Will and I bought the kids new bikes for Christmas. My son was given a Hot Wheels bike and my daughter received a Disney Princess bike. Both kids were ecstatic. On Christmas morning, they jumped up and down exclaiming these bikes were the best gift ever. As parents, we whole-heartedly believed we had done well. Then 3 weeks later, we were about to leave on a family bike ride when our neighbor flagged us down. After a brief catch up, the kids began telling her about the new bikes. Her response: “Oh how very gender specific!” To my kids, it sounded like acceptance and approval but to me, I couldn’t help feeling a little insulted.
I have seen several campaigns for gender neutral marketing for little girls. Admittedly, I despise Bratz dolls. It is amazing how unabashedly inappropriate these dolls really are. I hate to think of how many 6-12 year olds think they should be running around in micro minis and hooker paint. The fact is girls are extremely sexualized and have been for a very long time now. I’ll give you that. I’m a little stunned by how often I see little girls unable to play without exposing themselves one way or the other. It’s not poor manners, it’s poor fashion and possibly poor parenting. Who decided girls should look this way?
I’m in support of this movement to a point. I completely disagree with the princess and Barbie slamming. A lot of what we buy for our girls isn’t driven by marketing so much as it is the nostalgia for the things we had as girls ourselves. I love that my daughter (and son) love Hello Kitty, My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake. These brands are grievously feminine and I love it. I would like to point out that my daughter does not fret over the fact that Texas quarter horses look nothing like Rainbow Dash. She’s ok with the fact that we don’t live in a town made out of fruit pastries. I just find it a little crazy that we’re blaming Barbie for body issues.
I grew up with Barbies and never thought my body should look like hers. I was a little jealous of her Dream House but weren’t we all? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say if your daughter is having body issues, its not just Barbie. Nearly every mainstream female character is impossibly thin. You can hardly watch the news or pick up a magazine without being exposed to Photoshopped images, weight loss tips or looks gained by plastic surgery. Are you as her mother comfortable in your own body? Do you dog yourself because you’re over 120 lbs and have never been a size 2? Think about what she sees and who you are in her world. She will follow you before she follows Barbie. I can guarantee that.
When I was a teenager I absolutely had body issues. I had no idea that my friends wore padded bras. I had no clue my favorite stars had crazy exercise regimens or dieted to look the way that they did. It never occurred to me they could edit photos past concealing a bad break out. If someone had told me these things as a child, I would have been a lot better off. It wasn’t until I saw a few un-doctored celebrity photos that I began to appreciate their natural beauty. I also noticed the ones that smiled and wore clothes complimentary to their bodies always looked much better than the ones that did not. A confident stride was always prettier than hiding your face. Being healthy in mind and spirit is the key to being perceived as beautiful and self assured. That is fact.
Ideally the toys we give our girls should reflect just that. Our girls should strive happy and healthy. We should strive for happy and healthy. Condemning pink Legos and baby dolls does not better our lives or the lives of our children. It starts from within. With that said, I am still receiving requests to sign petitions against gender specific marketing to girls. To that I say, what about the boys? I plan to address this in my next post.
I would also like to point out the progress that has taken place over the last few years. Literary series like The Lady Bug Girl and Fancy Nancy teach little girls to be imaginative. Groovy Girl Dolls are cuddly dolls that encourage friendship and diversity. In film, Disney/Pixar’s Brave is coming to theaters June 22nd. The movie’s heroine Merida is a tomboy and a princess. I am really looking forward to seeing this one the kids. The previous generations had Kim Possible, The American Girl books, Nancy Drew, and The Power Puff Girls. I’m certain you can think of a few more.
Not every girl wants pink packaging, make up, or tea parties and the ones that do do not necessarily grow up pining for breast augmentation. If boys can be boys, why can’t girls be girls?