What Do Little Girls Really Learn from "Career" Barbies?

Like a lot of moms, I faced the Barbie dilemma when my daughter was younger. I solved it--ta da!--through hypocrisy and mixed messages. Ok, maybe that's a little harsh. But I  figured a little bit of Barbie would sate her appetite (and stop the nagging) without doing too much harm. Like a vaccination, or homeopathic innoculation against the Big Bad. I told myself my daughter didn't use her dolls for fashion play anyway: her Barbie "funeral," for instance, was a tour de force of childhood imagination. I told myself I only got her "good" Barbies: ethnic Barbies, Wonder Woman Barbie, Cleopatra Barbie. Now that she's 10 and long ago gave the dolls away (or "mummified" them and buried them in the back yard in a "time capsule"), I can't say whether they'll have any latent impact on her body image or self-perception. It would seem ludicrous, at any rate, to try to pinpoint the impact of one toy. To me it was never about a single product anyway--not even the Princesses, though I'm often accused of thinking that--it was about the accrual of products, the conveyor belt we put girls on at ever-younger ages that tells them that how they look, first and foremost, is who they are. But now, according to a study published this week,  it turns out that playing with Barbie, even career Barbie, may indeed limit girls’ perception of their own future choices. Psychologists at Oregon State and the University of Santa Cruz randomly assigned girls ages 4-7 to play with one of three dolls. Two were Barbies: a fashion Barbie (in a dress and high heels);

Barbie fashion

and a "career" Barbie with a doctor’s coat and stethoscope.

doctor barbie

 The third, "control" doll was a Mrs. Potato Head, who,  although she comes with fashion accessories such as a purse and shoes, doesn't have Barbie's sexualized (and totally unrealistic) curves.

potato head

 

 (NOTE: I just pulled these images from the web: I don't know which Barbies or Potato Heads they used. Interestingly, though, the doctor Barbie I found on Amazon costs $35 whereas the fashionista Barbies are $11-$15. And one more note: I'm from the era when we used actual POTATOES for our Potato Head dolls, sticking them with push-pin pieces on which you could easily impale yourself--or your sibling. Those were the days, eh? Anyway, back to the topic at hand...).

Ahem. So, after just a few minutes of play, the girls were asked if they could do any of 10 occupations when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do those jobs. Half of the careers, according to the authors, were male-dominated and half were female dominated. The results:

Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. But girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys.

More to the point:

There was no difference in results between girls who played with a Barbie wearing a dress and the career-focused, doctor version of the doll.

Obviously, the study is not definitive. Obviously, one doll isn’t going to make the critical difference in a young woman’s life blah blah blah. Still, it's interesting that it doesn’t matter whether the girls played with fashion Barbie or doctor Barbie, the doll had the same effect and in only a few minutes. That reminded me of a study I wrote about in CAMD in which college women enrolled in an advanced calculus class were asked to watch a series of four, 30-second TV commercials. The first group watched four netural ads. The second group watched two neutral ads and two depicting stereotypes about women  (a girl enraptured by acne medicine; a woman drooling over a brownie mix). Afterward they completed a survey and—bing!—the group who’d seen the stereo- typed ads expressed less interest in math- and science-related careers than classmates who had watched only the neutral ones. Let me repeat: the effect was demonstrable after watching two ads. And guess who performed better on a math test, coeds who took it after being asked to try on a bathing suit or those who had been asked to try on a sweater? (Hint: the latter group; interestingly, male students showed no such disparity.)

Now think about the culture girls are exposed to over and over and over and over and over, whether in toys or movies or tv or music videos, in which regardless of what else you are—smart, athletic, kind, even feminist, even old—you must be "hot." Perhaps, then, the issue is not “well, one doll can’t have that much of an impact,” so much as “if playing with one doll for a few minutes has that much impact what is the effect of the tsunami of sexualization that girls confront every day, year after year?”

(If Barbie were life-sized she'd be 6 feet tall with a 39" bust, 18" waist, and 33" hips. This representation was made by then-high school student Galia Slayen and originally from a post by Today News)

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.

Just for Fun, 'Cause Dang, I Need Some

So many people have sent me links to Jamie Moore's work. Moore is a photographer and mom to a 5-year-old girl, Emma.  In response to the cultural omnivorousness of Disney Princess, she she began to think about:

...all the REAL women for my daughter to know about and look up too, REAL women who without ever meeting Emma have changed her life for the better. My daughter wasn’t born into royalty, but she was born into a country where she can now vote, become a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, or even President if she wants and that’s what REALLY matters. I wanted her to know the value of these amazing women who had gone against everything so she can now have everything. 

Gosh, that is so beautifully written, isn't it? Anyway, she and Emma chose five of those women for Emma to dress up as to honor for her fifth birthday.

...but there are thousands of unbelievable women (and girls) who have beat the odds and fought (and still fight) for their equal rights all over the world……..so let’s set aside the Barbie Dolls and the Disney Princesses for just a moment, and let’s show our girls the REAL women they can be.

You have got to see the results. GOT TO. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about "fighting fun with fun." Everyone has their own limits, tolerance, acceptance for the Disney Princesses and all that comes after, but wherever you stand on that spectrum, it's important to give your daughter a broader view (no intended, sort of) of what it means to be a girl and a woman. So thank you SO MUCH for giving me something beautiful I can share with my daughter, Ms. Moore and Emma.

I hope you don't mind if I reprint one of your photos here....And could you please, please keep going with this project? We need it!

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?

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:

Disney Princesses Circa 2012: I'm Too Sexy For My Gown?

So, while we're on the topic of how the Disney Princesses--the brand that parents go to to stave off premature sexualization of their innocent girls--are changing, let's take a look at Belle. Recall that the message of "Beauty and the Beast" is that true beauty comes from within (though you could also argue it teaches that if you hang out with an abusive guy long enough he turns into a prince...). Now let's look at how Belle has changed since her debut in 1991. Here she is in the movie, just a girl and her book, singing, as one does:

Here she is, also in the movie, in her iconic yellow gown, the one that has made countless preschool girls rip the necks of their t-shirts because "princesses don't show their shoulders" (people tell me that all the time):

 

Now here is the BRAND NEW BELLE circa 2012 from the Disney store site, pictured on a girl's nightie:

 

Whoa. Hotsy-totsy. Like  I want my 4-year-old wearing pajamas with THAT expression on them.

Moving on, check out Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) circa 1959:

 

And the new, 2012, souped-up version:

 

Nor is it jus t classic princesses that have been remade. Here's Rapunzel in her movie:

 

And Rapunzel on the Disney Store site:

 

Subtler remake, but big on the vapid.

So, still think Disney is the antidote to girls' early sexualization? Or is it the enabler?

As always, I don't think Disney is involve in a CONSPIRACY or anything. The company's wares reflect the changing taste of their demographic and it's the  change that's disturbing. It's also right in line with a study of published last month in the journal Sex Roles  on self-sexualization among elementary school-aged girls.  According to a report in Live Science, psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in sixty girls ages 6-9 recruited largely from public schools. The girls were shown two dolls: one was dressed in tight, revealing "sexy" clothes and the other in a trendy but covered-up, loose outfit. Both dolls, as you can see below, were skinny and would be considered "pretty" by little girls.

Using a different set of dolls for each question, the researchers then asked each girl to choose the doll that: looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, was the girl she wanted to play with.

In every category, the girls most often chose the "sexy" doll.

The results were most significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the doll looked how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy doll.

"It's very possible that girls wanted to look like the sexy doll because they believe sexiness leads to popularity, which comes with many social advantages," explained lead researcher Christy Starr, who was particularly surprised at how many 6- to 7-year-old girls chose the sexualized doll as their ideal self.

Other studies have found that sexiness boosts popularity among girls but not boys. "Although the desire to be popular is not uniquely female, the pressure to be sexy in order to be popular is."

Back to Disney. The new princesses reflect the changes in how girls' see themselves (and what they want mirrored in the toys they choose--not only the new princesses but Monster High, and the upcoming Bratzillaz and Novistars dolls). As the first foray into popular culture, the new royalty--which Disney is the first to call "aspirational"-- also both prime girls for  that sexualization and fuel the trend.

As always, it's up to those of us who care about girls well-being--parents, siblings, aunties, uncles, grandparents, teachers, advocates, friends, counselors etc etc--to raise the alarm about what's going on and its impact. And to fight back hard and with lots and lots of fun.

 

 

Introducing: Cinderella 2012

I've been writing and talking about how the princess culture morphs into the diva culture as girls get older, but the transformation works both ways. Over time, the Disney Princesses not only have become more focused on cosmetics than character, but their actual faces are increasingly influenced by pop culture divas. Take Cinderella. Here is what she looked like in 1950, in the original Disney film.:

This is as a servant girl (a part of her character that has disappeared ENTIRELY, but which is the basis for her strength of character and the real reason we're supposed to root for her...)

And at the ball:

Among the interesting things to note: her hair is not that blonde and her face is sort of regular-looking.

Here she is in the post-2001 official Disney Princess era:

 

blonder, blander, coyer, flirtier, more like a parody of the princess  perhaps? Note how different Belle looks than in her movie, too. And Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). The backpack is an official Disney product--one of the 1,473 results you get when you search "Disney Princess  backpacks" on Amazon.

And now here is the 2012 Cinderella that has suddenly cropped up:

 

I  keep trying to figure out who she looks like. A little bit Paris Hilton. A little bit Dianna Agron, a little bit Taylor Swift? She is at once older and younger than previous versions of Cinderella. The original Cinderella seemed like an adult, this one is clearly a teenager. The Disney Princess Cinderella was more fantastical in her up-do and weird head-band thingy. She had so little subtlety in her presentation that, while she was certainly an adult, she seemed to speak only to the littlest girls. This one seems like she's about 15, which maybe dodges the whole marrying prince charming business (Disney takes a lot of heat on that idea, and they would like to side-step it).

This Cinderella's appearance is at once more accessible than the last version and equally (maybe more) unattainable--she's much more  like the images girls see as they get older. She's the  girl they're supposed to want to look like: blonde, pretty, skinny, a little bit sexy. She could be princess-by-day-pop -star-by-night: a new version of Hannah Montana. And guess what? It's still an impossible, unachievable, externally-driven ideal.

Mostly, though, I think this is part of Disney's attempt to keep the franchise going. You can only make so much off of 3-5 year olds (a mere $4 billion a year). They need to keep expanding older and  younger (hence the "baby" princess dolls and toddler princess dolls on one end and the wedding dresses on the other). This new doll seems geared to the Bratz demographic. Maybe that's why it seems a little less princess and a little more wicked stepsister.....

What do you think of the new Cindy?

"Cinderella," Sir John Everett Millais, 1881.

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.")

Prom Plastic Surgery and Girls SPARKing a Difference

When  we called people "plastic" back when I was a teenager, it was an insult. These days, apparently, not so much. Joe Kelly, over at The Dadman (an expert on how to father girls, as well as husband to Nancy Gruver, founder of New Moon Girls online community/magazine) sent me a press release discussing the 71% rise in chin implants in 2011, in large part driven by teen girls asking to have the procedure done...for prom. That's right, 20, 680 surgical procedures at $3,500-$7,000 a pop were performed last year. There has also been a spike in "ear-pinning," (for those up-dos) which Darrick Antell, a spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, informally called "Clark Gable Wings." Antell told the Sunday Times:

At proms in the past, teens would line up for photographs and face the camera. But the rise of more informal images, captured during video chats or by smartphones when they are leaning over a buffet maybe, has shown them angles of their face they had not seen in a mirror.

Oh, well in that case....

The HuffPo asks in a poll, "Do you think getting plastic surgery for prom is excessive?"

Like we need to vote on that????

Whether or not surgery for prom (or any teen cosmetic surgery. Or, for that matter, any cosmetic surgery on anyone) is excessive is not really the question. Nor do I want to get into a debate over what those girls' parents were thinking. The issue to ponder  is, how, even as girls are higher achieving and better-educated than ever, did we get to this point? And how do we pull back from the brink?

Well, for starters, the culture that bombards girls  at unprecedentedly early ages  with an unattainable ideal of beauty, pressures them to define themselves from the outside in, tells them that the most important thing to their well-being and success is being the Fairest of them All. They learn over and over whether from their baby rattles or their  science kits or their flower seeds that who they are is how they look.

What's more, these days, even the people who embody the unattainable, ideal haven't actually attained it. That's different than when I was young, and it messes with girls' heads. One way to combat that is to make sure EVERY girl (and EVERY woman and EVERY boy and EVERY man) sees and discusses the Dove "Evolution" video. I've shown it to my daughter repeatedly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hibyAJOSW8U

Another good clip, especially for boys:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5_AFk9aOAA

We can also support girls who are trying to make change. Here's an opportunity: 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, a SPARK team member, has started a petition to ask Seventeen Magazine to run one--JUST ONE--un-altered photo spread a month in the publication.

I was a rabid fan of Seventeen as a girl. I sat down with my monthly issue the minute I got it and read it cover-to-cover. I mean that literally. I read every ad. I read every article. I didn't jump to the back when an article did, I waited until I got to that page. I kept every issue--I think I may still have them--in a footlocker in my green room with its white patent crinkle-leather beanbag chair and its green swag lamp. I knew all the bylines and the names of all the models. Years later, I met folks who had written for the publication and they were shocked when I could quote their pieces back to them. (You can read about a modern girl's love/hate with the iconic girl mag here). Seventeen is part of why I became a writer. It may also have contributed to the eating disorder I struggled with as a teen. So I don't take the magazine's influence lightly.

SPARK and Julia have  already gotten over 43,000 signatures on her change.org petition. I would love to see them get at least 50,000, so these marvelous girl activists know  that we adult women (and our daughters, sons, menfolk) are behind them.

In a supporting--and fun--activity, SPARK's partner site, poweredbygirl.org invites girls (and adults) to contribute an on-line spoof of the current Seventeen cover.  I believe understanding and taking control of media messages can be transformative for girls, turning them from princesses into heroines. Why don't you try it yourself and see?

 

 

(posted by avivajaye)

"Never Grow a Wishbone, Daughter...."

Sarah McMane, a high school English teacher in Upstate New York , accomplished poet and mom of a 2-year-old girl. She also founded an annual coffeehouse-style annual performance of original student poetry. Each year, as a model for her kids, she contributes an original poem of her own. She sent me this year's piece, which I loved so much I thought I'd post it here. Enjoy. Clementine Paddleford, incidentally, was an American journalist, food writer and activist.

_________________________________

For My Daughter

"Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be." –Clementine Paddleford

Never play the princess when you can be the queen: rule the kingdom, swing a scepter, wear a crown of gold. Don't dance in glass slippers, crystal carving up your toes— be a barefoot Amazon instead, for those shoes will surely shatter on your feet.

Never wear only pink when you can strut in crimson red, sweat in heather grey, and shimmer in sky blue, claim the golden sun upon your hair. Colors are for everyone, boys and girls, men and women— be a verdant garden, the landscape of Versailles, not a pale primrose blindly pushed aside.

Chase green dragons and one-eyed zombies, fierce and fiery toothy monsters, not merely lazy butterflies, sweet and slow on summer days. For you can tame the most brutish beasts with your wily wits and charm, and lizard scales feel just as smooth as gossamer insect wings.

Tramp muddy through the house in a purple tutu and cowboy boots. Have a tea party in your overalls. Build a fort of birch branches, a zoo of Legos, a rocketship of Queen Anne chairs and coverlets, first stop on the moon.

Dream of dinosaurs and baby dolls, bold brontosaurus and bookish Belle, not Barbie on the runway or Disney damsels in distress— you are much too strong to play the simpering waif.

Don a baseball cap, dance with Daddy, paint your toenails, climb a cottonwood. Learn to speak with both your mind and heart. For the ground beneath will hold you, dear— know that you are free. And never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to 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.

 

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?

 

 

Parents Make Disney Stop Fat-Shaming Kids

Call it another triumph for parent-power (and the power of all those who love kids). The protests that erupted in the wake of Disney’s Feb 3 launch of “Habit Heroes,” an exhibit at Epcot purportedly designed to combat childhood obesity, resulted  yesterday in the exhibit’s (and web site's) reportedly indefinite closure. Here’s what happened: “Habit Heroes,” developed in partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield (who should’ve known better) was  an interactive series of games in which  kids teamed up with animated  “heroes”--Will Power and Callie Stenics (get it??)--to defeat “villains” such as

 

 

 

And Stink Bomb who is not only fat but has bad hygiene!

Lordy, lordy.

Let’s pause for a minute and talk about why shaming fat kids is not just mean but ineffective as a weight-loss strategy (just in case you don’t already know):  In a letter addressed to blogger Shannon Russell the director of the  National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development  explained that programs like Disney's or the controversial  Strong4Life campaign in Georgia:

 

...carry a great risk of increasing stigma for those children who are overweight or obese. which in turn can reinforce unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating). A number of research studies over the last decade have supported this concern. For example, studies suggest that overweight children who are teased about their appearance are more likely to binge eat or use unhealthy weight-control practices, and weight-based victimization ahs been correlated with lower levels of physical activity. Not surprisingly, stigmitazation  of obese individuals, particularly adolescents, poses risks to their psychological health.

Other studies show that the perception that obesity is solely a matter of personal responsibility, as opposed to understanding the complexity of contributing factors, can increase negative stereotypes of overweight people. It is important, therefore, that public messages about obesity address this complexity wherever possible.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Disney couldn't address health risks of excess weight without making fat kids cry. In movie after movie—even the supposedly “enlightened” ones such as Beauty and the Beast or Tangled---fat  (or “ugly” not to mention "old & female") in the Wonderful World has  been used to signal character flaws: it's shorthand for stupid, ugly, comical, asexual, evil. For instance:

Ursula from Little Mermaid

 

Aunt Sarah from Lady and the Tramp

 

The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland

 

Mama Odie in Princess and the Frog (not villainous, but a weird)

 

Ratcliffe in Pocahontas

Stromboli from Pinocchio 

Smee from Peter Pan

The list goes on. So you think this company is going to approach overweight children with the care, compassion and sensitivity they deserve?

A number of bloggers have taken this on (hence the pressure to close down the exhibit). But I haven't seen anyone discussing this part:  Disney seemed to be trying to have its cake and shun kids for eating it, too. Because if the company really wanted to help in the fight against childhood obesity it would stop its pimping its characters out to be plastered on tasty, empty-caloried, ultra-processed, high-sugar foods that contribute to the problem. Tell me how Will Power would react, for instance, about Disney Princess Spaghetti O’s?

 

 

Or the Disney Princess “healthy kids” Campbell’s soup, which, granted, contains 80 calories in a half cup serving (does anyone ever eat a half-cup serving?) but has virtually no nutritional value while dishing up 480 mg of sodium. Oh, and lest you forget, in tests of canned food by the Breast Cancer Fund  the Disney Princess Cool Shapes, Shaped Pasta with Chicken  Broth contained the second highest levels of BPA (a chemical linked to early puberty, breast cancer, prostate cancer, ADHD, type 2 diabetes and, oh yes--obesity)  of any product tested. 

That's not to say Disney doesn't care  about children's BPA levels when it suits them, otherwise they wouldn't advertise that their sippy cups and feeding sets for toddlers are BPA-free. How messed up is that?

Then there are the "Jewel Berry" Disney Princess  Pop-Tarts.  Jewel Berry?

 

 

And the Princess Belle Fruit snacks which on the front promise “real fruit” but whose first two ingredients are corn syrup and sugar (that “real fruit” turns out to be apple juice puree).

 

Speaking of fruit, the princesses also grace containers of apple juice, a beverage whose calorie and sugar content are precisely the same as soda pop and is similarly linked to childhood obesity.

 

Though I suppose I should be careful what I wish for. It’s not like I’d prefer Disney to start branding more healthful fare like vegetables or fruit. Oh, wait, they already have:

Sigh. You know what I think would be really great? If the company made films in which the protagonists were themselves a healthy weight—that is, not impossibly narrow-wasted and large-breasted—and in which fat characters (girls and women in particular) were neither the subject of ridicule or disdain. Maybe one could even get the prince.

 

 

 

Who Needs Lego Friends When You Have a Lego Granddaughter?

A reader named Leslie, whose daughter, Callie's eloquent letter about Lego's new "Friends" line was summarily dismissed by that company, just sent me this photo:  

 

Callie and her cousins made this Lego "birthday cake"  for their grandmother, who is unable to eat the real deal.  Here's the family of girls and women preparing to blow out the candles. I bet they wished for creative, open-ended toys that didn't stereotype and hyper-segment children.

And guess what, Lego? THIS IS WHAT BEAUTIFUL LOOKS LIKE!!!!!!