Tuesday, March 31, 2009

who thinks this is perfect?

Motherscribe put together a thought provoking post about some of the more sexually provocative images and products marketed toward our young daughters; and by default, or by design, our sons, too. Please check it out, here.

Coincidentally, just last week I was surfing cable TV when I saw a reality show, "Little Miss Perfect" about pageants for six year olds. You know, where moms make up their girls to look like Fifth Avenue prostitutes little princesses?

Throughout the show I kept thinking, "Who thinks this is perfect?"

It's a trend that the feminist in me finds troubling: Girl as pretty little impractical princess.

Motherscribe's post highlights similar but more disturbing trends aimed at girls and teenagers. The theme there? Teen girl as sexual plaything.

I kept thinking, what do we, as moms and dads, do to protect and prevent our girls from internalizing these messages? From going, "Oh cool. Buy me one, Mom?"

I don't pretend to have the answer.

I do think a healthy and nurturing homelife helps. Being a good role model is important too. Seeing a Dad who respects Mom and doesn't degrade women. Talking about healthy values that apply to girls/boys/women/men, to all human beings, in other words, is an advantage. But more specifically? I'm not really sure.

With my kids, I'm doing what I think will help. I set limits on their clothes, steering them away from provocative attire: no short skirts, no short shorts. I emphasize clothes as comfortable coverings, not showcases for our butts and boobs. I have not yet bought them skimpy bathing suits or string bikini's, aiming instead for full piece suits or tankini's. Of course, they haven't asked yet, either. This is not to say I won't buy skimpy bikinis when they are teens. Just that now, while I still control the purse strings have influence, I talk about the value of diving without having to worry about losing their bottoms. I talk about the freedom of running around the playground without the worry of underpants showing. In other words, here is what you'll like about this choice, instead of focusing on "trashy" or "bad girl" elements, because I don't go there.

Later, I expect, we'll talk about wanting to be taken seriously by boys. Wanting boys to listen to their ideas instead of staring at their breasts. And one way to guide boys in this direction is to dress in a way that is less distracting. But I'm not there yet and know I'll have a lot to figure out.

The other "rule" is no pierced ears until they are sixteen years old. This may seem archaic, and really? It is. But, to my surprise, they haven't complained (much). I tell them that being young is a time to play rough, run fast, ride bikes, do cartwheels and climb trees. They have the rest of their lives to worry about wearing the right color earrings, finding a matching pair, losing the posts, keeping track when they spend the night away, and spending their allowance on jewelry.

With my son? I talk about respecting girls and valuing them as people with minds and ideas, with feelings and preferences, wants and needs. He has a lot of friends who are girls so I know this helps.

Is any of this working? I don't know. But...

Over the weekend our family was riding in the car when we passed a teen neighbor who had just gotten her hair dyed a bright blonde, tinged with blue. One of my daughters said, "Hey Mom, promise me something? One day when I ask to dye my hair, will you tell me no?"

I'd say, so far so good.


The Girl Next Door said...

Oh yeah, I'd say you've got it just right.

I think I was blessed with a Daughter who didn't want those things - she's shunned name-brand "hot" items as ridiculously over-priced b/c of the label. Learned that at home? Maybe, maybe not. But I'll take it.
And I had the same thoughts on the earrings, although I caved when she was 14 and in high school.

And I think Grandma's saying still works, "Pretty is as Pretty does." Nothing makes you uglier than a nasty, selfish personality....

blognut said...

I have no answers either... it's as disturbing to me as anything I've ever seen and all I can do is try to teach my kids respect for themselves, and for others. I hope this works.

Margo said...

My older (16 yr old) daughter asked me what I would think if she got a tattoo on her ankle, a musical note - not now, but when she's 18. I told her that would be her business - that I would advise against it - but she is capable of making many decisions now and will be even more so then. I don't know... I think she was testing me :) She seemed very pleased with my answer. Thank goodness she wasn't asking about a belly button ring or breast implants; I don't think I would have been able to hold back.

FeministGal said...

I was just having this conversation with a coworker who has a 13 year old daughter. Her daughter is conventionally gorgeous and she knows it. So my coworker doesn't know how to react to that. Should she encourage positive self-esteem by telling her daughter how beautiful she is as all moms should tell their daughter or should she completely ignore looks and appearance and only focus on the internal, like intelligence and personality?

It's a really tough balance to foster positive self esteem esp for young girls who unfortunately feel so much of their self worth is tied up in their looks. Great post and i can't wait to read the article you linked to.

JCK said...

You sound like such a wonderful mom. I love how you keep the focus on practicality.

All of it is disturbing, but I am so encouraged by the interest in our blogging community and believe it can be a powerful source of change.

Your images of the Beauty Pageant girls brought tears to my eyes. What about the exquisite beauty of a child that age? Alone. Without being cluttered by make-up and hair?

Thank you for linking my post.

Heather T said...

I think it's something in the moon. I posted about almost exactly the same topic today. I don't have or give an answer, though.

Right now I'm happy that the teen girl I have has mostly learned how to balance her desire to look cute and trendy with other things in her life. But it's always something you think about as a parent and as a woman. I'll check out Motherscribe's post now. Thanks for the link!

AnnD said...

I haven't read the article yet. But, this is something I truly worry about. I am sooo not a girly-girl. But, my daughter seems to, earrings, dresses, tiaras (BARF!)

I so wanted to avoid this trap but my mom steers her in that direction and once she loves her tiara and Tinkerbell dress...who am I to take it away from her and tell her she can't have it? A two year old won't understand that!

Emma has really been into Tinkerbell lately...and I recently sat and actually watched that movie and I was struck by 1.) how completely un-likeable that character is and 2.) how much that charcter is into her appearance. I mean, the fairy flys over a mirror, stops, looks down and measures her hips with her hands and shakes her head in disgust!!!

I was mortified!

I suddenly realized what a battle this is going to be for fight society and all of those horrible messages about self-image.

e.beck.artist said...

i'd say yes to blue highlights before i'd say yes to a lot of other things! like tattoos and multiple peircings and slutty clothes .....

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I have used much the same, it-feels-right-to-me type of approach. JCK influenced my already-planned post for today with her comments.

I am navigating the gorgeous teenager with an eye for fashion obstacle course right now. It is HARD.

Tit for Tat said...

My daughter is now 12, when she was a little younger I explained to her that men are visual in nature. And that the reason many of the celebrities dress skimpy was for men to look at them. Her response was ewwww. Good sign now is the fact that when she see's another girl dress a certain way she says, "Dad, thats just not right". I hope she retains that "righteous" attitude. LOL.

Deb said...

Wow! You are doing a great job.

apathy lounge said...

Little Miss Perfect? Yeah...more like Little Miss Perverted. That show oughta be banned. Why extol the virtues of something that seeks to objectify and sexualize little girls?

Jason, as himself said...

My daughter is much like The Girl Next Door's. Not so into the pretty pretty brand name stuff.
I'm lucky.

phd in yogurtry said...

girl next door -- pssst... reserving the right to cave here, too.

blognut -- self and other respect are a big part of it, I agree.

margo -- but you did an ankle check just in case, right?

femgal -- stunningly good looks can be a liability in some ways, as your friend fears. sincere compliments from mom is still a good thing, though. but special emphasis on praising her daughters' efforts in academics and other socially desirable strivings is probably most important. which is something all kids can benefit from.

jck -- thanks : ) watching the show, I was struck by how gorgeous these girls were without makeup. my daughters were telling me that some of the pageant girls wear some kind of caps on her teeth. insanity.

heather -- balance is never a idea.

ann -- my girls were smothered with pink, princessy gifts, and really loved it all. but they didn't get a ton of encouragement from me or their dad, so maybe that helped it not "stick". maybe will be same for your little girly girl.

ebeck -- there it is, I'm not out of the woods. she didn't make me promise about a tattoo, now did she?

jenn -- gorgeous plus long legs! ack!

tit for tat -- if only! it's definately a promising view she's got, though.

deb -- or so this ONE example appears, huh?

apathy -- damn! what a great post title! where were you when I needed you?

phd in yogurtry said...

jason -- one of mine is all into the girly fashion plate, the other, prefers brother's hand me downs. so I get to wait and see if they blend in the wash.

A. said...

I agree w/ apathy lounge - Little Miss Perverted, indeed. Have you seen Living Dolls? It followed a 5 or 6 year old. I think it was on HBO a few years ago.


Reinvent Dad said...

Sadly, pushing fashion, image and sexuality on girls wouldn't take place IF it wasn't so hyped by the media AND didn't provide an avenue for profit.

Like so many issues that arise while raising kids and teenagers (drugs, drinking, smoking, etc. etc. etc.), you as a parent must hold the line to what is acceptable and what is not.

Alison said...

I find that standing in front of the TV in the middle of one of these shows stating,"If you ever become like this Princess Brat here (point to TV) I will be forced to kill you", gets the general message across.

And then I just revert to my usual self- a confident and strong female role model.

Not a problem!

Trannyhead said...

Good luck. That clothes thing is the reason I'm terrified of having a girl. They all want to look hot and from younger and younger ages. It's scary.

And hello - have you SEEN the makeover of Dora? They totally tramped her up! It's a horror show.

Kelli Anne Busey said...

I love your values. I have a relation who's daughter performances in pageants made me very uncomfortable. He and his wife thought it was adorable. What good can come of a baby mimicking a prostitute? Thank you for saying something.

Mark said...

sounds like what you are doing is working. I would rather error on the conservative side. There are reasons we say no, there are reasons we use what we know to teach lessons. Doing a great job! Keep it up.

Denny Lyon said...

Thanks for stopping by to visit my poetry blog.

As to this kid version of the beauty contests... I find it disturbing on a psychological level. Left wondering. What about the child's will - is it smothered by the parent's? So, does it qualify as abuse?

Or, maybe, this is an experience that will teach the kid to fight, kick and seize what she wants out of life no matter how tough it gets when she's an adult. Do wonder if it fosters an unrealistic expectation from life and later a maladjusted adult who's a real pill to live or work with for anyone who knows them...