Whoa. Hell no. Neigh, My Little Pony!

I'm trying to stay off blogging and social media for awhile while I launch a new project (procrastination is just too tempting) so this will be brief. I don't think there is much to say anyway except, whoa! Hell no! NEIGH to the evolution of my little pony!  

 

Here's Huffington Post on the new MLP, featuring a quote from me. I had a lot more to say, obviously, but what they quoted was certainly blunt.

Seriously, Disney, I'm Trying to Take a Little Break Here-- MUST YOU?

Update: The fabulous A Mighty Girl has put a petition up on Change.org asking Disney to keep Merida BRAVE. You can sign it here. So, I was about to commend Disney for doing something right. Yes, I was. The front page story in today's New York Times reported that the company stopped production of branded merchandise in Bangladesh in March, after the last disaster there: a fire that killed 112 people. To wit:

 A Disney official told The New York Times on Wednesday that the company had sent a letter to thousands of licensees and vendors on March 4 setting out new rules for overseas production.

Less than 1 percent of the factories used by Disney’s contractors are in Bangladesh, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The company’s efforts had accelerated because of the November fire at a factory that labor advocates asserted had made Disney apparel. The Disney ban also extends to other countries, including Pakistan, where a fire last September killed 262 garment workers.

So good for them. Good for Disney for trying to show some leadership and ethics regarding how its products are made. I respect that.

Now back to discussing the depressing results.

Rebecca Pahle over at The Mary Sue alerted me to the news that on May 11 Merida from Brave will to be crowned the 11th Disney princess. You remember Merida, right? The one with the bow and arrow? The one who looked like this?

Well, not any more. As with the other Princesses, she has gotten a redesign, a pretty-sexy-skinny makeover to boost revenues. Voila, the new Merida:

There's the hot hair, the coy expression. Also the obligatory exposed shoulders (moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because "princesses don't cover their shoulders), slimmer waist, and the bow and arrow replaced by...what is that, a low-slung belt? And she has what appear to be high-heeled shoes. Or at least slimmer, pointier feet.

Inside the Magic, a blog promoting Disney and theme park events, says that Merida's official royal ceremony will be well attended:

She will be joining existing Disney Princesses Snow White, Mulan, Aurora, Belle, Tiana, Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Rapunzel in the line, all of whom are likely to make an appearance at the coronation. New hairstyles, makeup, and dresses were recently given to the princesses in a modern update to their looks, which are also now reflected at Disney’s theme parks .

Because, in the end, it wasn't about being brave after all. It was about being pretty.

In case you've missed it, by the way, here's the updated look of the other ten princesses:

I'm especially creeped out by Belle who appears to have had major surgery. Compare this new chickabiddy to the actual movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRlzmyveDHE

Or, wait, maybe I'm more creeped out by the way they've changed Aurora (who used to be called Briar Rose).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfsyUyi_FJM

Or, wait, what about what about the apparent lobotomy that Rapunzel has had? OrAnd  Cinderella looking like Taylor Swift? And Pocahontas?  Tiana looks like she's not getting enough to eat at that restaurant of hers. And Mulan, poor, poor Mulan. And here's  what Jasmine used to look like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kl4hJ4j48s

Snow White and Ariel were always especially  vapid so I don't have much to say there.

I hate to be in the position of defending the "old days" when the princesses looked "normal" (because, really, it's all relative and it's not like I was happy with them before this). Still, check out this pic, also from Inside the Magic, of the latest princess lineup including the new Merida:

Look at that head position on poor, exposed-shouldered Merida! In addition to everything else, they're pushing the brown girls slowly but surely to the edges. Tiana is thinking, "Wait, I only got one year up front? One lousy year to make up for nearly a century of racism (though to be fair, the ugliness extended well beyond Disney's depiction of African Americans)?  Meanwhile, Mulan looks WEIRDER THAN EVER. She doesn't even look human she's been so Orientalized and botoxed.

This is what she used to look like:

 

I've always said that it's not about the movies. It's about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen. Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it's normal.

Ok, you know what? I'm so tired. Someone else take over here and make some pithy, salient points about the impact on girls of being bombarded with skinny, pretty, sexy messages and endless consumer products that tell them from the earliest ages that how they look is who they are, ok?  

I'll just leave you with that moment of promise, the trailer from Brave when we thought maybe Disney was showing some leadership and ethics not only in how they made their products, but the actual products they made.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEHWDA_6e3M

What's Next, Porn Legos?

When I started my career, back in the mid-1980s, I was hired to be an editorial assistant at a certain top tier magazine in New York City. As part of the job interview I took a typing test. I was also informed  that the guy I'd be working for had a reputation for groping his  assistants. "Can you handle that?" I was asked. Not "If it happens report him." Not "He is being brought up on charges." Not even "We're trying to deal with it and we're sorry." Just "Can you handle that?" WWAMD? I thought (That's "What Would Ann Marie Do?")

Of course, I said yes. I worked for the guy for over a year and "handled it" by keeping six feet away from him at all times--believe me, I earned my $13,500 salary. (Note: I also worked for two amazing, generous, encouraging editors and mentors to whom I owe my career: Adam Moss and David Hirshey).

I thought we'd evolved since then (this was pre-Anita Hill's testimony in the Clarence Thomas hearings) but my heart sunk while reading Amanda Hess'  amazing post on yesterday's XXFactor  about Lego's latest foray into reinforcing sexism among children:

When journalist Josh Stearns introduced his son to the world of Lego this year, he was disappointed to find that in addition to its trademark building blocks, the company now produces a Lego-branded sticker set that articulates the innermost thoughts of its little plastic construction workers. Alongside phrases like “MEN AT WORK” and “GETTING DIRTY,” the set includes an image of a Lego worker at rest, leaning back in a hard hat and a pair of cool-dude sunglasses, shouting “HEY BABE!” at an unseen target. It’s marketed to kids aged “1 to 101.”

Here is the photo that Stearns put on his tumblr:

Seriously. WTF?????

Meanwhile, my daughter is getting make-your-own messenger bags for her birthday with iron on transfers that say "spoiled" and "brat." (Not by Lego, I should say--this was a "craft" present a couple of years back).

As I've said before,  Gary Cross, an historian of childhood and author of the excellent Kid Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood once told me that toys communicate to children our expectations of their adult roles.  Criminey!

I wrote an editorial in the New York Times when Lego introduced its friends line discussing why promoting gender segregation in toys was a bad (though lucrative) idea. The wonderful women and girls at  Spark.org also launched a petition that garnered so many thousands of signatures that Lego  met with them to discuss how, at the very least, they could push the Friends line past hair salons. The company seemed to respond, at least a tiny bit, at least for the girls.

Not for boys. Apparently Lego has no problem reinforcing the idea among our sons that girls are "other," that they are subtly inferior and, ultimately, objects for their eventual enjoyment (and current scorn). I don't want the boys I know growing up with that message. I don't want the boys my daughter some day learns with, dates, works with, marries, raises children with (yes, I am already dreaming about being a grandma, so sue me) believing sexual harassment is "funny" or in any way ok. That's why I love  the Sanford Harmony Program's attempt to develop curriculum that, from preschool onward, encourages friendship and mutual understanding between boys and girls.

Stearns, who is doing his best to raise a decent, caring human (bless his heart) writes about his own experience going up against Lego. Their first response was classic defense: lighten up, it was a joke:

Charlotte Simonsen, Senior Director at LEGO’s corporate communications office told me that “To communicate the LEGO experience to children we typically use humor and we are sorry that you were unhappy with the way a minifigure was portrayed here.” 

Ace journalist that he is, he  kept pushing and subsequently received another note, this time, from  Andrea Ryder, the head of the LEGO Group’s Outbound Licensing Department. She wrote: “I am truly sorry that you had a negative experience with one of our products […] the product is no longer available and we would not approve such a product again.”

That's progress. Stearns writes that he appreciates Lego's responsiveness. I do, too. I'm also glad the stickers are off the market. But still. How did something like that get through their vetting process? And, if you spend any time on this blog, you know that these incidents (across toyland) are not rare.

Yeah, it's one toy. One little toy. But one among so many. As Stearns writes:

If we don’t call out these things when we see them, then even the little pieces of culture, like a pack of stickers, can serve to normalize sexist behavior and harassment. If you care about these issues here are some great resources and organizations to follow and support:

Couldn't have said it better. Thanks, Josh.

Photo  from a previous post on Lego:

This Post Makes Me Hungry...And Sad.

A note on this blog post: I have been discussing Candyland for years--since I got it for my own daughter. I also mention it in my talks. It is one of the best examples, along with the other toys linked below, of sexualization of toy culture. This particular post was inspired by a post on my facebook page from reader Lisa Marie Norton, whom I don't personally know. In trying to write a quick post, I pulled photos from Google that were from Rachel Marie Stone's blog. She and her followers have been unhappy with that and I apologize. I was sloppy. I don't think of blogging the way I do my articles and books in terms of journalistic standards, mostly because it seems bloggers themselves don't; it is a new world to me.  At any rate, I hope the changes below will make amends. That said, please understand that my ideas are my own, they are long-standing (on Candyland, toys, and the sexualization of girlhood--the links in this very blog post are a trail of crumbs). I often see people writing identical revelations about princesses without quoting me. That is their prerogative. There were also many great books about the sexualization of girlhood before mine (Packaging Girlhood, So Sexy So Soon, The Lolita Effect). Mine was neither the first nor the definitive word on any of the issues I covered. Our voices all play a role in change. Thank you.  A reader on Facebook commented on how the imagery on the board game Candyland has changed over the years. I sometimes bring that up when I give talks but since I've got your attention, let's just take a peek together, shall we? Here is the original Candyland, circa 1949.

 Yum. Here is the game in 1978:

I dreamed of those ice cream floats....

Update: I hadn't realized that the photo above is a reproduction of the Candyland board done by Peggy Dembicer in seeds and beads! You MUST check out the original, it is stunning!

Things begin to change more significantly in the 1980s. That's when Candyland ditched the Dick-and-Jane outfits for generic his-and-hers overalls:

They also added some friendly candy characters: Plumpy with his plum tree, Mr. Candy Cane, Gramma Nutt, Princess Lolly, Queen Frostine. More on  some of them in a moment.

Then we hit 2010. Here's a photo from Rachel Marie Stone's blog on the game's evolution. On the upside, as she points out, Milton Bradley finally recognized, at least in some versions, that there are children who are not white and blonde (nothing against blonde white kids--I was one myself--I'm just saying):

Beyond that, though...Yikes! Check out today's board!

In case you can't see it: here's the new Princess Lolly (again--took the photos below from Stone):

And Queen Frostine turned into a Bratz doll:

Stuff changes. I know that. What played in 1949 is not going to play in 2013. Still, when the changes are all about skinny and pretty (and exponentially larger portion sizes--there's a mixed message for you) you have to be leery.  In addition to those characters, the game pieces themselves have slimmed down. If you look at more of Stone's photos, you'll see that Gramma Nutt has been replaced by the more fashionable Gramma Gooey (who has definitely had some work done) and Mr. Candy Cane has been replaced by some guy--maybe a prince?--whose giant muscles are only exceeded by the size of his triple-decker ice cream cone.

I've written before about other classic toys that have, without our notice, had skinny makeovers.  When our kids play with toys that we played with we assume that they are the same toys. It's kind of back to the Disney Princess thing--I watched "Cinderella" as a kid, so what's the big deal? The big deal is that it's not the same at all. It just has the same name. And the images our kids--boys and girls--are exposed to from the youngest ages are so distorted and so often sexualized (I mean, hubba-hubba Queen Frostine!) that it is no wonder that girls are self-sexualizing ever earlier. (Note that in the study cited in that last link they are using the different size game pieces from Candyland as well as Chutes and Ladders).

I think a lot about something that Gary Cross, an historian of childhood, once told me: that toys traditionally have communicated to children our expectations of their adult roles. What are we telling girls we expect of them with this?

Another update: I Googled  Candyland Costumes, just out of curiosity. Pretty good illustration of how we see girls and women--consumable consumers:

Little girl Candyland costume:

 

"Sassy" Candyland costume:

Shopping as the New Prince

When I first started writing about the Disney Princesses, people assumed my beef was with the girl waiting around to be rescued by the handsome prince. But honestly? I don't get that passive vibe from little girls playing princess or from the merchandise sold  them. For instance: how often do you see a prince doll at Toys'R'Us? (Though, personally, I think Prince himself is a doll...). No, today's princess is not about romance: it's more about entitlement. I call it "girlz power" because when you see that "z" (as in Bratz, Moxie Girlz, Ty Girlz, Disney Girlz) you know you've got trouble.  Girlz power  sells self-absorption as the equivalent of self confidence and tells girls that female empowerment, identity, independence should be expressed through narcissism and commercialism. 

Think of it as the Kardashinization of girlhood (or maybe just the apocalypse): whether it's craft kits, science kits, summer camps, birthday parties, dolls, games it's all about the bling.

One of the things that set me ticking on Cinderella Ate My Daughter was wondering whether the very thing that we trusted to protect our daughters --Princesses and, by extension, the Disney Brand--was actually doing the opposite: priming them for early sexualization and an obsession with appearance. So it was important to me to look at what the brand hoped to move girls to next. And so I give you the brand new Disney City Girl Game. 

Here's the description:

With suitcase in hand, it's time to leave your small-town life behind and head to the big city to make your dreams come true! Do you have what it takes to skyrocket to stardom? In the spirit of Sorority Life, Disney City Girl gives players the chance to engage in a stylish and aspirational virtual world!

As a recent New York transplant, the player will explore the city with the help of her fabulous friends, from BFF Jenna to adventurous Auntie Kate. She’ll discover the best places to shop and hang out, choose from a variety of glamorous career paths, and visit exotic locations. As she progresses through her career, your City Girl will accrue style points, continually decorating and upgrading apartments, expanding her wardrobe, and facing off with her friends in “Daily Look” fashion competitions! From a grungy studio to a Park Avenue penthouse, from overworked intern to successful CEO, from country bumpkin to glamour girl, City Girl will keep you coming back again and again.

Have the makers of this game seen the TV show "Girls?" Because last I checked, there was a little more to deal with in the Big City than snapping up some Louboutins (retail, yet). Like trying to get a job. Astronomical cost of living. Rent. Grossness. Bad boyfriends. And messy, messy life. 

I did the moving-from-the-midwest-to-the big-city thing myself once upon a time, living on equal parts moxie and cluelessness.  Just the other day I was recalling those pink-and-yellow fur walls at the Palladium. And my daughter begs for the story of why I will never eat pizza again. I will not even go into my litany of giant cockroach and rat stories or what it was like to live next door to a crack house. That may be too much realism for a game--or maybe just the right amount. There could be an amazing video game about moving to the big city, right? 

You may have noticed above that Disney promises "a variety of glamorous career paths." Right now that extends to being  either a chef or a fashion designer. Yep, that's it. Players land an immediate paid internship in their chosen field (now that's a fairy tale). To earn a promotion you have to work hard: the only way to advance is to collect “style points” with which to upgrade your apartment and wardrobe. Yeah, that's right: the only way to move up at professionally is to shop for better clothes and decor. Oh, and you can compete against "friends" in the game's "daily look" competition. Because whatever else is going on, you still want to be the fairest of them all.

The girls who play this game may be up for a rude awakening some day.

Seth Meyers mentioned Disney City Girl on SNL's Weekend Update on Saturday. 

Disney has developed a new video game called 'Disney City Girl,' which lets players shop and work their way up the social ladder. To win, all you have to do is defeat all the progress women have ever made.

Really, I don't have a lot to add to that....

Here's the game's trailer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hNVvlzpn3Y

P.S. Thanks to Robin Wolaner for making me aware of this one. 

P.P.S. Amy Jussel over at Shaping Youth reminded me of an earlier post in which I discuss Disney's attempt to rebrand princess with its recent "I Am a Princess" video. I wondered whether it signalled a change in how the company viewed girls, if they were authentically trying to shift things. But compare it to the one for City Girls  and all I can say is....nah.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUGnu0gXtn4&feature=player_embedded

There's a New Girl Strutting on Monster High's Corner

Move over Monster High, there's a new semi-nude, spike-heeled, crazy skinny Sesame Streetwalker posing as a girl power icon in town: Winx Club dolls, based on the Nick series, Winx Club http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnlxmaHqpcI

Good thing these fairies are magical, because if they were real women they'd have to keep their uteruses (uterii?) in their purses.

As dolls, they make Barbie look like a before picture from  "The Biggest Loser."

Looking at pictures of these normal-sized little girls happily olding these pro-ana fairies makes me wince. I've seen the research that says girls now self-sexualize by age six. You can certainly see how that happens.

 

 

The girls are so lovely and chubby and real. The dolls are so skinny and missel-pointy and freakish. They'd have a mom BEGGING for Barbie. Nick, can't you do better?

The Plastic Surgeons Threw a Party and All I Got Was This Lousy Boob

Nancy Stordahl wrote a great piece this week on HuffPo about the dubiously named “BRA Day,” a new national, um, holiday, embedded in Breast Cancer Awareness month (let’s put the discussion of that aside for now) which is designed to educate women on reconstruction options after breast cancer. BRA Day even hired their own celebrity spokeswoman, the singer Jewel, who wrote a song, “Flower,” for the occasion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oX_yNOF6io

Now, I am deeply grateful to have had the option for reconstruction, which U.S. health insurance already has to cover by law. And I am grateful that I could have a type of reconstruction that was possible despite my previous radiation therapy, which wreaked havoc with my skin elasticity. I’m even abashedly pleased that the kind of reconstruction I had—using my own belly fat—had the bonus side effect of leaving me with a much flatter stomach. What the hell. I might as well get something out of it, right? Because part of what won’t be discussed on BRA day is that reconstruction can be absolutely brutal to go through. Also, no matter how great the result, it’s only cosmetic—you don’t get sensation back. It feels a bit like having a folded up pair of hiking socks attached to your chest.

I have friends who have done reconstruction and those that have not and both have their reasons. It’s a personal thing and both options should be respected—if they truly are freely chosen. It seems to me, too, that everyone is equally happy and equally unhappy with what they did as time goes on. There is no perfect solution.

Nancy points out that BRA Day (an acronym “that sounds patronizing and trivializing and somehow puts the main focus once again on saving breasts not women's lives”) is part of a larger attempt to pass a bill called the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act  which would require the Health & Human Services Department to create an education campaign for mastectomy  about reconstruction options, availability and coverage rights. Which sounds good, until you consider that the bill’s primary backers seem to be plastic surgeons:

While I do hold my plastic surgeons in the highest regard, it doesn't feel quite right to me for others in their profession to be so strongly backing a bill that if passed will result in further lining their pockets. Even if this is not their intent, it certainly can be construed this way. It seems like a conflict of interests to me.

...it seems to me doctors should be responsible for directing their breast cancer patients in regard to educating them about all their reconstruction options, not legislators. If doctors are not doing their job here, we have bigger problems

Finally, my biggest problem of all with this proposed campaign is its exclusion of too many women. I say what about the under-insured and the uninsured?What about their reconstruction rights? There is so much disparity with all aspects of healthcare in this country and this is one more instance where this disparity is being swept under the rug.

If the backers of this bill and BRA Day wish to get behind every woman in the United States who has had breast cancer and wishes to have reconstruction options offered to her, then I'm all for it. Until then, no thank you.

I'd go a step further. Even when, like me, you do have insurance coverage the procedure can be prohibitively expensive. I was lucky. The two surgeons who could perform my reconstruction, a type that involves microsurgery and is still relatively rare, were out of my insurance network. There was no way I could afford that. Or perhaps more accurately, no way I would. My family has needs more pressing than my new boob. But it sure didn’t make me happy. In fact, I was distraught. Not only did I have a recurrence of my cancer, not only did I need a mastectomy 15 years after I thought I was done, but now I couldn't afford the only method of reconstruction open to me.

Then one of them said, unbidden, “You know what? I’ll take whatever your insurance gives me as full fee.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he responded.

I burst into tears. Wouldn't you?

What a mensch. Also, and I don’t think this is coincidence, he is Canadian. Our health care system probably just seems whack to him.

By the way, I’m still fighting with the other guy, by the way, over the cost of his “free” consultation that somehow has resulted in a $344 bill.

Even with all of that, even with my doc’s generosity, the whole enterprise cost me $8,000. That’s right, $8,000. It’s not the difference between eating and not eating—more like putting off the renovation of our  60 year old kitchen, hanging onto our twelve-year-old cars. A little belt-tightening. But still. My husband and I are both self-employed, so that $8k is on top of our Blue Shield insurance premiums which have spiraled up 30% a year for three years. Even after downgrading our coverage we’re paying way, way more for less.

That said, if I were uninsured, I’d be screwed. My hospital bill alone was—wait for it--$135,000. That’s right. All them zeroes. So rather than BRA Day how about those plastic surgeons back an “astronomical cost of medical care that makes it out of reach for all but the rich day?” Hey Jewel, why don't you write a song about that?

Or what if all those plastic surgeons who promote BRA day marked it by pledging to do a certain number of reconstructions this year for free or at cost?

What do you think, Nancy? For that would you be willing to say “yes, please.”

GAP: ABC's of Back to School Stereotypes?

Reader  Jocelyn Conway Malone was strolling by the GAP the other day and noticed the difference between their  back-to-school clothes marketing to girls and  for boys. Feel free to tell  the company how you feel about skinny jewel-box girls versus "active stretch""made-to-move"  boys at the following address: custserv@gap.com (subject line: marketing & advertising) Girls:

 

Boys:

The Dirt on Girls' Empowerment

In CAMD I talk about how today's "girl power" substitutes self-obsession for self-confidence, tells girls that female independence, empowerment—identity—are expressed through materialism and narcissim.  Here's another example, sent to me by a friend in LA (yeah, but it's not JUST LA),  of how those ideas keep skewing  ever younger. Art and yoga? FABULOUS!!! But not when the sole focus of  that "mindfulness," "creativity," and "empowerment" is  fashion, hair and makeup. Consider this one in context of the growing number of spa science kits and the girlie "creative" craft kits....(colors of the type are from the ad) GIRL POWER

Art & Yoga Camp

for girls aged 5 to 12

Give the special girl in your life a week of creativity, mindfulness, friendship & joy featuring Laura Fuller of Yoga in Mar Vista! Camp will be held at Pamper & Play on Westwood Boulevard, just a few blocks up from Westside Pavilion, June 25-29, noon to 3 p.m. Attendees will be divided into two groups by age. The schedule will include a healthy lunch (provided), yoga, art/activity, play and hang time. Activities will include: flip flop decorating (customize your kicks for summer); create a vision board; hand crafted eye pillows; restyling and tie dying a tee shirt and a hair feather/mani-pedi party! Lunches will be provided by Pamper & Play and prepared by participants. Lunches will include chillicious smoothies, healthy wraps, tea sandwiches, crudités and healthy chocolate treats.

We have 12 spots left, so register NOW.

Cost is $250 if you sign up by June 5 and includes 5 three-hour sessions, healthy lunch and materials. Late registration price is $280.

For more info or to register, email carole@pamperplay.com [carole (at) pamperplay (dot) com]

Visit our website or get up-to-the-minute info on facebook

Here's a thought. You want "girl power?" How about: "GET SUPER DIRTY & Play?"  (also: I'm thinking "healthy" is the p.c. concept for "fear of fat.")

Memo to the "Hippest Town in NJ:" Please Stop Painting Yourself Pink

Over the past couple of months, I tried to get a number of editors to bite on this story: the town of Redbank, NJ (which calls itself "hippest town in NJ" thereby, ipso facto, making it not) has painted itself pink "to raise awareness of the importance of breast cancer prevention, detection, and treatment." I wanted to take apart the whole premise, possibly doing an annotated "memo" of its press release a la Harper's. Couldn't get anyone to go for it. I was reminded of the concept again today by Anthony Moro, husband of Rachel Cheetham Moro, the  author of The Cancer Culture Chronicles blog (and inspiration to activists everywhere) who died earlier this year of breast cancer.  Rachel died in the hospital sponsoring this event. And she would have hated. it. As Anthony writes on the blog, "painting the town pink":

...doesn't help prevent death from breast cancer. More mammograms don't lower mortality, awareness doesn't cure disease. Mammograms and awareness certainly don't help anybody dealing with advanced disease. Mammograms and awareness don't provide any comfort from my grief, and their pink flags mock me daily.  This stuff is in my face every day, and now it has a gala reception and celebrity appearances.

He is absolutely right. I have written this and written this over and over. Those of you interested in more effective breast cancer advocacy might want to check out Breast Cancer Action or the National Breast Cancer Coalition. Meanwhile, for the record, blow  is my hall-of-shame annotation of the Redbank press release. And here is Rachel's post on last year's "Paint the Town Pink."

 

Hi there –

I know you don’t traditionally cover local NJ stories, but this is something truly newsworthy to a nationwide audience, and any help in spreading the message would be much appreciated. Paint the Town Pink is a community-wide effort presented by Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, NJ to raise awareness of the importance of breast cancer prevention, detection, and treatment.

They say they are raising “awareness.” Of what? Well, number one, they say of how to prevent breast cancer. If they know how to do that, give them the Nobel Prize immediately: there is no scientifically proven way to prevent breast cancer. There are some things that may reduce risk—such as limiting alcohol consumption, avoiding hormone replacement—but prevention? Nope. They seem to be making the common (and detrimental)  mistake of indicating that mammography prevents cancer. It doesn’t. It detects cancer.

Red Bank, in Monmouth County NJ, is regarded by many as "the hippest town in NJ."

Said it before: calling yourself "hip" makes you ipso facto not.

Downtown Red Bank is situated along the banks of the Navesink River where numerous rock stars and movie stars have made their home.

Perhaps some of those hip movie and rock stars will become “aware” of how they’re being used to spend misinformation about breast cancer and do something that actually makes a difference in the fight against the disease.

Six years ago, Riverview Medical Center set forth on a breast health crusade, directed at encouraging women, aged 40 and over, to have their annual mammogram,

The necessity and efficacy of annual mammograms for women 40-49 is highly controversial and does not appear to confer any life-saving benefit. In  2009, the United States Preventive Services Task Force  found that the risks of mammography outweighed the benefits for that age group its guidelines suggest that women in that age group who are of average or low risk discuss the value of their test with their physician. The unquestioning encouragement by Paint the Town Pink, however, would result in big profits for the hospital involved….

as well as to raise money to provide mammography to the uninsured and underserved in the community.

Okay, that’s nice, but more on this later.

 In conjunction with the Women’s Center at Riverview, the mission behind the Paint the Town Pink campaign was to educate women about a very significant fact: that early detection is a woman’s best defense against breast cancer.

 

Stop. Right. There. Early detection a “defense” against cancer? “Defense,” again, implies that it prevents the disease. At best mammography detects breast cancer (and it misses tumors in up to 20% of cases). No responsible authority would say the test prevents it.

But perhaps they mean that early detection is your best defense against dying of breast cancer? Well….maybe. Here's what's important to understand (and what I keep harping on in my articles): You have to look at the kind of cancer mammography catches as well its impact on that cancer. Mammography is very good at finding early stage cancers called Ductal Carcainoma in Situ --which would only become invasive (hence life-threatening) 30% of the time. Yet since medical science does not yet know which DCIS cancer will become invasive all are equally aggressively treated. That means 70% of women with this sort of cancer did not need the disfiguring surgery or radiation they underwent. Nonetheless, pink ribbon advocates count these women as success stories—“survivors” of a cancer that would never have killed them.

The second kind of cancer mammography catches is the one we hope for: the kind that, if caught early, can be successfully treated. For this segment, mammography does indeed save lives. Yay mammography!

The third kind of cancer is the most aggressive. No matter how “early” it’s caught by mammography it is too late. Mammography has had no impact on the death rates from this form of cancer, which is why the actual number of women (and men) who die of cancer today—about 40,000 annually, including Rachel Cheetham Moro—is greater than it was in the 1980s. While the overall death rates  as a percentage of those diagnosed has dropped (again in part because of mammography’s penchant for finding DCIS) The death rate for those with metastatic disease, the kind that will kill you, has not budged.

What started off as just one town (Red Bank), grew into three towns for 2011. For 2012, the number of towns has grown to NINE - making the 2012 event the most represented in the campaign’s history!

 

How nice: 9 towns now spread misinformation.

Many businesses throughout Monmouth County turn their towns into a vision of pink in May. They are enthusiastic about breast cancer education and gathering donations to help women who do not have insurance, or are under-insured. As a member of the Pink community, we have a unique opportunity to integrate this educational message into a woman’s daily routine as she shops and dines at the many businesses in these towns.

Swathing the town in pink and promoting mammography may not do much for women with cancer, but it’s a great way to boost profits for local businesses and make people feel good.

From high-end boutiques offering a “pink tag sale” on Jimmy Choo shoes, to restaurants offering drink specials and “pink menus,” to the Broadway Diner with a hand painted mural about mammography, these towns has embraced the event. We also strive to make the educational process fun through various events. Planned once again for this year is a community-wide kick-off event on May 5th called “Paint Everything Pink. This event draws more than 3,500 community members for a day of education and fun.

The growth of Paint the Town Pink into neighboring towns, the footprint extended in these communities, the expanding volunteer base, the compelling educational messages, the inspirational stories shared...

Pink campaigns tend to focus on what Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues, calls the "she-roes" narrative: stories of warriors in heels who kick cancer's butt (and look fab doing it). She-roes say what people want to hear: that not only have they survived cancer but the disease has made them better people and better women. It almost goes without saying that they do not contract late-stage disease, nor do they die.

...the creation of the Pink Fund...

The Pink Fund? What does it do?

and the desire by people to be part of something authentic, tangible, and meaningful takes Paint the Town Pink beyond the pink.

People really do want to be involved in something tangible and meaningful. It’s too bad this campaign does not fit that criteria.

Beyond the visually pink landscape, Paint the Town Pink has brought families together, neighbors together, and businesses and communities together, while organically spreading a very important message. After five successful years of Paint the Town Pink activities, funding is now available to cover 250 free mammograms in 2012!

What happens if one of those mammograms finds an abnormality or, God forbid, cancer? Those women will need follow-up procedures, possibly surgery, possibly radiation or chemotherapy or more. If they are uninsured or under-insured who will pay for that care? Free mammograms are nice, but then what?

 

We Need Your Help!

You can help us remind women of the importance of their annual mammogram in a fun and positive way! The idea is truly scalable and customizable. Ideas range from “pale pink” to “fuchsia” in scale.  Here are some examples:

  • Dress a member of your media team in pink in support of our campaign
  • Broadcast the logo in pink
  • Develop medical features about the prevention, detection, and new treatments for breast cancer, and how just because Breast Cancer Awareness Month is not until October, it should not be forgotten about the other 11 months of the year

 

I agree. Breast cancer is an issue all year long.  But extending the dissemination of misinformation and profit-making should not be.

 

A Spoonful of WHAT Makes the Medicine Go Down?

The garden used to be a wholesome place where you could wrest your child away from the tentacles of licensed products, right?  No more. the ever-brilliant Rebecca Hains has made me aware of  Burpee’s new Disney Princess seeds (oh yes, that’s what I wrote).

 

Needless to say, the ladies only grace flower packets—Mickey, Donald and the rest get  vegetables because, as Rebecca notes, “princesses are meant to be gazed on; they are delicate beauties...”  Too bad for  boys who will now doubtless be expected to reject the flower patch.

Meanwhile, Rebecca points out that while regular seeds cost about a buck a pack, The DP ones weigh in at $1.99.  That's quite the royalty tax Disney's levying ! Then there's the mark-up accompanying Disney Princess plant labels which cost a whopping $2.97 for 6 while the regular labels are a mere $1.99 for twenty.

 

 

 

 

Rebecca concludes so beautifully and succinctly:

The Disney Princess marketing machine is SO huge, so far-reaching, that it’s hard to avoid and even harder to resist. Parents sometimes blame themselves for their daughters’ princess obsessions, but who’s really to blame–the parents, or the billion-dollar industry that is invested in profiting by shaping little girls’ dreams?

I think the answer is clear. In this kind of context, it’s hard to choose freely–and that’s something to think critically about.

Actually, it's not a "billion dollar industry." It's a FOUR billion dollar industry (if you're only counting Disney). One that is about to get bigger. Because yesterday kicked off—wait for it—the first annual National Princess Week!! Yes, Disney has teamed up with Target to create a brand new holiday celebrating….Well, it’s unclear what they’re celebrating, but who cares! It's a week of festivities that allow—nay require—us to buy more newly introduced princess products!!!

The companies are positioning this "holiday" as embedded in other nationally-created occasions such as Mother’s Day. I suppose they have a point, especially when you recall that the woman who created that holiday died bitterly regretting its achievement, feeling that her "day to honor mothers" had devolved into little more than a consumerist "Hallmark Holiday."

But at least Mother's Day originally had some larger purpose behind it (actually its roots go as far back as 1870,when Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist and composer of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” urging women, in the wake of the Civil War's bloodbath, to call for disarmament). The purpose of National Princess week, according to Disney, is to:  "showcase a variety of products designed to engage every princess," especially the 10th anniversary re-release of  the Princess Diaries movies on DVD, a book calle A Very Fairy Princess: Here Comes The Flower Girl and "an array of themed merchandise at Target stores....Blu-rays, books, toys, bedroom decor, games and more, inspired by Disney’s classic animated films, including Beauty and the BeastThe Princess and the Frog, and Tangled, starting at just $5." The Disney site also helpfully directs celebrants to the Target web site where you can make these purchases.

Well, if that isn't cause for national celebration, I don't know what is!

What’s most painful to me is that they’ve enlisted Mary Poppins, aka Julie Andrews (who stars in Princess Diaries and, with her daughter, penned the above-mentioned Fairy Princess book), as the holiday's putative Santa.

Everyone loves Julie Andrews. It’s churlish not to. I love Julie Andrews. Yet, as horrifying as it is, I must call her out. She betrays our trust and adoration when she disingenuously chirps:  "Joining Disney and Target to create National Princess Week is an extension of my work—a moment in time for children to celebrate their individuality and let their inner sparkle shine."

Because buying zillions of identical licensed products is always a good way to show your individuality?  Because narcissism is the highest form of self-expression? Maybe something went whack with Ms. Andrews' integrity after her most recent face lift (was that a low blow? Seriously--look at her! She can't close her mouth!) but does she really expect us to (literally) buy it when she's responds to  an interview question on "why playing princess is really okay" by saying:

My personal take on it is that they may be trying on for size what it feels like to be, say, a real lady [emphasis mine]. [It] perhaps, in some way, helps them find their own identity later in life. I do think fantasy and play of this kind — whatever it is, if you want to play at being a nurse, or if you want to play at being a florist — it's all important and should be allowed, because it would be an awfully sad place if we didn't try on those airs and have fun doing it.

It's an even sadder place when Julie Andrews has become  little more than a cog in the Disney Princess marketing machine, her Poppins-esque authority used to convince us that bombarding girls with billions of dollars worth of crap that bulldozes all other forms of play is the same thing as choosing to put on your mom's cast-off tiara and an old bedspread and flounce around the house on a rainy afternoon. In fact, that's kind of like cloaking a sales-gimmick as a  "holiday" in order to shove it down our throats.

I hate to say it, Mary, but sugar is not what's on that spoonful.

 

My Favorite Reader Photos

I’ve been off-line for two weeks which is like two centuries in social media time. Here are some of the things I’ve apparently missed. A reader sent me a photo of Kraft's  Girlz  cheese.

 

Beyond  the gratuitous sexualization of dairy products...um, cheese pods????

This one is  from the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum:

So, blue or gray for historical accuracy and pink....for girls? I would hate to have been wearing pink in a field of gray.

Seriously, pink Confederate soldier caps? As a 7-year-old, my parents took me to Gettysburg.  I happily popped my traditional Union blue soldier hat atop my favorite outfit: a red-and-white striped t-shirt (decorated with a jaunty, patriotic blue anchor), cut-off jean shorts and navy blue sneakers. If my scanner weren’t broken, I’d post a Kodak moment of  my  brothers and me decked out in our caps, dangling our legs over a cannon, waving Old Glory.

I know the Lincoln Museum gives ample space to Mary's accomplishments, but what I wish in retrospect is that someone had told me—and my brothers—back at Gettysburg about the courage of ordinary women during the Civil War: their incredibly brrave role as battlefield nurses (a new and much-resisted concept at the time). If your little one is into Magic Tree House, check out Civil War on Sunday. Or check out this site  for a quick rund-down on women of the Civil War (both sides) including  Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix and even some Mulan-style soldiers. After all, we can't teach our children what we don't know ourselves!

Finally, here is an art piece by an 8th grader named Carole that says, more eloquently than I could, how the toxic culture of girlhood makes her feel. Carole,  thank you so much for sending it.

Foot Binding 2012: Of Princess Shoes, Parents, & Outdoor Play

I can't get this new study on preschoolers and outdoor play out of my mind. Initially brought to my attention by KJ Dell'Antonia at Motherlode, it found that roughly half of parents of preschoolers did not take their children outside to play regularly--suggesting that those children are not getting the level of physical activity they need (see KJ's post for important caveats). But here's the kicker: parents were 16% more likely to take preschool boys outside than preschool girls. Why? Researchers theorized it was ingrained (and probably unconscious) stereotypes about how much exercise girls need. This sets the stage for sedentariness in adolescence and beyond. Which, I'm guessing,  plays into distorted body image and unhealthy dieting. Great for the 60.9 billion dollar diet industry (with its 95% failure rate); not so great for girls. So you know I'm going to loop this back to the Princess Industrial Complex, right? Girls don't  seem to "need"--or even want-- to play outside when they're flouncing around in their princess dresses. What's more, you can't run, jump and get dirty  when you're wearing your  miniature high heels (or even your sparkly flats) or worried about chipping your nail polish.

Think that’s a stretch?  Melissa Wardy over at Pigtail Pals recently wrote about an exchange that she overheard between her daughter Amelia, and a friend:

“Your shoes are ugly,” said Amelia's kindergarten classmate.

“No they are not,” replied the 6yo Original Pigtail Pal, Amelia.

“They are. Look how pretty mine are,” the classmate taps her toes for emphasis.

“They are the same pair of shoes. Like the exact same,” explains Amelia.

“They aren’t the same. Mine still have all of the pretty sparkles. I didn’t get them messed up,” boasted the girl.

“Listen, who cares about pretty? All I care about is playing,” retorts Amelia.

"...Amelia, you should care a little bit about being pretty or you won’t get a boyfriend,” says the classmate.

On her girls' studies blog Rebecca Hains broadened the lens of that exchange  with pictures from her local Stride Rite store. You remember Stride Rite, don’t you? They used to sell cute, sturdy footwear for little ones? Like these saddle shoes (which I had and loved ever so much) from an ad in the 1970s?

No more. Rebecca reports that girls are now instructed to “Sparkle with Every Step”..... like Cinderella, whose glass-slipper shod likeness graces the display.

 

 

As for boys? They get …Spiderman!

Rebecca went to Stride Rite's web site and found more of the same: "Girls are meant to be looked at, so their play shoes are a route to prettiness, while boys are meant to be active, so their play shoes are made for play." Her excerpts from Stride Rite's gallery below:

Cinderella sneakers “transport your little princess to a world of fantasy”

Hello Kitty Keds are “the cutest sneakers on the block”

Glitzy Pets sneakers help girls “to really shine and steal the show”

Spiderman sneakers offer “light-up powers,” “no matter what kind of web he spins”

Star Wars sneakers with “lighted technology” are good for “your little adventurer’s feet”

Lightning McQueen sneakers, also with “lighted technology,” let boys “be as fast as the legendary Cars Lightning McQueen on-and-off the track”

Rebecca connects this to Colette Dowling’s Frailty Myth which holds:

Boys learn “to use their bodies in skilled ways, and this gives them a good sense of their physical capacities and limits.... Girls hold themselves back from full, complete movement, Although it’s usually something girls are unaware of, they actually learn to hamper their movements, developing a ‘body timidity that increases with age.’”

So. we may not be stunting our girls' piggies' by wrapping them in cloth bandages, but we seem to be binding their feet--or binding them through their feet--all the same.

My personal blow against the Princess footwear industry (which, mark my words is priming girls for a lifetime of painful, sky-high—in both price and scale-- heels that will leave them be-bunioned and miserable) was to allow Daisy to pick out a pair of classic Van’s slip-ons. Her choice of flame skater shoes became her “trademark” from preschool through first grade, one that her classmates, male and female, admired and even copied. Remember my fight-fun-with-fun philosophy? There it is in practice. D got to wear fabulous shoes that were comfortable, cool, and broadened her notion of femininity. She also got a tacit lesson in the benefits of individuality over following the crowd. Beat that Cinderella.

As a culture (based on box office receipts) we are currently obsessed with one of the most radical and self-determining female  characters ever to appear on screen: The Hunger Games' Katinss Everdeen.  Check out her shoes.

“Exceptional” girls and women  like Katniss  crop up periodically in the culture, female warriors who transcend stereotypes and gender norms.  Ripley of the Alien franchise is one. The girls in  Mirror, Mirror, as well as the upcoming  Snow White and the Huntsman  and Pixar's Brave appear to be as well.  And, of course, there was Buffy, who took a glorious stand against the "chosen" girl in the series' last episode with this speech:

From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

I recalled  those lines as I read the end of Pigtail Pal's sparkle-shoes post:

Amelia tells her friend: “You should care less about being pretty and more about playing with us. My mom says there’s lots of different ways to be a girl,”

“I don’t want to mess up my shoes,” says the classmate, which is met by an audible sigh from Amelia, who sprints off to play in her busted up not-so-sparkly-anymore shoes.
I'd like to see a world in which girls like Amelia--girls who play hard and often, who live fully--are not  the exception.

 

Panem-is-Us? Thoughts on "The Greed Games"

Ah, the ironies of our media culture. First  the film version of "The Lorax" commercialized anti-consumerism by pimping out its namesake  to seventy corporate sponsors (including IHOP pancakes and Mazda cars). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-chuDFXcaAU

Now comes the deluge of "Hunger Games"-inspired products that are so contrary to the books' message that they seem like a parody. Take the press release I received today:

SAVING FACE in The Hunger Games – Best Beauty Solutions to Shed the ‘Tribute Tomboy’

Hi Peggy,

Hope you’re doing well! In just two days the world will be watching as Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and the rest of their star-studded cast take center stage in The Hunger Games… so with all the hype surrounding the premiere, I figured you might enjoy this fun story idea!

Fighting to the death doesn’t always end pretty (case in point, Glimmer’s notorious tracker jacker scene), but Katniss Everdeen made it look so easy, right? Through the scrapes and scars, burns and bruises, torn limbs and tattered clothes, the Tribute 12 huntress maintained her Amazonian prowess, with the same composure and “soft, rosy glow” radiance that Cinna + his beauty squad sent her to the Cornucopia with.

Yet for the rest of us, who aren’t quite mockingjay material, looking great at the end of a grueling “battle royale” might enlist extra help. The Careers would probably just use nature to concoct these mystifying beauty elixirs, but competitors who are aren’t such DIY-ers, should just hope for these products in their survival packs….

Let me know if you’re interested in more information on the below products for any emergency/life-saver beauty pieces you might be working on.

Looking forward to your thoughts! Danielle

Exhaustion/Dehydration Post-Cornucopia Bloodbath (sukiface® Balancing Day Lotion) – this lightweight, inflammation soothing daily complexion hydrator formulated with comfrey and aloe calms skin irritations, relieves redness and helps balance oil protection (from a full day of sweat and tears, you’ll need it).  $35.95/sukiskincare.com

Attack of the Tracker Jackers (sukiface® Concentrated Balancing Toner)  - this potent and powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial vitamin C complexion tincture/tonic calms and soothes minor bug bites and even the horrific sting of the tracker jacker.  Also great as a refreshing mist/after-sun spray to cool off after your hallucinogenic romp in the sun has died down.  $32.95

Tired, Weary, Scarred and Scorched (sukibody® Butter Cream Healing Salve) - this  intensely hydrating, non-greasy therapeutic botanical balm infused with coconut oil is ideal for alleviating the worst rashes (and poison ivy?), treating scars and scrapes, and healing chapping/chaffing brought on by severe dehydration.  Great to have on hand if your sponsor isn’t doing his job… $27.95

Let it Rain (sukibody® Delicate Hydrating Oil) - it might not be the safest decision to dance in the rain once the sky opens up, but for the first few minutes freshen up with this lavender-infused therapeutic moisturizing bath oil… can also be used as a great massage oil if you have some alone time to kill in a cave…  $27.95

 

Here are my thoughts, Danielle: Somewhere the "real" Katniss is weeping. Or laughing. Or putting her head down and just getting on with it. (And "Tribute Tomboy?" What does that even mean?)

But don't despair: given how many thousands of girls love The Hunger Games series, this is a fabulous opportunity for a media literacy discussion, for imagining how Katniss--all buffed and glossed and ready to be forced to BATTLE OTHER CHILDREN TO THE DEATH for the entertainment of the decadent Capitol denizens and their sadistic president--might feel about these products; to consider about how our media and beauty culture is glorifying the Panemites, making Hunger Games about something other than what it is  (and how we can channel our inner Katniss to fight back).

One idea: Powered By Girl offers young women a chance to talk back to media by spoofing ads in a fun, funny, creative way. How about doing your own PBG-ing on some of the Hunger Games product ads like this one for "Capitol Colors" nail polish (each color reflects one of the Districts!)? With whom are we to identify here?

 

What better way to be the Mockingjay than to mock?

 

 

 

 

Fat is a Preschool Issue

Yesterday I posted a link on my facebook page  to an article on CNN.com called “Fat is the New Ugly on the Playground,”  which featured a few nice quotes by yours truly. In response to the post were comments including the following:

Excuse me in my experience fat has always equalled ugly on the playground, ain't nuthin new here, take it from a former fat kid.

'Fat' has always been ugly on the playground, or any where else for that matter!

I'm not sure why this is all of a sudden breaking news.

Absolutely true. Fat kids—boys as well as girls—have long been tormented, demonized and excluded by their schoolmates. In CAMD I talk about the history of American attitudes towards fat—the reasons it came to be seen as a moral issue, a character flaw;  how it became particularly taboo for women whose avoirdupois was once considered sexy. Check out an exotic dancer in the 1800s:

 

I struggle openly in CAMD  and elsewhere  over how to imbue a daughter with a healthy body image. In fact, I've been writing about women and weight since the late 1980s, so it's not like any of this is a surprise.

What’s new, however, is the ever-earlier age at which children—girls particularly-- become conscious of weight. In  Schoolgirls I cited  a study revealing  that 50% of  9-year-old girls were dieting (check this  Wall Street Journal article  by a reporter who, to see for himself, interviewed  a group of girls  when that study came out; he talked to them again recently as adults).  But now, it appears, by age three girls equate thinness with beauty, sweetness, niceness and popularity; they associate "fat" meanwhile with laziness,  stupidity and friendlessness.

Yes, I said three. In a 2010 study researchers engaged 3-5 year old girls in games of Candyland and Chutes & Ladders asking them to choose among three game pieces--a thin one, an average-sized one and a fat one--to represent themselves. While in the past children that age showed little ability to distinguish between average and thin weights, today's wee ones  grabbed thin pieces at higher rates not only than fat ones but than those of "normal" weight. When asked by researchers to swap a thin figure for a fat one, the girls not only recoiled but some refused to even touch  the  chubbier game piece making comments such as, “I hate her, she has a fat stomach," or "She is fat. I don't want to be that one."

Again: preschoolers.

As  I’ve written before on this blog, toy manufacturers have lately classic toys on a diet, claiming (apparently rightly) that “Girls won’t play with childlike dolls any more.” So take a look:

 

 

 

Our friends at  Pigtail Pals, in a recent blog about this baby-fear-of-fat phenomenon posted a photo of how Barbie--whose figure has reflected the idealized female physique for decades--has also whittled her waist and hiked her heinie. Meanwhile, the doll's demographic has dropped: she's now marketed at 3-6 year olds (her original audience was 8-12).

 

There's no more grace period. From the get-go girls are bombarded with images of women whose bodies range from unattainable to implausible (Disney Princesses, anyone?). Even  G-rated films and educational TV present thinness not as healthier (which it may or not be, depending on how you get there)  but morally superior.

Given the mental health vulnerabilities an ever-narrowing standard of beauty creates in our girls--not to mention the negative impact fat-shaming has on overweight kids--are we really okay with letting this slide?

 

 

C*O*N*T*E*S*T* W*I*N*N*E*R*S!!

Last week my publisher ran a contest on my facebook author page  in which readers posted examples of the "princess industrial complex" run amok.

I could not POSSIBLY choose only three from the bounty posted. So I wheedled an extra couple of books out of my publisher. I wish I could put a winner's wreath (NOT a crown!) on everyone because each entry illustrated the reach and impact of princess/diva culture on younger and younger girls. You can see all entries by scrolling down the facebook page and hitting "older posts."
Meanwhile, would the winners  please email your addresses to my publisher at: Erica.Barmash AT harpercollins.com to claim your prizes!Now, drum roll:GRAND PRIZE (signed copy of CAMD; a copy of Girls Like Us  and a Harpercollins book tote): For Illustrating How Bombardment By Princess Products has Undermined Little Girls' Imaginations and Flattened their Individuality: 

Beth Tischler Becker. When the children in her daughter’s class "disguised" a flock of paper turkeys for Thanksgiving, the boys came up with a range of ideas—turkeys dressed as baseball players, Spiderman, grass(!). Every. Single. Girl (with the exception of Beth's own) decorated her bird as a princess. 4 out of 6 chose Disney Princesses. Limited, much? Beth also posted the Charlotte La Bouff doll— she's the white girl from "Princess and the Frog," who has, unlike secondary characters in any other Princess movie, apparently been elevated to princess status; the pending Eden Wood fashion line (so your daughter, too, can dress like the "Toddlers & Tiaras" star!!); and the Disney Princess "pop art toaster," which imprints crowns etc. onto your daughter’s bread). Beth, seems like you could've written "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" yourself!

RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): Start 'em Early:  Katie Miller for submitting Fisher Price's "Brilliant Basics" girls' and boys' teething ring/rattles which highlight both gender hyper-segmenting and the downward creep of Kardashianization: The set for your "darling baby girl" features a purse, diamond ring and charm bracelet; your  boy gets a saw, hammer and wrenches.
RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): Princesses Need to be White and Blonde Melissa Pantel-Ku for the Melissa & Doug hand mirror surrounded by (straight) blonde hair topped by a tiara. Note, that Melissa & Doug, with its old-fashioned, wooden toy ethos purports to be the more wholesome alternative to Disney and Mattel. RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): Girls Will Only Like Math if They Think it's Pretty: Terri Wiley for the Princess Math app. (For more on this issue see my post "Science Sans Sexism")
RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): Product that Only the Parents of an ACTUAL Princess Could Afford:  Hyphen Dorothy HP for the $47,000 pink princess Fantasy Coach bed.
RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): For Making My Jaw Hit the Floor Sarah Lozoff for her photo of a female firefighter at Legoland (built out of LEGOS) who is putting on lipstick rather than battling blazes (the male police officer next to her is speaking into a walkie talkie).

Cinderella's Ball Gown Ate Mulan!!!!!

Oh my God, Cinderella's ball gown ate Mulan!!! No!!!!!!! The one Disney “princess” (though she is no princess and never marries a prince) I loved, the one I gave my daughter to stave off the others, the one I scoured ebay to find has been made pink and pouffy! Poor Mulan, this against everything the character stands for! It was bad enough that the old Mulan doll came wearing a hanfu, which, if you’ve seen the movie (as I have, approximately forty million three hundred and seven times) she despised. The hanfu (a Chinese kimono) was how they served her up hoping she'd bring “honor to us all” by being pretty and marrying well.

But Mulan didn’t want to do that, even before she snuck off to join the military. She always wanted to be her own person.

Anyway,  Rebecca Hains, whose book Growing Up With Girl Power just came out, took this pic of the old Mulan:

And NOW look at her:

Pinker, pouffier, sparklier (Rebecca thought of the headline on this post, too). I’d like to remind the Disney people of the song that THEY put in Mulan II and is still one of my favorites:

Meanwhile, Rebecca took photos of the other dolls as well, noting that they'd all had sparklified remakes. They did resist putting Pocahontas in a ball gown (though the've tried before); she does, however, have inexplicably high-heeled feet. And sparkles. And rounder eyes. AND LIGHTER SKIN. Especially as the mom of a brown girl, I’m with Rebecca on this one—TOTALLY uncool, Dudes.

Anyway, bear with me  here as I free associate. Because I was thinking about all of this while reading an article in HuffPo about a study by MIT Economist Esther Dufflo. Dufflo traveled to 495 villages in India to determine  whether there was a gap in parents' expectations of their female and male children. Here's what she found:  in villages that never had female political leaders parents were 45% less likely to expect their daughters to go to high school. The girls themselves were 32% less likely than boys to believe they’d continue their education. In villages where female leaders  routinely served in local government, however,—such as in the state of West Bengal, where for two decades a third of local posts were specifically reserved for women—parents had the same educational expectations for their daughters as for their sons. The girls themselves had higher expectations s as well. Given the importance of girls’ education to ameliorating global poverty, this is vital information. The study’s author attributes her findings to “the role-model effect.” “Perceptions and giving hope,” Dufflo said, “can have an impact on reality."

I know we’re not India, but when all our little girls see are princesses and divas--and they see very few women in leadership in business, politics, STEM or the arts--what is our role model effect? Ponder this, for example: according to the latest Celluloid Ceiling report, women account for just 5% of directors working in Hollywood, down from 10% in 1998, when the number peaked. Meanwhile, only 14% of Hollywood writers, 18% of executive producers, 25% of producers, 20% of editors and 4% of cinematographers are female.

Don’t believe this under-representation has an impact on how and whether women and girls are portrayed on-screen? Check out the new material in the paperback of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, or take a look at the magnificent Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

And finally, for those of you who've read this far, I want to thank  you for making Cinderella Ate My Daughter a success. The paperback doesn't come out until  Tuesday, but they’ve already gone back to press! The pre-orders have been through the roof. I’m so grateful and thrilled that the book’s message of broadening images and opportunities for BOTH boys and girls is getting heard! Please check my events page (if you haven’t already) and come out and say hi if I’ll be in your town.

Also: I’ve updated the resources page on how to “fight fun with fun!”

Of Legos and Lincoln Logs, Or: Whatever Happened to 1972?

In the wake of  my recent NY Times editorial on nature, nurture, gender and the new Lego Friends line, a reader sent me this photo of the gifts she and her husband gave their 5-year-old son this Christmas: her husband's old Lincoln Log and Tinker Toy sets. He was born in 1972. He (the husband/father) was born in 1972.

The Tinkertoys package explicitly states, "For boys and girls." And note the girl happily building a ranch on the cover of the  Lincoln Logs!

Their son's response: "I didn't know these were for girls, too!" Point made (my point, that is).

FYI, you can still get gender-neutral Lincoln Logs (with pictures of cabins on the box, no kids shown). But there is also this set:

 

Again, necessary? Why? How does it affect the potential for boys and girls to interact? Play together? Is it relegating girls to pink and pretty or just meeting them half-way?

You can also get  a girls' version of "classic"  Tinker Toys.

 

It allows them to construct, "a flower garden, a butterfly a microphone and more!"

Among other things I wonder: what's the microphone got to do with it?

Science Sans Sexism

The very first blog post I ever wrote was about the Mindware catalog's spa science kit and its not-so-tacit message to little girls. As I go around the country giving talks I now show a series of pictures from similar   "science kits for girls" (which are flooding the market) to illustrate how they're designed less to teach interest in that subject than to cultivate an obsession with beauty and consumerism. Janet Stemwedel at Scientific American just wrote a great blog post about this. She talks, for instance, about this--yet another  "Spa Science" kit:  

 

...the packaging here strikes me as selling the need for beauty product more emphatically than any underlying scientific explanations of how they work. Does a ten-year-old need an oatmeal mask? (If so, why only ten-year-old girls? Do not ten-year-old boys have pores and sebaceous glands?)

...Maybe the Barbie-licious artwork is intended to convey that even very “girly” girls can find some element of science that is important to their concerns, but it seems also to convey that being overtly feminine is a concern that all girls have (or ought to have) — and, that such “girly” girls couldn’t possibly take an interest in science except as a way to cultivate their femininity

There are so many of these kits on the market today. This one, for instance:

 

And this one:

And this one:

 

The company Wild Science is kind enough to break their products down on "boys" and "girls" pages, just for those of us who may not be able to determine who is supposed to get the "perfume science" kit and who is supposed to get the (I kid you not) "physics and chemistry" kit.  Please. Click on the links. You have got to check them out. Go ahead. Compare and contrast. I'll wait.

Are you back? Are your teeth still in your head? I especially love that boys get "chemistry and physics" and girls get "perfect perfume lab."

Oh, wait--Wild Science ALSO has a whole section called "cosmetic science" featuring a "Pampering Boutique" for girls ages 8+ that "puts all the 'good' ingredients back in the skin after a tiresome day at school." Bonus points for reinforcing alienation from education (and that "pretty" and "smart" are incompatible!!)

Other "cosmetic science" products? Clay Mask Lab; Cleansing Boutqiue; Cosmetic Cream Lab; Enhancing Boutique (perhaps experiments involving botox?); Purifying Boutique and Shampoo Factory.

It's not just science kits, either. Craft kits, which once promoted art or, I don't know, at least CRAFT have also become focused solely on appearance. Faber-Castell, a venerable, 250 year old art supply company, owns Creativity for Kids whose craft kits for girls include the following:

 

 

There are so many of these cosmetic-fashion-jewelry craft kits I could go on forever. Look 'em up.

So imagine, for a moment: you're in third grade and you wake up on Christmas morning or light the Channukah candles on consecutive nights and as a budding scientist you get a perfume science kit. And then you open the next gift and because you're interested in art you get a fashion angels project runway kit. And then because you do love dolls you get Frankie Stein from Monster High. What is the larger message those gifts are giving? According to Stemwedel:

The message seems to be, “Look, there’s a bit of science that will interest even you. (And go put on some lipstick!)” Heaven knows, we couldn’t even get girls interested in building Rube Goldberg machines, or launching water-rockets, or studying the growth of plants or the behaviors of animals, or blowing stuff up … except, these are just the sort of things that the girls I know would want to do, even the pretty pink princesses.

She suggests if your little girl--or boy--is into science, you should check out the kids pages on the American Chemical Society site. There you will find hand-on activities (using stuff you probably have around the house) such as nine fun experiments with soap and detergent. And here's a list of books and books and books full of science experiments that any child would love.

Merry Merry.

Crotchless Panties and GAP short-shorts

By now you've all heard about  the Colorado mall store "Kids and Teens" that was selling crotchless thong panties for 7-year-olds (in addition to everything else, how does a crotchless thong panty WORK, exactly, I mean engineering-wise? I don't get it). It's unfathomable that someone came up with that product. It's unfathomable that some buyer in Colorado thought it was, what, cute? A good idea to put in a store? And the store's abhorrent defense was that it somehow got in there because they also sell items to teens. As if it would be somehow understandable if they were marketing crotchless thong panties (heretofore known as CTP)  to your 13-year-old. Or your 15-year-old. Or your 16-year-old. And why should "kids" be shopping in the same store as "teens" to begin with? Is that appropriate? Obviously, this particular incidence of age compression was so far over the line that parents flipped out, the media got on board, and the product was pulled. So the story ended similarly to the Abercrombie push-up bikini episode or the J.C. Penney's "I'm to pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me" t-shirt debacle or the KIA kiddie-porn ad.

But you can bet there will be more of these scandals. They pop up nearly weekly, whether it's lingerie for 10-year-olds, the hyper-sexualized rendering of Dakota Fanning in a perfume ad, Botox for baby beauty queens or Walmart's makeup line for 8-12 year olds (don't worry, Mom, it's non-toxic!). When they do pop up, much hand-wringing and righteousindignation ensues and I'm all for that. But I'd urge you to remember these do not and can not happen in a vacuum. There is a continuum of  products and images marketed to girls and their parents that made these obviously over-the-line items POSSIBLE. The risk of focusing on the Big Bad is that we become desensitized to the every day.

Consider, for example, this outfit from the current GAP "North Star" girls' collection.

Under the amusing headline, "Gap Kids Recommends Little Girls Eschew Pants This Winter" a Jezebel blogger writes:

I'm not sure what's more WTF about it — the weird insistence on "sexiness" or its stunning lack of practicality. What's a kid supposed to do with an outfit like this? Not go sledding, snow angeling, or ice skating, that's for damn sure. The implied sweater-wearing also means that more high energy indoor activities, like discoing or, uh, present opening would render the wearer sweaty. This is just a recipe for un-fun times.

I suppose this is what happens when five-year-olds are allowed to dress themselves using only Bratz clothing.

Does this  fall into the CTP category? No. But it does fall into the nearly 25% of clothing for girls aged 6-12 that contains elements that are both childlike and sexualized. As I've written before, citing a study released last summer, only 4% of girls' clothing is fully, overtly sexualized (the CTP being a case in point). I don't know who, beyond Mickie Wood, is buying that stuff. And nearly 2/3 of girls' clothing is considered entirely childlike. It's this 25% (more in stores like Abercrombie Kids and Justice) that mixes the message that I consider most toxic. Those are the things, to my mind, we REALLY need to examine and protest--and the mash-up is what makes that so hard to do.

Must go. Dog is chewing my desk. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!