What Choice Do I Have In Explaining ‘Sexy’ To My Little Girl?

In a hyper-sexual culture that markets sex directly to young children, parents are forced to explain adult concepts at ages we never dreamed of. When I first became a parent I never dreamed I’d be having conversations about sexiness with my 8yo almost-third grader. But I am, because I’d rather she get our family’s definition than that of the marketers.

The most popular fashion dolls in 2014, marketed directly to young girls.

The most popular fashion dolls in 2014, marketed directly to young girls.

Blog Comment (Judgement) left by Helga P: “8-year-old going on 25. Third grade teacher is going to have loads of fun redirecting conversations with this girl withal all her talk of sexiness.”

PPBB Response: “Helga – No, actually my daughter is 8 going on 9. I’ve been forced to explain topics to her I didn’t think we’d approach until middle school, but our hyper-sexualized culture made it impossible to ignore or hide from. She is a very intelligent child who asks insightful questions so I felt it was best to answer them with the information she was looking for. Most kindergartners these days know the word “sexy”, I am a parent who decided to inform my child what it actually means so that I can teach her that “sexy” isn’t for kids, despite it being constantly marketed to them.

I cannot raise my daughter in a bubble, but I can make sure she is brought up to think critically about media, to have a strong body image, and to receive an education about sex and sexuality that is both sex positive and age appropriate.”

 

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies is a small business owned and operated by Melissa Atkins Wardy in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.
 If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit www.pigtailpals.com.
 Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.
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Sexy Merida Did Not Take Place In A Vacuum

The redrawing and sexualizing of Merida did not take place in a vacuum. It is sexy Merida + cast of existing coquettish princesses + Barbie empire + Bratz + Monster High + Winx Club + sexy Tinker Bell+ + sexualized clothing in Girls dept at stores + lack of meaningful roles and representation in media + culture saturated in sexualization and objectification of females of all ages + + + +

They’ve even sexed up My Little Ponies, Rainbow Brite, and Candy Land. CANDY LAND, People.

Each one of these instances is a drip landing in a bucket. The problem is, that bucket is now overflowing and our young daughters are standing in a BIG frigging mess, knee deep. And the stain left by that mess is the idea that looking sexy for external validation, to the exclusion of ALL other characteristics and talents, is what gives a girl her worth.

Hell no. HELL. NO.

For those who say we should be concerned about rape culture and equal pay and lack of equal political representation, yes. Yes we should be, and that is the weight women bear on our shoulders. But instead of telling us what to think, because that just doesn’t go over well with me, try thinking from our perspective and seeing that ALL of those problems some think are bigger, independent issues start as the festering sore that is the complete sexualization and objectification of women in our society. How can women as a whole achieve parity in society if individually we are only valued by that society according to how f*ckable we are? THIS is where that idea gets its start, and that idea is being taught to our very smallest of girls.

That idea doesn’t sit well with me. I think it is time we change the way we think about our girls.

This is how girlhood is marketed. Is this okay with you?

Conversations About Short Dresses and Bras For Bitty Boobies

These two conversations took place between me and the six year old Original Pigtail Pal this past week.

“Well, I just don’t know about that. That’s a real short dress. Mom, I think she’s just trying to be fancy grown up, but you can almost see her vagina!” -6yo Original Pigtail Pal, upon seeing some high school girls dressed up for homecoming in some VERY short dresses.
“Um, yeah. Those dresses are really, really short. I think they would be very hard to dance in. I would be worried my bottom would show.” -Me
“Yeah, totally. Or your gina could just pop right out. I sure hope she doesn’t sneeze or bend down to pet a puppy.” -OPP

 

I will always help her try to make sense of our sexed-up culture as it plays out in front of us. The truth is there are thousands of media messages and marketers waiting and wanting her to adopt, consume, and become a participant in the practice of sexually objectifying herself, and that is something I will continue to fight because my daughter has worth far beyond the sex she has to offer. I want her to come into her sexuality on her own terms, not someone else’s. And when she is a teen and wants to experiment with sexiness and being adult, I want her to understand that has very little to do with putting the private parts of her body out for public viewing.

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“Mom, can I wear your bras?” -6yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia
“You don’t have breasts, Smalls. Why would you need a bra?” -Me
“Just for fancy dress up. Can I wear it for pretend?” -OPP
“You can pretend to wear it.” -Me
“C’mooooooon. Can I get my own bras then?” -OPP
“I will get you a bra when you start to develop breasts.” -Me
“Can I get one tomorrow?” -OPP
“If you develop breasts overnight tonight, yes. Otherwise, no, that is something you can wait for until you are a bigger girl.” -Me
“How come you always say no to stuff?” -OPP
“I’m not saying “No”. I’m saying “I love you” in a way you’ll understand years later.” -Me

 

When little girls want to wear their mama’s heels, bras, jewelry, or makeup during dress up and pretend, I think it is a fun and safe way for them to be temporary visitors in the Land of Grown Up, and experiment and role play in a safe environment. I object to adult things being shrunk down and marketed to little girls, forever blurring the line between a girlhood of play, and a woman’s world of beauty and sexiness. Pretending to be adult during imaginary play is quite normal….having adult items meant to make a grown woman more sexually attractive turned child-sized = not normal. Or developmentally healthy.

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.

Sexualization Shouldn’t Sell Swimsuits

Image from Submarine Kids (R)

Dear Deborah Soriano,

Yesterday I received a message from a reader of mine who had gotten an eblast from a company marketing your line of swimwear, with the tag line as being “kid-appropriate”. She was a little shocked, as was I, when we went to your website and found very young female models vamped up and posed provocatively in your Submarine swimwear line. Little girls do not wear wigs and make-up to the beach, nor does the way you have them posed come naturally to them. You have directly and willingly sexualized these young girls for your commercial purposes.

As a mother of a young girl and a children’s apparel manufacturer myself, the photos on your website make me extremely uneasy. I personally find them to have crossed the line of appropriateness. While not illegal or pornographic, you certainly are playing up the pending sexuality of these little girls to sell your garments. Deborah, I find that repulsive.

Image from Submarine Kids (R)

As a woman and as a fellow business owner, I ask that you take some time to examine your marketing practices, and consider a more appropriate and non-sexualizing approach when you shoot your next season’s release. Certainly you have creative staff on hand to allow your brand to continue to be trendy and hip without having to exploit children to make sales. Your company’s practices directly contribute to the culture of sexualization our children are forced to grow up in. There is no reason or excuse for it.

I frequent children’s boutiques regularly both for business and for my family’s personal shopping. When I see your brand in their retail spaces, I will be sure to mention to each and every shop owner my issues with the level of sexualization portrayed on your website, thus leaving me never wanting to purchase your clothing or swimwear for my own daughter.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you the issues around sexualization and perhaps help you craft some better business practices.

Best-

Melissa Wardy

Owner/Family Advocate Pigtail Pals, LLC

www.pigtailpals.com

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PUSH BACK: If you find Submarine Kids (R) marketing practices to cross the line and directly contradict the company’s release (click to enlarge), I encourage you to email or call owner Deborah Soriano at  deborah@submarineswim.com or 305-931-4196 and in a kind and graceful way explain why these images upset you.

Text and image from Submarine Kids (R)