Alone in a Room on National TV

So you know when you're watching CNN or MSNBC or FOX news orPBS or whatever and they have some talking head on a monitor chatting with the host? Well here's how they do that when you're the guest: you are sitting alone in a black-walled, darkened room staring into a camera lens. You do not see the host. You do not see the other guests. You do not see yourself. You have no idea whether or not you are on-screen at any given moment. You hear the host and the other guests through the earpiece and you talk earnestly at nothing at all. It's a seriously weird deal. But that's how it goes, especially if you live in California and most of the media is in New York. I never get used to it. But I did it the other night because I was asked to be on the PBS News Hour with Gwen Eiffel and, really, how cool is that? Anyway, here's how it came out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk_J6l_T2Jg&list=PLgawtcOBBjr-JeJG7XTRqPO-oeuWZK1De&index=2

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:

If You Let Me Be a Princess.....

Just saw this latest video posted by Disney. They're trying to rebrand the Princesses as being about strength of character and self-efficacy. What do you think? Can they do this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUGnu0gXtn4

while also peddling tens of thousands of products to our daughters that emphasize beauty and consumerism? Does the brave Rapunzel in the movie offset the one who is on the Escape From the Tower Lip & Nail Set?

Or the Pretty Pretty Princess board game?

Or the zillions of other products out there? You tell me.

Meanwhile, this video put me in mind of one from years ago, back in the days of Girl Power, that Nike did:

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

And finally just for fun and to illustrate how deeply the Princess phenom has gripped our collective imagination, (see it before it goes viral and loses its cool) I give you "Hipster Disney Princess the Musical!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yPfmRoSfpA

Kind of the opposite of age compression.....

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)

A Spoonful of WHAT Makes the Medicine Go Down?

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

Rebecca concludes so beautifully and succinctly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Favorite Reader Photos

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

 

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

This one is  from the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

As for boys? They get …Spiderman!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

 

 

Is it Contradictory to Embrace the "Princess Boy?"

In today's Motherlode Emily Rosenbaum struggles with what seems to her to be a contradiction in the how she parents her daughter vs. her sons. The revelation was triggered when her  3-year-old girl returned from the Home Depot (with Emily's husband) brandishing a Disney Princess light switch plate (in case you're keeping track: that would be DP item #25,978 of the 26,000+  I mention in CAMD). It probably looked something like this:

Emily was furious, but her husband said:

You know, you’re reacting just the way I react when Zach wants to buy pink clothes. You should allow her to express herself as much as you let the boys do it.

That pulled Emily up short. Turns out their son, Zach, "is the only boy in his second-grade class to regularly rock a pink hoodie and pink socks. Benjamin spent his toddler years dressed as Tinkerbell, and we potty trained him by giving him plastic Disney princesses as reward." What bothers her is the idea that her daughter is into pink and princess. "It's a parenting Catch-22," she writes:

We have excellent books like Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter [Aw, gee, thanks, say I!] that deconstruct why princesses are so injurious to girls. Yet Cheryl Kilodavis’s My Princess Boy has us jumping up and down to support a boy’s right to like pretty things. We gag at nail polish marketed to children, yet we are delighted by a J. Crew ad featuring a boy in toenail polish.

Which is it? Are princesses bad for kids or part of their right to express themselves? Should we shield our children from the nefarious influence of cosmetics or embrace them?

I don't necessarily see these positions as mutually exclusive. Because really, it's not about "princesses." It's about recognizing the limitations our culture places on both girls and boys through its selling of very narrow ideas of femininity and masculinity.

So let's unpack this a bit.  Emily's husband says girls are "expressing themselves" by buying into a $4 billion marketing blitz that is geared towards convincing girls this is  the only way for them to act out femininity. Remember that developmentally, most 3-year-old girls do want to express their girlness (and boys their boyness). The princess industrial complex exploits and distorts that impulse.  Take a look, for instance, at the winner of the contest I held  when the CAMD paperback first came out.  It's one of the best illustrations I've seen of how today's  princess play flattens girls individuality and imaginations. They're not  "expressing" femininity so much as latching onto one  heavily marketed aspect that has been sold to an unhealthy extreme. I mean look at  how many DP items there are at Home Depot alone! That's not including non-Disney items (search princess instead of Disney Princess). What other choices are little girls offered?

That brings me to the  second issue--the pendulum-swing we often engage in when we discuss this topic. The choices seem to be that  a girl is either "expressing her femininity" by ensconcing herself in pink and princess or shunning  "girlie stuff" and sleeping with a football. To me the real task is to find a "third way" that exposes  girls to and allows them expression of a broader, healthier range of ideas about femininity: ones  that aren't perpetually linked to appearance and consumerism and  that aren't putting them on a path to define themselves through that connection for the rest of their lives. That's why I added the "fight fun with fun" section to this site--to offer  at least some options for cultivating a different, celebratory, joyous vision of girls' femininity that is unhooked from the current script.

Okay, now, onto the princess boy. Honestly, who doesn't like a few sparkles? I put them on the cover of my book! Everyone should be able to indulge in a little dress-up occasionally. That said, celebrating the  "princess boy" is really about  not wanting ANY of our children limited by stereotypes or denied the full range of human desires, emotions, enjoyments and potential. In  our culture right now boys are actively discouraged from engaging in anything seen as "feminine," which means they're denied color, sparkles, art, aesthetics, music and many things that, once upon a time, were the province and right of both sexes. When we hyper-segment kids by gender everyone is hurt, everyone is limited. But there's an additional issue when we teach boys they can't play with "girl" things: they learn not only to disdain  that which is associated with girls but to disdain girls themselves. Enforcing masculinity in childhood play is how we replicate misogyny and homophobia. Bad, bad juju.

Another way to think about it might be to flip it.  You might be more comfortable buying your daughter a toy gun because violence is not marketed to her as the cornerstone of feminine identity. It might feel subversive, expansive, whereas you might fret that buying one for your son  would reinforce the message that he's supposed to be tough, hard, emotionless, cruel.

So it's not about saying pink and sparkles are okay for boys and not girls, it's about trying to navigate through a world of products and images that are hyper-segmented and unhealthy, promote stereotypes, alienation between the sexes, and limit kids' access to the full spectrum of life. Emily, that's a really, really good impulse on your part that the marketplace, in its simplicity, is trying to convince you is hypocrisy.

You've got so many opportunities to create change as the parent of both a girl and boys. Listen, a  little self-decoration (henna tattoos, washable markers, face paint, glitter) is fun for all. Meanwhile,  try to expose your children of both sexes to a wide range of ideas, toys, images, clothing. Rather than simply allowing Zack to wear pink, why not also read him  the kind of stories about strong women and competent, clever girls that I'm sure you read to your daughter? If he likes to dress up as a Disney Princess, why not suggest a Greek goddess? Or Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Or Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service? How subversive would that be? Would that make you less comfortable than celebrating "the princess boy?" And if so, why? Perhaps that's the real question.

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.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And NOW look at her:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say "Nay!" to "My Little Pony" Talking Princess Celestia Doll!

Rebecca Hains,  best be known these days as the woman who got busted by the TSA for trying to take a red velvet cupcake through airport security, is, in her real life a media studies professor at Salem State University and author of Growing Up With Girl Power; Girlhood on Screen and in Every Day Life. She is also mother to a little boy who loves “My Little Pony,” a show, Rebecca says on her blog, that, like the beloved Powerpuff Girls, appeals equally to both sexes, defying the notion that boys/men won’t watch stories about girls/women. I have to admit I’m not a “My Little Pony” aficianado—my daughter was never  into them and I recalled the old show as being inane, and largely about  selling toys (the fact that the ponies were revived for the Hub, a TV station owned by Hasbro, and are skinnier and "prettier" in their new incarnation only reinforced those impressions). Creator Lauren Faust writes  on the Ms. Magazine blog that she was not initially a fan, either:

[Shows based on girls’ toys] did not reflect the way I played...I assigned my ponies and my Strawberry Shortcake dolls distinctive personalities and sent them on epic adventures to save the world. On TV, though, I couldn’t tell one girl character from another and they just had endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying–which miraculously inspired the villain to turn nice.

With her new MLP, Faust claims she wanted to challenge "the perception that ‘girly’ equals lame or  “for girls” equals crappy," to show:

there are lots of different ways to be a girl. You can be sweet and shy, or bold and physical. You can be silly and friendly, or reserved and studious. You can be strong and hard working, or artistic and beautiful. This show is wonderfully free of “token girl” syndrome, so there is no pressure to shove all the ideals of what we want our daughters to be into one package. There is a diversity of personalities, ambitions, talents, strengths and even flaws in our characters–it’s not an army of cookie-cutter nice-girls or cookie-cutter beauty queens like you see in most shows for girls.

 

Whether you agree or not, I wonder  how Faust feels how her attempt  was distorted on the way to the toy shelves, turned into the very thing she once despised. Consider Talking Princess Celestia, whom you'll notice in the link is advertised as a toy that will "encourage your child's imagination." On the show Celestia is a white horse who rules the ponies wisely and well. But--uh-oh!--in the toy store she's turned pink! And what does pink usually mean? Well, Rebecca pressed Celestia's “cutie” button (gag gag) to find out: Let's recap: FIVE of Celesita’s  twelve comments are about appearance (“I love when you comb my hair!” “Oh, my hair looks beautiful.” “My wings are so pretty!” “My barrettes look so pretty!” “You’re beautiful”); two are about princesses; two are about friendship; two relate to activity (“Let’s fly to the castle!” “I will light the way!”) and one is the word “Spectacular!”

As Rebecca points out, that means when a child plays with this Princess Celestia toy, he or she will be bombarded with self-absorbed, pretty princess vanity, the kind, she says, the show is, happily, free of.

Why’d Hasbro do it? The same reason Nick makes the bizarrely-named Magic Hair Fairytale Princess Dora doll: they think they'll make a buck. only we parents can prove them wrong.

Incidentally, Celestia was originally supposed to be a QUEEN, not a princess, but according to Faust:

I was told [by Hasbro] that because of Disney movies, girls assume that Queens are evil (although I only remember 1 evil queen) and Princesses are good. I was also told that the perceived youth of a Princess is preferable to consumers.

She does not have parents that outrank her. I brought the weirdness of that situation to my bosses, but it did not seem to be a continuity concern to them, so I’m letting it alone. I always wanted her to be the highest authority, and so she remains so. And I certainly don’t want marriage to be what would escalate her. (Bad messages to girls and what not.)

[...]  I put up a bit of a fight when her title changed, but you win some, you loose some.

Indeed.

Rebecca suggests a few substitutions for the doll’s script. How about:

I’m a princess! I rule my country with wisdom. I love teaching my students. Do you love school? You’re so smart! You remind me of Twilight Sparkle, my best student. You’re beautiful outside and in Together, we can do anything!

A propos of that last phrase:  if you're interested in letting Hasbro know we want our girls to think, play and be something beyond pretty, pink princess, here’s Rebecca’s petition at change.org.