please, Pixar, do not let my little girl down.)

We had inherited all of these Disney movies from my aunt, and I didn’t mind Amelia watching any of the princess movies now that she is older and has more critical thinking skills. We like Tangled, I knew she would like Mulan, and we still haven’t seen but are looking forward to Princess and the Frog.

It is no secret that our family is not big on passive princesses, like most of those of the Disney variety. In fact, my six year old has only seen two of the Disney Princess movies: Tangled and Little Mermaid. The first was my choosing, and we enjoyed it but I wasn’t in love with it. Little Mermaid was all my husband, he wasn’t familiar with the storyline and thought it was one of Amelia’s ocean videos. The child is convinced she is part dolphin, and recently has developed a love of mermaids. In my humble opinion, Little Mermaid is the worst of the worst of the DP movies, because a woman should never give away her voice or physically change herself to be with a man. I think there’s a difference between taking a little nap while your gallant prince fights for your safety, and say, giving away your most prized physical attribute so you can fall in love with a hot guy you saw on a boat. And yes, I get that my daughter probably isn’t drawing these same messages out of the story because she’s 6 and I’m 34.

The other day this conversation took place:

“Mom, the dad in Little Mermaid is so mean.” -Amelia

“How is he mean?” -Me

“He just yells at Ariel and doesn’t let her do what she wants.” -Amelia

“That’s because he is being a parent. It isn’t his job to be her friend.” -Me

“But she just wants to go on land and be with her boyfriend.” -Amelia

“Actually what she is doing is changing the most amazing thing about who she is, and giving that away to a person who is evil and manipulating her, all so she can completely change herself and abandon her family to be with a boy that she doesn’t know and who doesn’t know her.” -Me

‘Oh. Well, would you ever do that for Daddy?” -Amelia

“Good Lord, no.” -Me

“Your body got different when me and Ben were in your tummy. So that’s the same.” -Amelia

“That’s the complete opposite. Daddy had fallen in love with me for who I was as a person long before my body changed during pregnancy. Daddy and I were in love for six years before you came along. And having your body change while you grow a child is not the same as changing your body so someone will find you more attractive and hopefully fall in love with you.” -Me

“Well none of this matters because I’m never having babies.” -Amelia

“That is fine, and your opinion on that may or may not change. But you will most likely fall in love with someone and I want very much for that person to love and cherish you for you, for who you are as a complete person. You’ll be much happier in life if you surround yourself with people who value and accept you for being your authentic self.” -Me

Is There Any Turning Back?

This statement popped up yesterday in the convo about the sexualization of girls and one mother’s post about her realization she was complicit to the very thing she was against:

“Unfortunately, those parents who allowed themselves to be silenced, who accepted the sexualization of their daughters, who said “sure, thongs and shorts that say ‘Juicy’ on the rear are totally appropriate for my 9 year old” are the reason the rest of us have few or no options. When it stops making money, or there are proven ways that are better at making money, then other options will become available.” -Cyd Smith, PPBB Community Member

I think about this a lot, and wonder and try to understand what the parents in the mid-90’s and early 2000’s were doing and thinking. I was a nanny at that time, and I can remember my college friends and I being blown away by the advent of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Spice Girls and Bratz. I can remember us asking each other what in the world parents were thinking. I saw the families I nannied for struggle with how sexualized girlhood had suddenly become.
 
Then and now, I wonder, how did this happen? How did parents allow this? How is a scantily-clad gyrating teen girl performing on the Disney channel okay? How has a line of 9 inch dolls dressed like what most people would describe as a streetwalker been on the shelves for eleven years? How did little girls clothing morph into this inappropriate quasi club-hopping teen/adult look?

The sexualization of childhood has made huge amounts of money for companies. It truly has left us with fewer options as companies became less creative because, “Hey, if sex sells, sell it. The parents are buying it, so it must be okay”.

But we shouldn’t be buying it, and there is enough information out there now that parents can and should be doing better. I don’t necessarily need my kids to grow up inside a Norman Rockwell poster, but I refuse to accept the Pussycat Dolls version of girlhood. I just wonder, is there any turning back?