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.

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)

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).

Disney Agrees: Princesses are Unhealthy for Girls!

Did Disney blink in releasing its new "age-appropriate" Sofia the First princess character and TV show?  If  Sofia is deemed "just right" for preschoolers, after all, wouldn’t that mean the now re-labeled "adult" princesses…aren’t? Yet for the past ten years, the Princess concept has been sold (and sold and sold) to the exact same demographic with the Disney assurance that they are “developmentally appropriate,”  "safe," and imparting good values. No more. Sofia, they assure us, won't be about romantic fantasy. She won't need a prince to make her happy, a message that, according to one report Disney recognizes as a "legitimate worry" for parents and a "bad message for little girls." Yet when I spoke with Disney execs while reporting Cinderella Ate My Daughter, they poo-pooed my concern, insisting that the romantic story lines and passive heroines of "Cinderella," "Snow White," "Little Mermaid" etc.--which, again, they were shilling to the very same preschool girls they now say need rescuing from that message--were harmless fun. Can they have it both ways? At the time, execs also told me that Princess was  not I repeat not only about the dresses, makeup, bling and Kardashian-sized materialism. Or the $4 billion annually Princess pulls in for the company. No.  Disney Princesses were  about kindness and compassion and values.

Hey, guess what they’re saying about Sofia? She will, according to a Disney Jr. exec, have “plenty of pretty dresses and sparkly shoes,” but her REALY purpose is to teach  viewers that “what makes a real princess is what’s inside, not what’s outside.” Unlike, say, what the other princesses have been teaching viewers for all these years?

So I wonder, does that mean Disney won't be selling any of Sofia dresses, crowns, ways or other merch, so they can reinforce the idea that she's all about the inside?

Not hardly.Disney is nothing if not cynical. And greedy.

Obviously Sofia is all about the dresses and the shoes. If not, they could have made her an astronaut or, I know….an explorer!!! Oh, wait, we have that already.I wonder whether Dora would have been possible in today’s princess-obsessed culture. Especially given that Dora herself has both gone princess and undergone a makeover.

 

 

Maybe if Disney (or Nick, or Sesame Street Workshop or, gosh, anyone)  had 10 other “age appropriate” female characters who were not princesses; maybe if they had a female character whose appeal did not depend on her prettiness (because make no mistake—Sofia is very pretty and weirdly coy and, not for nothing, totally white and that is part of the package); maybe if they didn’t continually reinforce to girls at ever-younger ages that how you look is who you are while claiming to do just the opposite (witness the Tangled Escape From the Tower Lip & Nail Set! and the Princess with a Loving Heart Make-Up Kit.); maybe if they didn't prime them for premature sexualization while claiming to protect them from it; maybe if they didn’t exploit little girls’ fantasies and turn imagination into something to be scripted and sold; maybe if they didn’t provide the first entrée for so many of the issues I write about on this blog (and in Cinderella Ate My Daughter); maybe then I would feel less disgusted by this latest move. Instead, it just feels like the latest predatory example of Disney reaching for the crib.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the company to come out with a Snow White coffin. They’re missing a major womb-to-tomb  branding opportunity.

o

Wait! Wait! One more thing--you want a great princess story? I'll give you one. Just in time for the holidays. The Princess and the Pig. It looks hysterical--and right on. And you can bet it won't be used to sell your 3-year-old lip gloss!

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!

 

Pearls From Ruby

The best thing we can do for our daughters is to teach them, as they get older, to make their own courageous way through the woods of the girlie-girl culture. So what a thrill to read this  blog post by my friend Marcelle's 11-year-old daughter, Ruby. Ruby wrote it after she and her mom, who live in New York City,  went shopping for her Halloween costume. Needless to say, they didn't find one, though Ruby sure found her voice. It's one thing for us adults to talk to girls about the creepy (not in a good way) costumes, but how much more powerful to hear it from a peer!

So Ruby and Marcelle, you are my sheroes and here, with her permission, is Ruby's post:

TRICKS AND TREATS: RETURN TO INNOCENCE

by Ruby Karp

So, you know what time it is! That’s right, Halloween! When you dress up as a scary ghost or zombie, right? Not for girls my age (I’m 11, in sixth grade). For us, it is dress-up-in-an-inappropriate-way time. And I know I am in that inbetween age, where I’m still a kid and almost something else, but seriously. I love Halloween, I love trick-or-treating with my friends, I love the way the neighborhood turns into a magical place with cobwebs and spiders and everything spooky-safe. And ever since I was 7, it’s been hard for me to find a costume that isn’t above the knee or low-cut or has a choker involved.

Like this year, I wanted to be Elmo and my friend was going to be Cookie Monster but where were the fuzzy costumes? NOWHERE. Instead of fun costumes that I would have a hard time choosing between, I found super-short dresses that aren’t cute, they’re inappropriate for me. How does Snow White turn into a girl in a sports bra that’s blue and a yellow mini skirt and super high heels that are bright red? Tell me, how is that Snow White? I looked at a Little Red Riding Hood costume and it went up really high. I mean, the list goes on and on.

And you know, instead of just telling my mom, “So this year, I want to be a Ghoulish Girl,” and going to the costume store and picking it out in five minutes, we have to search for something and my mom has to inspect it! Can you imagine trying to decide what costume is sexy and which is not with your mom? Do you know how embarrassing that is? Well, believe it. I have to do that every Halloween. Now, it isn’t easy when my best friend and me had been planning to be something together and your mom tells you cant because it is too-something-gross. So this year, I’m borrowing my friend’s old pumpkin costume that her Mom sewed for her (yep, she’s got a Super-Mom) and it is perfect for me, a girl of 11 years old.

It is sad how for Halloween, girls have less and less options on what to wear, that they have to choose between ick and ickier. I used to love Halloween because you could dress up in public  like a fairy and not look weird! Now, when I look for a fairy costume, I look a little too weird. Why do costume-makers want girls looking like this? What is going to happen to the next generation? Maybe the GOOD costumes won’t even be here anymore, the only choice a 10-year-old girl will have is to be something with the word “vixen” or “sexy” in the costume title. Sigh. I can only hope for the best.

I have to search real hard for a good non-weird costume. And it shouldn’t be this hard. Really, the only thing we can do is hope that the costumes go back to the way they were when I was little, when you could be a Princess or a Baseball Player and not look like you were out to be anything else but that. And more appropriate. NOTE TO PEOPLE WHO MAKE THESE COUSTUMES: we are not 25. We are 11. Start making costumes like it. AND FAST.

What a gem. Thanks, Ruby!

Eden Wood, Wouldn't She?

Even though I don't like to harp on Toddlers & Tiaras contestants (because as I always say, looking at their extreme behavior desensitizes us to the every day sexualization "regular" girls face, plus they get enough PR) I can't help but be fascinated--and concerned--by the trajectory of Eden Wood. I wrote about her and her mother, Mickie, in CAMD back when Eden was four. Now she's quit pageants and, according to People,  it's become clear as to why: she's got bigger things going on. This week 6-year-old Eden made her Fashion Week debut modeling footwear for the kids' line Cicciabella:

 

Ahem. You're supposed to be looking at the boots.

The evening's hostess, Kelley Bensimon  (could this GET any weirder?) said Eden was just having a "fun girly moment." Because, you know, she's wearing PINK and all. But I guess that's the kind of comment  you get when you look to   a Real Housewives cast member for insight.

According to People, the fashion crowd adores Eden. No surprise--the industry has a history of sexing-up little girls   from Brooke Shields (here at age 10--a cropped version from the infamous nude photo series by Gary Gross):

to 15-year-old Jaime King (taken by Nan Goldin backstage during a Lagerfeld show):

to that 10-year-old in French Vogue that caused all the fuss recently. It's part of the fabric of contemporary fashion to make little girls look like sexual adult women, then urge adult women to try to look like those little girls.

Heads are messed with on all sides of that equation.

And yes, I'm aware that the two photos above are taken by real-and-true artists while the Eden Wood shots were taken by, you know, whomever. That is not the point.

It's not just fashion-types who are noticing Eden. People says in addition to her  "high-end photo shoot," and being dressed by Marc Jacobs, she is going to be a guess star on the TLC series, Next Great Baker where they will make a cake in her image. According to her mom, she also has two animated films and a live action film lined up as well.

I'm starting to become kind of interested to see what happens to Eden over time. Not that I wish it on her, but if any child is set up to completely implode in a Lohan-esque way it's this one.

At the same time, if Eden (or, more pointedly, her mother) is truly successful at becoming a star through the one-two punch of  premature sexualization and self-objectification, that will, no doubt, become a strategy for others. Eventually, it could become  normalized: imitated until it is mundane, even expected not only for those pursuing show business, but for all girls, at least to a degree. That's the path we've been on, though it's been slower. We will stop seeing it as unusual. And then, to get her own shot at the limelight, the next ambitious little girl's mother will have to figure out how to top it.

Man, I'd like to know what Shirley Temple thinks of all this.

Here's My 8-Year-Old's Halloween Costume

Ta da!  

Ha! I'm just messing with you. Over my undead body would my kid be wearing this Clawdeen Wolf  Monster High costume, available at  Toys'R'Us, in sizes "recommended" for  4-6 year olds.  So all that rot you Monster High fans are telling me about how the line isn't MEANT for little girls? Tell that to Mattel. Or to the 4-year-old rocking a  Frankie Stein costume.

 

Or the kindergartner who wants to dress as Cleo de Nile:

 

 

Now THAT'S scary.

Look,  I don't mean to pick on Monster High. These images just happened to come across my desk today.

A reader recently sent me this one:

Helloooo, Kitty!

It's no secret that  little girls' Halloween costumes have gotten sexier. The topic comes up in the media every October. But the issue is so much bigger. Two of the world's wisest  women,  Deb Tolman and Lyn Mikel Brown broke it down for HuffPo last year. Among their observations:

 

The constant visual cues suggesting there are only two options for what girls can be, not just on Halloween but every other day of the year, reflect a media and marketing machine that pits one type against the other, even as it sides with the consumer version of sexy. The reality, of course, is that there really are more choices. Girls can be whatever they want to be, but they have to be encouraged to find out what that is, and the media messages with which they are bombarded make that a harder task each passing day.

But for various reasons, we as parents have not said "no" to the retailers, because too often in this ever more consumer-driven society, we do not say "no" to our children. We're afraid of what can happen when our children don't conform or we resist too much, like the six year-old kicked off her cheerleading team in Michigan because her parents protested a sexualized cheer.

It's easy for moralizers to blame parents for saying yes and to blame girls for wanting and wearing. Placing the blame on individuals deflects attention from the rampant commercialization of childhood and the pornification of products marketers peddle to younger and younger children. Sure, we can say no. Many of us do. But we're up against corporations willing to invest billions to cultivate our child's desire for the right look and heighten their anxiety about not matching up.

Halloween can be just one more reminder that a girl has to be all sexy or she's nothing, or it can be an opportunity to explore what lies between the extremes. Help her discover all the amazing options available. Challenge her to come up with the most fun, fascinating, silly, scary costumes she can imagine. Unleash her creativity. Make it a contest, make it a party, make it a school challenge. Like the Connecticut cheerleaders who refused to wear skimpy uniforms that undermined their ability to perform, like the Texas teens who decided not to wear makeup to school, encourage her to make news with a protest, a petition, or a video that can go viral.

Raising a daughter with a chance at sexual health and sexual literacy is difficult enough; when sex is overused to oversell, it can feel like a Sisyphean task. It is more urgent than ever that we encourage girls to use their power to pull back the curtain on the paucity of what has been marketed as "choice" and reclaim what it means to be a girl.

So the problem is not Halloween. It's not Toddlers & Tiaras. It's the messaging that surrounds girls in much more mundane ways EVERY SINGLE DAY that reduce them and define them by their bodies. Yet, there are certain times, like Halloween, when those messages grow more intense. So how about it? Rather than bemoaning what's happening yet again, let's us adults do our job and get together, talk to one another and say NO!

Of course if you know my motto--fight fun with fun--you know "no" is not enough. How about telling your daughter to (or helping her to or challenging her to) make her own costume?  I suck at crafts, truly, but I overcame last year and got out my safety pins and glue gun and some muslin  to make a reasonably credible Athena costume. And the year before that, heck, my girl tossed on her karate gi and stuck a wooden sword in her belt and said she was a "martial arts girl." It  wasn't the most inspired  costume out there BUT SO THE F*CK WHAT???? She is a KID. It's Trick-or-Treat, not Project Runway (though speaking of runways, maybe a pilot??).

It would be invading her privacy to give away what she's going as this year (though she's been talking about it since 12:01 am on Nov 1 2010). But I guarantee you this: her costume will be  warm enough to wear outside without a jacket.

 

 

Disney Princesses: The Gateway Drug

I just received a press release (excerpted below) below from the Disney Store. Those  pseudo-empowering" Rapunzels and Belles are just  bait-and-switch for trusting parents. The big money--the REAL money (the $5 BILLION a year) is creating and selling to what here is called the "Princess Fashionista" and then keeping her business and loyalty as she reaches the high-spending tweens and beyond. Interesting  that girls here are no longer encouraged by Disney to live HAPPILY ever after but STYLISHLY ever after. Hence my theory that really, the thing to be concerned about these days is NOT the rescued-by-the-prince fantasy  so much as the way today's Princess culture  girls to a of femininity that is  sexualized, narcissistic, self-objectifying, vain, commercialized, self-objectifying....and need I say UNHEALTHY?

 

Fashionistas receive the royal treatment with an enchanted evening of pampering and accessorizing, Disney-style

PASADENA, Calif., September 7, 2011–Disney Store will celebrate New York City’s Fashion’s Night Out with an event fit for royalty, inspiring its guests to live ‘stylish ever after’. Disney Store Times Square will host an array of fashionably fun festivities on September 8, 2011 from 4 p.m.-11 p.m., highlighting the newest Disney-inspired lifestyle product lines. Guests will be treated to a magical evening including free mini-manicures with the new runway-inspired Disney Princess Designer Collection nail polish, featuring hues ranging from Snow White's luscious apple red to Belle's gleaming gold. Guests will be able to customize their very own bracelet at the Kidada for Disney Store charm bar, and be the first to get a sneak preview of the latest Disney Store fragrance inspired by Tinker Bell—Pixie Dust.

“We’ve created products that tell Disney stories with a fashion-forward spin with the goal to keep our guests excited and looking forward to what is coming up next,” said Robin Beuthin, vice president of creative for Disney Store North America.

Disney Store’s new Pixie Dust fragrance...captures Tinker Bell's personality perfectly – it charms with a subtle sweetness yet it also has a hint of sassiness that we love about the beloved Disney character.  Pixie Dust comes as a range of personal products including Eau de Toilette, Body Mist and Body Lotion, available in all Disney Store locations in fall 2011. Gift sets with body glitter, a roll on Eau de Toilette and lip gloss will also be available.

Here are some of the new products:

 

Yes, this is for your preschooler.

 

No that is not the new OPI line. It is, again, for your preschooler .

And, oh no, look what they've done to poor Mulan!!!

 

 

Sigh. Honestly, do you WANT your 3-year-old to be "fashion forward?" Do you want her even to know what that phrase means? And by the by, why does a preschooler need perfume, let alone one with a "sassy" edge?  Don't children  smell perfectly delicious as they are (assuming they are potty trained)?

Oh, and in other Mouse House news, Andy Mooney, creator of the Disney Princess line and head of consumer licensing for the past 12 years, resigned yesterday. Unclear where he will go but in an email to  his staff and colleagues he wrote, Together, we have radically changed the licensing business." Damn. You can say that again.

One from the OMG Files--and One from the TG (Thank God) Files, Too

Okay, yeah, just when I think Toddlers & Tiaras can't sink any lower, it does. And though I think the whole T&T business detracts from the real and (God, I hope) more subtle forms of sexualization most girls face every day it also desensitizes us and, as I have said (and said and said) can let viewers off the hook with its extremity, making us think, even unconsciously, "well, nothing I do with my daughter is THAT bad." Still, posting this video of a 4-year-old with FAKE BOOBS YES I SAID FAKE BOOBS is irresistible. They got me. I can't help it.

totalVisit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

But to do penance for posting that--and because it's FAR more important and worthy and necessary and totally mandatory viewing, here is a clip of my aforementioned Shero, La Rachel Simmons on the same show talking about the updated version of her classic, required-reading bible on girls' social dynamics, Odd Girl Out. Watch the vid. Buy the book, unlike the T&T stuff, you won't be sorry afterwards.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Just as an aside, I wonder why the ad before this video is for men's shaving gel. Whatever.

 

It's Really Not the Underwear

I'm still on vacation, but while I've been gone people have been sending me various outrageous items they've come across that, again and again, illustrate  of increasingly sexualized, commodified ideas about femininity being foisted on our daughters at an ever-younger age. To me, some of them are the equivalent of the toddler beauty pageants--they are so out there that they become perversely reassuring: whatever the rest of us  may be doing it's not THAT bad. Ultimately, I fear, they  discourage us from truly examining mainstream culture, desensitizing us to the less extreme but relentless creep  (and I mean that in every sense of the word) of sexualization and consumerism. So to me, while despicable the French company Jours Apres Lune's  totally pedo lingerie for 10-year-olds ( see below) that was all over ABC and Time, risks taking our eye off the true problem.

Similarly, the same outlets' alarm over  the 10-year-old  model, again in France, styled like Pretty Baby in that country's Vogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And on our home turf, while one hopes that the company Baby Bangs that is, essentially, selling WIGS FOR YOUR BALD BABY GIRL will never get off the ground, it is also the equivalent of focusing on a brush fire when the forest is burning.

Baby without wig

Okay, I can't resist posting the company's "philosophy":

At Baby Bangs! we believe in the beauty of childhood. Our unique designs are sprinkled with MAGIC! ~inspiring a world of whimsical wonder and mystical magical memorable moments for you and your baby girl to cherish Forever! For she is, and always will be, Your LiTTLe PRINCESS! [boldface and capitalization original]

I'm not saying these things aren't worth our attention. And I still TOTALLY appreciate people sending me emails and facebook updates on what they're seeing out there (more on the diet book for girls another time. Sigh). But the real problem is not any single item but that these products and images are  CONSTANT and have created a truly toxic culture for girls.

Meanwhile, girls are commodified in  every day, garden-variety, banal ways  that we barely even notice. By trusted companies like Disney and Mattel. And trusted retailers like...JC Penney. Take this t-shirt.

Yes, it  does indeed say, "Too Pretty to Do Homework, So My Brother has to Do it for Me." And it really is intended for 7-16 year old girls. And the description really does read:

Who has time for homework when there's a new Justin Bieber album out? She'll love this tee that's just as cute and sassy as she is.

Must I comment on this?  First I will have to reattach my jaw which hit the floor and then broke through to the next level down. The fact that a TEAM of people had to have okayed this, that they thought it was appropriate, attractive and that parents and girls (who should be INSULTED by it) would dig it is so horrifying  I'd say the message was a throw-back to the 50s, but it's not. The propaganda for girls and women back then was about taking pride in housework and child-rearing which, yeah, was a touch limiting. This, however, is arguably worse:  taking pride in being a narcissistic, willfully ignorant, spoiled, superficial, self-objectifying, helpless (save for the ability to manipulate) PRINCESS. So not funny.

You want to protest? Here you go, folks. Click to send an email. Or call 1-800-322-1189. Or post on their facebook page. Or tweet @jcpenney.

(thanks to Johanna Cohen for alerting me to this one).

 

POST SCRIPT: Apparently J.C. Penney got the message and according to today's Daily Beast is pulling the T-shirt. Good going parents!

Polly Pockets Then and Now (and Monster High Again....)

I used to sort of enjoy Polly Pockets when Daisy was into them.  I think it was  their size. And they had some cool gear. And sometimes I'm a hypocrite, so sue me. Of course, Pollys, like most toys for girls,  had aged down: initially, for instance,  Barbie was aimed at a 9-12 demographic, but little girls, trying to be cool like their older sisters, start wanting them too and then they became anathema to the older girls. So now rather than starting with Barbies at 9, girls are done with them by 6. I write a lot about age compression in Cinderella Ate My Daughter and also how it's affected the nature of the Barbie fantasy. Anyway, the thing with the Pollys is that they are now marketed (according to Amazon) to girls ages 2-5. And those little rubber clothes and shoes are really impossible for girls that age to manipulate on their own. Resulting, in our house at least, in a lot of tears of frustration and many "dead Pollys" (dolls whose limbs had all been permanently broken off when clothing was forced on). Though we did get the occasional really cool art project out of it (using aforementioned limbs). So they had to be disappeared. They were too fuss-provoking, even beyond any premature sexualization or fetishized consumerism  they communicated.

While playing Polly with Daisy I remembered that I used to play it with my nieces, who are 10+ years older than she. And I was sure that we hadn't had these problems. So I did a little googling and it turns out Pollys started out COMPLETELY different than they are today and are yet another example of the way girls' toys have changed and narrowed in scope. Polly came on the market in 1989, created  by a dad who wanted to make a toy for his daughter that would  fit into her pocket. So he used a powder compact to create a teensy home for a teensy doll named Polly. The result was distributed through a company called Bluebird Toys and looked like this:

 

 

I'm not saying original Pollys were  stereotype-free or entirely anti-consumerist, but they were more along the lines of Fisher-Price "Little People." They look like children. And they were self-contained (though you could collect them). There was a cute cafe version and a classroom version and...well, they were all-in-all, even if just COMPARATIVELY, sweet.

Ten years later Mattel bought Bluebird and permanently replaced original Polly with "Fashion Polly," a taller, skinnier, curvy doll who looked more like this:

These Pollys were all about having the most accessories and clothing (which you could buy and buy and buy and buy). Not to mention the wildest parties. They had  more than one limo

There was  something called a "race to the mall" play set ("Polly and her friend can race through the big city and win the flag at the finish line, or dine, shop and stop for the view at the high observation deck") in addition to her REGULAR three story mall play set.

 

There's also the World Rockin' Magic Fashion Stage and, of course,  the Ultimate Party Boat Play Set (let's hope those Pollys stick to apple juice on the high seas). My favorite, though is the Ultimate Polly What Happens in Vegas set. Okay, just kidding. It doesn't exist, but you believed me for a second, didn't you?

I can't totally hate on Polly--I liked surfer Polly circa 2006. I dig some of her cars. The snow boards are fun. But more and more she has become just a tiny, hard to dress Barbie who is all girl power as the power to shop.

Speaking of age compression, I recently saw this interesting post on yahoo answers regarding Monster High. The dolls, you may recall, are supposed to be for older girls (those who had outgrown Barbie and Bratz) but they're drifting downwards rapidly.

"Okay so i'm going to middle school in the fall and will have a locker i want to print put som MH stickers (the cleo de nile and ghoulia yelps ones but i dont want to be the loser who likes MH!! HELP?"
Best Answer Chosen by Asker:
"my 5 year old girl loves monster high, but my 12 year old girl thinks that it is lame. you might be getting a bit too old to have 'characters' on your locker."
Asker's Comment:
"Thanks i will not be putting those on my locker i guess i will put a poster of johney depp on the inside
Thank you for saving me from the biggest mistake of my life!!!"
Voila! Monster High is now for 5-year-olds. Victoria Secret references and all.

Meanwhile, I continue to get feedback on the post I wrote ages ago on the dolls. Now the comments seemingly from girls themselves who understandably have a hard time seeing the bigger picture. I answered one this way:

"It would be ridiculous to claim that Disney Princesses or Hannah Montana or Bratz dolls or Monster High or  Twilight or whatever is inherently harmful. But each one is part of the round-the-clock, all-pervasive media machine aimed at girls from womb to tomb; one that, again and again, presents femininity as performance, sexuality as performance, identity as performance, and each of those traits as available for a price."

As readers scroll through this blog or read CAMD, I hope that's the point they get. Because once you see those connections, you can start working to combat them