Stop Using Stereotypes To Sell STEM to Girls

We all get it, we desperately need more girls involved in STEM at increasingly younger ages. As they age, we need to keep them engaged there. We do a great disservice to them when we raise them solely on a diet of vapid princesses, beauty queens and sexualized fashionistas.

But when we use princess culture, pinkification, and beauty norms to sell STEM toys to girls and fool ourselves that we are amazing and progressive and raising an incredible generation of female engineers we continue to sell our girls short. It is the equivalent of covering broccoli in melted processed cheese and thinking we’ve very served a healthy meal.

Girls do not need the Pink Princess Hook to get them interested in building or engineering. They need to be handed building materials and the message, “Hey! You are a person with a brain and two hands. Go build, it is great fun!” Kids are naturally curious which makes them natural experimenters which makes them natural builders and creators. All of that comes organically. NO WHERE is the princess complex hardwired.

Stop believing the hype, “Well, if it gets girls building that is all I care about.” No. Just no. Have more faith in girls that they don’t need products dripping in the pink syrup and exhausted princess stories. Be brave enough to tell new, more daring stories. If you go there, the girls will come. They don’t need pink bread crumbs leading the way. Have the strength of your convictions.

I know it is a common belief at some very popular manufacturers of girls toys right now to use the princess hook as any means necessary to get girls building. I know the marketing around some of these companies has the Internet swooning and in love. I’m just not buying it.  I know that to publicly deviate from this thinking may leave me unpopular. But that doesn’t make me wrong.

You cannot create a toy meant to break down stereotypes when you start off with the ideal that “we know all girls love princesses”. That is a stereotype. Not all girls love princesses. Many girls are limited to and even force fed princesses. Many families stay far away from the princess industry. Don’t confuse these two ideas.

This difference is a company that thinly veils mediocre building toys as girl empowerment while still using the same marketing tactics that we can’t stand – namely gender stereotypes and low expectations of girls. As you view this slick marketing, ask yourself if the toy is really that engaging and complex. Is the toy even capable of the engineering concepts being shown and celebrated? I know people will say, “But this is a step in the right direction and we should support it.” Yes, but at the same time, with all of the awareness that is out there, all of the studies and articles published, is it fair that we ask for giant leaps in place of smalls steps? Have we arrived at a time when we can expect more than scraps?

Do the ends justify the means?

For example, this Lego nightgown that has girls “Building Beauty”. Is there a pajama set for boys named “Building Handsome”? Of course there is not. When my daughter builds with her Legos, she builds ocean side villages and tidal waves, science labs, schools, office buildings, and hospitals. We don’t focus on beauty or princess pageants, we focus on brains. It would be nice if these engineering toys did, too.

Lego Friends “Building Beauty” nightgown. (Photo sent in by Amanda Cowell Jones. Thank you!)

Yo Lego, this is building beautiful. And it has nothing to do with what my daughter looks like

 

 

I want all of you to soak this in. Print it out, push it up against your forehead, and soak. it. in.

“After grading finals yesterday, I put my finger on what was bugging me about the whole Goldie Blox argument of “But girls like princesses!” The prompt for the final was two questions: who am I and who do I want to be (referencing and reflecting on the literature we studied this term). Several of my students, who are bright, capable, talented young women, wrote about how they felt restricted or “less than” or “other” because of their looks, and how they didn’t want to or like to feel that way. They said that they felt like women’s accomplishments are tied in no inconsequential way to their appearances. One even wrote “It’s not enough for me to be a good athlete and a good student. Society says I should look beautiful, too, or I’m a failure.”
These girls grew up in the early stages of princess culture. They absorbed the message that their accomplishments don’t mean much unless they’re accompanied by a certain beauty standard. Another said “I’m afraid to draw attention to myself because of the blemishes on my face.” Another: “I know I should care more about who I am than what I look like, but I still think of achievement in terms of weight and appearance.”
Toys that emphasize girls’ appearances rather than their abilities, or that place appearance alongside ability, send toxic messages to the young women they become. It matters. And I don’t want my daughter — or anybody else’s daughter — to feel less than awesome or that she’s somehow a failure because her abilities aren’t paired with a perfectly made-up face or size zero figure or a boyfriend. I don’t want to read essays from my full-of-awesome students that break my heart with the baggage they’re carrying already about womanhood.” -PPBB Community Member Gina Caponi Parnaby

The messages we give our daughters in childhood matter. Make them healthy, empowering ones. And don’t settle for anything less.

 

Why my daughter will not be limited to a 1950's era house-cleaing, cupcake-baking, princess-and-fashion-worshiping sex kitten glitter bomb

One of the great many reasons I become so annoyed with marketers and toy companies reducing my daughter to a 1950′s era house-cleaing, cupcake-baking, princess-and-fashion-worshiping sex kitten glitter bomb is that the following is a list of topics we just discussed before I could get my seven year old to go to sleep tonight:

- Imperial colonization of Africa
- Trans-Atlantic slave trade
- how to build a rondoval
- how humans started navigating the Earth
- how different cultures pass diseases to each other
- what was life like in ancient Greece and Egypt
- how does time pass, starting with the cave people
- the stratification of wealth in Africa
- will I buy her the Star Wars game she wants
- can constipation kill you
- what did cave people’s feet look like
- how did the ancient Celts make underwear
- do I love her a smidge more than I love her little brother
- did cave people wear skins fur side in, or fur side out
- sanitation practices of anciet Egypt

When we limit our daughters, we limit our daughters. Luckily for me, I had great advice and a strong intuition not to limit my daughter to what the pink aisles held for her. Instead I offered her the world.

And each night, she goes to bed knowing the world is hers.

Repackaging Princesses

I’ve been saying for four years that I am not anti-princess, I am anti-limitation. Princesses (and knights and castles and kings and queens) as one piece of the pie in childhood is super great. Princess Culture, and the limiting scope it puts on femininity with a big focus on external beauty and materialism is not great and not healthy for girls.

I love when parents repackage and widen the definition of “princess”. Take for example, this fantastic drawing and story from PPBB Community Member Hannah Wahl……

“My daughter loves princesses right now, and asked me to draw her a castle scene. I made “Princess Reads-a-lot”, which she liked, but felt wasn’t really “princessy” enough. So I drew “Princess Adventure”. That sparked a story and we went on to make a queen chef and a king astronomer. I tried to placate her need for a maid with a magical cleaning prince, but she insisted that castles need maids. So I drew a unisex scuba diving maid cleaning the moat. She loved it and went on to draw her own pictures of the inside of the castle!”

Nice work, Hannah!

A princess drawing by Hannah Wahl and her daughter.

Ordinary Moments and Marriage Proposals

Big expectations can trump ordinary moments. Image: Disney (C)

Eleven years ago today my husband asked me to marry him. I remember it was Martin Luther King Day because we had both had the day off, a rare event for him as he was serving in the Navy at the time. We were living in San Diego, and had spent the day with an early walk on the beach and then went to Balboa Park for a picnic and an afternoon spent reading while sprawled on blanket in the shade of the giant trees.

That night as we were getting ready for bed I was picking up our clothes from the floor, and stood up to find a little box with a ring in it sitting on my night table. I was completely caught off guard, which is what my now-husband wanted. He laughed and pulled me into his arms.

He said that he had thought about doing it at the beach or Balboa Park, or a fancy dinner downtown, or maybe a hot air balloon at sunset over the bay or a rowboat on the lagoon, but he wanted to propose during an ordinary moment, because our life together would be full of ordinary moments with a few big moments sprinkled in between. He wanted to know if I would love him through the years of ordinary moments.

I said yes and we kissed and then he put the ring on my finger.

We didn’t have the money for a carat diamond like most of my friends at the time were getting, but he knew that kind of thing wasn’t important to me. He could have planned something over-the-top and flashy so I’d have a great story to tell while my friends admired my ring, but flashy isn’t really our style. Technically my proposal came while I was picking up dirty socks that had fallen short of the hamper, but it felt more romantic than what it sounds.

As we were laying in bed together I laughed and told him I always thought I would be proposed to on Christmas morning or in a rowboat. He said he had thought about Christmas morning, but that my brothers had told him that would be like a bad diamond store commercial. (I didn’t share those sentiments and was pissed for two weeks.) But I’m glad that I didn’t have a Princess Complex about all of it, hung up on the carat diamond or the perfect proposal. I’m glad that I was able to get out of my own way and see the value in a guy who wanted years and years together of happy, ordinary moments.

He asked why a rowboat, and I said it was from watching too many romantic comedies in high school and college with my girlfriends. I told him I called it the  “The Little Mermaid  Complex” that builds girls up into thinking the perfect guy would provide these mind-blowing dripping-with-love romantic moments so that you know he is the one. He said flying magic carpets and rowboats were romantic, but they didn’t give you happy ever after.

“But then you get off the rowboat, and then? You never really see the happily ever after in those movies, do you?” he asked.

“That’s because they don’t make enough movies about the ordinary moments,” I answered.

 

I’ve watched a few people get engaged, like at the ballpark or a restaurant. I clap and cry every time. I love the story of my best friend who ruined the first two proposals in a tale of hilarity but is now happily married with a beautiful son. Or my other friend who did have the picnic at sunset on the bay and then a small group of friends surprised her at a beautiful Italian restaurant for dinner. Her husband had written her a beautiful poem, and he had me proofread it for him and then try to keep it a secret for three days. One girlfriend just got engaged a couple of weeks ago, and her fiance was so nervous he dropped on one knee outside Starbucks just to get it over with so he could breathe again. I love their stories, perfect for each of those couples. And I love my story, dirty socks and all. I didn’t love it at first, but almost nine years into marriage, I value it now.

With all the focus on little girls being princesses and grown women being in shows that compete for husbands or act horrible to each other once they are the housewives of rich husbands, I hope other families are focusing on the ordinary moments like ours does. There is a special beauty in the authenticity of it all.

Maybe a rowboat at twilight with fish spontaneously deciding to be fountains while a handsome prince sings to me the second time we meet would blow my mind. But I’m thinking probably not.

As I look over at my kids while I write this, one is in his underwear jumping on the couch pretending to be a spotted dolphin and the other is setting up a dolphin aquarium built inside of an igloo tent. There is popcorn on the floor and a basket of laundry that needs to be put away. There is always a basket of laundry that needs to be put away.

I’ve never been married to a prince and I’m sure that is a sweet gig if you can get it. But I think I like my guy and our extraordinary children, and all of our ordinary moments.

A Different Narrative

My daughter has been raised with stories about strong girls. Since she was a baby, it has been one long and steady stream of girl empowerment. If a female character was passive or needed rescuing, or used her beauty as a weapon or currency, she didn’t make the cut. She has been given a narrative of girls who are clever and brave, adventurous and kind. Hence, we’ve been rather light on the Disney Princesses here. (Yes we love Merida, and Mulan is pretty rad, too.)

Amelia has been given a different narrative for what it means to be a girl. More “Violet the Pilot”, Ramona Quimby, and Amelia Earhart (her namesake) stories than Sleeping Beauty. Amelia doesn’t own a pair of play high heels, but she does have purses and a tiara stuffed into her dress up drawer, along with her swords and capes and binoculars. She has fancy dresses and mermaid tails, and superhero masks and pirate outfits. She gets to decide what her story is. We don’t buy packaged or character dress up outfits.

Amelia has been raised with a different narrative. She sees things differently. She defines things differently. Not better, just differently.

Amelia loves mermaids, and there was no chance of keeping Princess Ariel out of the house. My husband let her watch the movie this summer, and she regularly checks out Ariel books from her school library. I take it all in stride, even though that is the Disney Princess I loathe the most.  But Amelia doesn’t like Ariel’s story, and spends hours at our kitchen table writing and illustrating different versions. Amelia has a different narrative for what it means to be a princess, to be a girl.

I look at one image, and see a girl ready to take on the world. I look at the other image, and see much less of that.

Amelia will be given the space to define herself and her place in this world.

So far, I really like what I see. I like how my little girl plays princess.

7yo Amelia dressed as a character she created called Princess Kitty.

These ladies have not made the cut for us. Disney (C)

 

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.

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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.

Disney Almost Gets Brave

With any children’s movie made these days, it is a sure bet that the products meant to bring ancillary revenue will immediately follow. And so it is with Pixar’s “Brave”. I loved the movie, and have been anticipating the roll out of the merchandise. You may have already read my comparison of Mattel’s sexualized Merida doll to the toys offered at the Disney store, which is where we will be shopping for the very first time this weekend.

“Brave” is actually not the first movie we have seen as a family that has rubbed off on my kids. Other movies that my six year old daughter has loved:

1. “Nim’s Island” — she carried a blue rubber iguana around for months

2. “Land Before Time” — she was obsessed with dinosaurs and volcanoes for two years

3. “Free Willy 4″ — an exhaustive internet search found a Bindi Irwin scientsit surfer girl from the Sydney Zoo

4. “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” — fueled Amelia’s passion for mismatched socks and disgusting names for sandwiches

My daughter saw “Brave” on opening night, and we are going again as a family + grandparents this weekend. Both my six year old girl and four year old boy are in love with Merida’s character, and because I have advocated and waited so long for a heroine like this, I’m going to eat some crow and let them pick a toy from the Disney store. I’m thinking we’ll pick up some of the little action figure toys, as I’ve been saving cardboard boxes and plan to spray paint them in order to turn them into a castle and bear’s lair.  I always like to be an educated consumer, so I took a look on the Disney store website so I will know what to expect when we get to the store.

First, I noticed that with the box office success of the film the options for merchandise have quadrupled. I think Disney was holding back to see whether or not the film flopped. Second, I still really like the dolls and plush toys from Disney over what Mattel created for the big box shops. I am really pleased that Disney left Merida looking natural and just like a sixteen year old girl should look. Third, I immediately noticed some disconnect with the princess I saw in the film, and the princess Disney is marketing to my kids. Mostly, I cannot find a bow and arrow set, but do have the choice of a bedazzled magic wand.

Disney, you almost got it.

The princess dresses are your standard Disney fare that I was expecting. There is a lot that could have been done with the dress up collection that wasn’t. Shame.

I cannot recall Merida wearing feather bejeweled kitten heels in the movie. I imagine those would have made her action scenes a tish more dicey. Also, those heels make me think of the Playboy Mansion so we’ll be leaving those at the store. The description for these is ridiculous, as golden jewels do not a heroine make.

Brave slippers for girls from Disney. Indeed.

Great moogly boogly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next is the golden gladiator sandals which, again, Merida never wore. That’s the thing about 10th century Scots, they weren’t big on the bling. But Disney sure thinks it is in the genetic code of 21st century girls! Squee!

A step up from the bedroom kitten heels.

This description does encourage some adventurous play. I wonder if the constricting sandals would allow it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, I’m wearing gladiator sandals today (magenta pink, to boot) and I suppose I could run and play in them. I’m not sure I could fight a bear in them, but then again I’m also not willing to try. I do like the description for these better than the heels, as at least this focuses on what a girl is doing, rather than how she looks. I would like Disney to have the foresight to create deep green soft-soled ballet flats just like Merida’s from the movie, adorned with a Celtic knot….something to run and climb and jump and play in, just like Merida.

I’ve saved the best for last. I paid very, very close attention the movie. I recall Merida climbing a waterfall, commanding her giant horse, wielding a sword, and showing time and again that she is an expert archer. My daughter really loved the archery theme to the movie, so I was looking for a bow and arrow set she could play with outside while she defended our tree fort. Would you believe Disney doesn’t carry one? Amazon does, so I’m hoping Disney just sold out of theirs. Because I missed the part when Merida was holding this:

What. In. The. World.

Wouldn't shimmering jewels and flashing lights attract bears? Me thinks yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still plan to let my kids pick out some little figures from the Disney Store that they can use in the castle we build, but I won’t be getting them any of the dress up clothes. I need my little Scottish adventurers to be running with wild abandon through my backyard (using pool noodles for bows I suppose). And because I’m writing a book on the gendered marketing towards girls, I won’t have the time to fix busted children’s high heels or torn jeweled sparkle dresses.

So while “Brave” sits at #1 across America this week and is earning an A rating from audiences everywhere, one could assume Americans were ready for a self-rescuing, doesn’t-need-a-prince, adventuring not-focusedon-my-looks princess. I guess Disney wasn’t.

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Update: I love to make things and craft with my kids, so I knew if I spent enough time on Pinterest I’d a way to make our own bow and arrow so that the kids can pretend to be having adventures right along side Merida. It took me all of 15 seconds to find this project, which we’ll be doing this weekend! I think I’m going to have the kids include the colors from our family’s tartan and draw our own Celtic knots to adorn the bow.  Find the project HERE.

 

Make your own bow for a little Highland Games action in the backyard!

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.

 

   

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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

Book Review — “Princess Recovery: A How-To Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters”

I love this book from Dr. Jen Hartstein!

 I’m told the first 35 years of parenting are the most difficult. I tend to agree. Today’s parents face the extra challenge in our culture of wading through the omnipresent Princess Culture with their daughters (and maybe sons). Some little girls are drawn to frilly and princessy things, and that is a wonderful part of childhood for the young imagination to explore.

But there is another side to princesses. It is often called “Princess Culture”, and is defined by the obsession of all things pink, hyper-girly, beauty-focused play, and a sense of entitlement. Lacking from this is the idea of teaching girls to be confident, competent, and able to rely on themselves. It leaves our girls with a skewed sense of the world and their place in it. 
 
I have many parents email me asking for help with their girl who is princess crazy, and demonstrating some undesirable behaviors as a result. Maybe the little girl is too focused on her looks, is behaving with a sense of entitlement, or insists on playing the same princess story line over and over and over again. Parents want to know how to break the focus on beauty and vapidness, or maybe expand their daughter’s definition of what it could mean to be a princess and offer her different ideas of play.
 
I now have the perfect book to recommend to them — “Princess Recovery: A How-To Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters”  by my friend Dr. Jen Hartstein. This book is fabulous, I loved reading it (three times now!). My girl isn’t a princess girl, but I see how the info in Princess Recovery can help me navigate the waters of girlhood because the marketing to our daughters on how they should be a girl is relentless.
 
Dr. Jen’s book takes parents through the idea of using media literacy skills, creativity, and tangible tips and activities to get girls in the mindset of being strong and empowered and writing their own stories that get them to their own happy ever after. She takes us through the problematic lessons girls learn from Princess Culture, to the steps she’s termed ‘The Princess Recovery Program’, to chapters that give a Princess Symptom and a Heroine Value.
 
The book isn’t so much about tearing princesses away from our little ladies, nor does it advocate raising girls in a protected bubble. This book is all about striking balance, and making sure our girls are getting the best out of childhood and their interest in princesses, and giving them lessons and experiences that build them up and leave them prepared and ready to take on the world. Because this book has such a balanced approach, I feel confident in recommending it to our Pigtail Pals Community because as we all know, there are so many ways to be a girl.
  
Princess Symptoms like “Appearances Are Everything” and “Entitlement” and “Rescue Me!” are countered with Heroine Values like “Smarts Pay Off” and “Hard Work” and “Set High – but realistic – Expectations”. This book does such a great job of helping parents draw out the best from their girls, while not taking anything away from them or telling their girls that what they love is wrong or silly.
 
Even if you don’t have a princess girl, I think this book is still a great resource for raising girls in today’s culture. And to be honest, I even picked up some tips for helping me with my son. When I first met Dr. Jen and she told me about her book, I was a little leary it would be off-putting to parents who would feel like they would be on the defensive for their princess girls. I am so pleased I was flat wrong. I promise you, this book will leave you feeling optimisic and excited about new ways to challenge your girl, and open her world even wider. I read this book once because I had to in order to be able to review it. I read it twice more because I loved it.
 
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I asked Dr. Jen why she was inspired to write this book, and she answered: “I work with lots of young women in my private practice, and I notice that many of them (too many) are focused on their appearances, what other people think of them, and how they present themselves to the world. They look to the external world to provide them with a sense of self, meaning, and understanding.

When I stood back from it, I realized that these feelings are rooted in their childhoods, so I started to do some research about what kind of influences start so young, and are so powerful, that these young women, who have so much to offer, cannot see it.

This brought me to the princess culture, and to Peggy Orenstein’s fabulous book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.” Her book highlighted what the problem was, and motivated me to provide a guide that could help parents begin to know HOW to deal with the problem, in the hopes that these young women would feel more in control of their lives earlier in their lives.

Next, I asked Dr. Jen about the feedback she has gotten: “The feedback that I have gotten from parents has been really phenomenal. I think most have been able to utilize the strategies and ideas with their daughters, and have found the recommendations to be practical, useful and easy to implement. In fact, some mothers have stated that they are starting to think about how they are going to utilize some of the ideas for themselves!
Overall, I think people have really received the book well and are finding that they can utilize the ideas to shift their princess to heroines…and they girls can wear their tiaras as they play in the mud.”
  
 
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Dr. Jen Hartstein
 
Dr. Jen is a nationally recognized child, adolescent and family psychologist based in New York City. She is also the mental health contributor on CBS’ The Early Show and regular contributor on the Anderson show with Anderson Cooper.
 
You can find Dr. Jen and her blog HERE.