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.

How We've Decamped from Science

A recent Christian Science Monitorarticle confirmed that there are still gaps between girls and boys in STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) subjects despite larger gains in education for women over the past 40 years.  Among the high school graduating class of 2011, for instance, 80% of computer-science course Advanced Placement test-takers, 77% of those taking the physics exam for electricity and magnetism and 74 percent of mechanics exams. Also, 59 percent of those taking Calculus BC, the more advanced of two AP courses offered in the subject, were male. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows  continued achievement gaps between boys and girls in STEM fields as well, especially science. Boys outperform girls at the 4th, 8th and 12th grade level with the biggest gap being in 12th grade.

No bueno, right?

I was thinking about this the other day, when I attended the orientation for my daughter's drama camp, a wonderful program that centers on Elizabethan history, stage combat and Shakespearien drama. Be still my English major's heart, right?

As it happens, she's attending it with a male friend. He  will be one of maybe three boys in the entire camp. I was truly saddened thinking about how the  arts have become a  "girl thing" (not to mention the irony given that all the female parts in Shakespeare's plays were originally played by boys). It's impoverishing to boys' souls when they are tacitly discouraged from drama, fine art, writing, reading, music.

What ARE boys doing? Well, sports, of course. Science camps. Robotics. Things my girl did up until this summer. Somehow, without my noticing,  we slipped into stereotypical girl land. I think that is exactly what happens: according to the article, girls begin to fall behind in STEM in elementary school and the gap just gets wider. In part, no doubt, because of  something going on in the classroom. But the culture outside of school is also to blame:  from the get-go girls are rewarded in their play and by adults  for how they look rather than what they do. Even the putative "science kits" for girls, which I've written about before  are more about cultivating obsessions with beauty and consumerism than actual science. To that list I'd add the HELLACIOUS video "Science: It's A Girl Thing" by the clearly-on-crack European Commission that's been making the rounds lately. I guess they didn't read the recent study of middle school girls  from the University of Michigan  that found that attempts to "glamorize" women in  STEM seem to be less motivating to girls than more "everyday" female STEM role models. So try this video instead:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_176279&src_vid=g032MPrSjFA&v=vpgc_cvCsP4&feature=iv

There are also the extra-curricular activities we think about for our girls. This is not an easy one for me as a parent. I'm not a STEM person myself. Nor is my husband, who is a documentarian. Still....our daughter loves math. She adores science. She is a regular at the science museum that's down the street from our home. We listen obsessively to the fabulous They Might Be Giants "Here Comes Science" album. Here are a couple of vids from that one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0zION8xjbM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf33ueRXMzQ

And even with all that, we ended up this summer with nary a STEM activity in sight. Nor will she see many boys in her activities over the next few months, reinforcing the idea that they are more "other" than is necessary (though we do discuss a great deal why there are no boys at horse camp or drama camp).

The truth is, I probably will never enroll my daughter in as many extra-curriculuars as I should that would keep her brain STEM alive. I am a passionate under-scheduler and I prioritize the arts, then something physical and, eventually all will fall by the wayside for Bat Mitzvah training.  I depend on her school, her teachers, to stoke her interest--and all their students' interest--in those critical subjects. I hope they do. I hope they notice when the little differences begin emerging so that they don't become the kind of big gaps that will, later, limit them in their choice of professions and earning power.

 

***

Yeah, I know I haven't written about Brave. I was on a deadline. Now it seems too late. So, briefly, I thought the movie was okay. It wasn't my favorite Pixar movie by a longshot. If considered as a "princess" movie it was certainly superior to most (though Mulan I and II are still my favorites). I could talk about how we deserve broader representations of females on film, ones that aren't royal (it seems that a number of people can't even remember that princesses were not, until recently, the only image for girls allowed on screen).

I could also talk about how I didn't understand what made Merida "brave" per se. Her mother was certainly brave. But what was brave about her? How did she change? She changed her relationship to her mother because her mother changed. In the revelatory scene when she's talking to the men her mother is feeding her lines, she's not coming to anything. It seemed to me that what made her "brave" was that they slapped a bow and a quiver on her. But that's a symbol, not a character trait.

I would've found the movie more interesting, too, if the men hadn't been such dolts. What if her suitors were actually appealing? Was the issue that Merida didn't want to marry someone she didn't choose or she didn't want to marry an idiot?

And, then, while the mother was fine, it would have been nice if there were some other female roles in the movie--a friend, say, or lady-in-waiting. It was as if Pixar was so afraid males wouldn't go that they didn't want to have any extraneous females muddying up the place. Imagine, for a second, a movie in which the two main characters were male and every other character in the film was female, without comment  (ok, yeah, the cook in Brave was female, but still). The movie did nothing to change the statistics that the Geena Davis Institute published on the percentage of speaking characters  in family movies held by females: it remains a paltry %29..

But really, I think the issue is this: the discussion of the movie is symptomatic of the problem. There are so few female protagonists in family films (or any other film) that when there finally is one, we can't just look at it as a movie. We can't just say, yeah, it was okay. It has to have all this weight on it, all this pressure. It has to be a referendum. If there were just more, more, more then Brave could've just been another Pixar film, no more, no less, instead of a major event because they FINALLY, after twelve films, realized they hadn't made one starring a woman.

So what do I think of Brave? What I think of Brave is that I wish I didn't have to think so much about Brave. You know what would have been REALLY radical? In our screening (and I assume at theaters) there was a short before the movie called "La Luna." It featured two old men and a little boy in a row boat whose job involved changing the phases of the moon. What if the old men and been women? What if the boy had been a girl? What if there had been no comment about that? Seeing the short before the much-ballyhooed "first Pixar princess" (note that "princess" was at some point substituted for "female" as if the two are interchangeable) reminded me that when a character is male it is assumed to be universal, and so goes without comment. Only when she is female does she become specific. I want to see so many females on screen that we, too, are universal.

Also, I wish I could get my hair to look like that.

If Brave didn't do it for you, or even if it did, I hope you'll also take a look at the movies on my fight fun with fun page. And be sure to check out Studio Ghibli's latest: Arietty based on The Borrowers. Disney buried it, which was a shame.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp2nb9Vq0yY

 

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.")

"Sociological Images": Will You Marry Me?

Sociological Images is ruining my life. I can spend hours looking at their images tracking....well, everything  (God and the U.S. dollar) but especially the evolution of gender:  there's their current Lego  series; the periodic rants on  pet ownership; how  video game ads have changedmen's/women's toilet signs from around the world and the take-down of Zoe Deschanel-style "manic Pixie dream girls" (a term coined by Nathan Rabin at A.V. Club  and further explained by Feminist Frequency). Things you never think about, never notice, but that shape us all the same. Love. LOVE!!! One of my favorites, is from about a year ago:  a round-up of products for kids. Among them,  onesies that include a list of "ingredients" on the tummy. What are boys made of? Love, energy, and dirt:

And girls?  love, beauty and kindness:

 

Then there's this photo of ride-aboard trucks at Target:

The boys’ version is red and is, appropriately, called a Lil’ Fire Truck Ride-On. The pink version, on the other hand, is the Lil’ Princess Ride-On — because apparently there’s no appropriate vehicle to define as “girly,” so the easiest way to gender the toy was just to call it a thing for princesses and be done with it:

 

And finally a set of receiving blankies for newborns. Blue for the "little man":

and pink for the "little cupcake" (in case, as SI quips, your baked goods are cold)

Again, I thought this was 2012, but apparently we have all been catapulted back to the set of "Mad Men."

Check out the site yourself and you too can feel vaguely productive while getting no work done....

Pixar: Are you "Brave" Enough to Just LET YOUR FILM BE ABOUT A GIRL?

Pixar is all but putting up signs saying,  "EVEN THOUGH BRAVE IS ABOUT A GIRL BOYS AND MEN WILL LIKE IT!  WE'VE GOT DICK AND BUTT AND FART AND VAGUELY HOMOPHOBIC JOKES! SEE?NO COOTIES HERE, GUYS, NO SIRREE! YOU CAN SEE THIS AND STILL BE A MAN!" What a bunch of cowards.

This new trailer is clearly pandering to a male audience that may have qualms about a "princess" movie.

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

Funny, yes, but I certainly don't recall any equivalent assurances to women in campaigns  for their previous twelve features, even when there were no female characters involved. Or was there  a  major aimed-at-the-ladies campaign before  the original Toy Story that I missed? I thought not.

I've blogged about Pixar's atrocious record on female characters before (actually multiple times). And in Cinderella Ate My Daughter I wrote:

I cannot help but feel, after waiting patiently--and sometimes not so patiently--through twelve genre-busting films about male robots, male superheroes, male cowboys, male rats, male cars, male bugs, male fish, and a small male mailman, that it would have been nice if the movie was not about a princess, even a kick-ass one. Honestly, is that too much to ask?

The range of female characters is far broader in the genius films of Hayao Miyazaki, an artist, ironically, that Pixar's John Lasseter cites as his primary inspiration. Maybe because of that, the Japanese trailer make the film look far more compelling.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8cLhckSAAw

In the U.S., Dreamworks has done far better than other studios; while the female characters are still firmly secondary, generally love interests and often several pixels too thin--so not good enough--but at least they are significant and as fully drawn as the males.

Brave has now been rated PG partly, according to Entertainment Weekly, for "rude humor" inserted to keep the menfolk happy--at the expense of the family friendlier G-rating. Bummer. I'm not sure which is more insulting: that they don't think boys and men would attend a movie with a female lead or that the way they reassure them is with potty humor. Guys, they're not giving you much credit.....

DREAMY reviews for "Kepler's Dream"

I wrote earlier this week about the must-read YA novel, Kepler's Dream, which was officially published yesterday. I'm thrilled to report that the book is already racking up stellar reviews. In this coming Sunday's New York Times "Book Review" the discerning Dani Shapiro--herself a wonderful writer--calls the book  "delightful" and "marvelous" and  "full of smart, subversive commentary on the numbing effects of contemporary youth culture." She adds:

But in the end it is Ella's voice--utterly captivating, idiosyncratic, rich and memorable--that ties all the pieces together in, yes, a kind of dream logic, making this not only an entertaining book but an absorbing and artful one.

From Library Journal:

Ella’s divorced mother has leukemia and her father is busy guiding trips for his fly-fishing-trip business so the 11-year-old is sent to stay with her grandmother. Neither of her parents gets along well with her father’s mother, and Ella hasn’t ever met her. She joins eccentric Violet Von Stern at her adobe home and names it The House of Mud. Under the brilliant Albuquerque’s night sky, she wishes on stars for her mom’s recovery. Her grandmother sternly corrects and lectures her, but Ella’s stay is full of interesting surprises. One of grandma’s books, Kepler’s Dream, has been stolen from her extensive library, and it’s worth thousands of dollars. Ella puts her detective skills to work to find the missing book while discovering the importance of family. Bell has created a fascinating cast of eclectic characters who are sure to capture and retain readers’ attention. Smart and thoughtful, the story sparkles like Kepler’s favorite stars in Bell’s debut offering for children.–Helen Foster James, University of California at San Diego

And Booklist:

While her mother is in treatment for leukemia, 11-year-old Ella goes to spend the summer with the grandmother she has never known. She is initially intimidated by the formidable relative she calls the GM (for grandmother or, alternately, general major). Despite worries about her mother, Ella falls into the rhythm of life in Albuquerque, befriends a few people, and begins to uncover family secrets. When the theft of a rare book, Kepler’s Dream, upsets her grandmother, Ella and a friend attempt to find it and unmask the thief. However, the mystery always takes a backseat to the revelation of characters and relationships in past and present. Punctuated by the occasional letter to her mother, Ella’s narration is fresh, distinctive, and full of dry humor. After she discovers that her grandmother is a stickler for correct word usage, Ella privately refers to the GM’s home as the GGCF (Good Grammar Correctional Facility). One of the pleasures of the novel is Ella’s gradual realization of what she has in common with her initially aloof grandmother. Two strong individuals under stress, they come across as fully rounded characters, and even the minor players here are distinctive, credible, and memorable. An impressive debut for Bell. — Carolyn Phelan

Congratulations, Juliet Bell!

 

I feel so passionately about this book. I so want to get it out there. Rare is the book for middle graders these days that is beautifully written; has a very real girl at its heart; and has a well-plotted, age-appropriate, gore-free story!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfD6CLGmwfM

 

 

Read These Now!!!

Looking for a  new “fight fun with fun” book for your middle grade daughter (or son….)? Honey, have I got two for you. Kepler’s Dream, the debut YA novel by Juliet Bell, is about 11-year-old Ella, a clever, compassionate  girl whose mother’s cancer treatment and father’s disengagement exile her to   “Broken Family Camp” for the summer: staying with her severe-natured grandmother in her peacock-ridden hacienda in Albuquerque. Neither of them is happy about the arrangement. Ella is afraid her mother may die, but all her grandmother seems to care about is her crazy library full of books When a rare and much-loved volume, Kepler's Dream of the Moon, is stolen, however, Ella decides it's up to her to find it. The result  could be the key to healing her broken family. This is the kind of book I used to love as a girl, back in the days before the vampires and zombies and murder-tainment (nothing against Hunger Games)  struck. Ella feels utterly real, her voice just the right amount of snarky, her struggles relevant and relatable. I loved that nearly all of the central relationships were among women (though plenty of complex men are in there, too), especially the initially-hostile  one between Ella and her friend-to-be Rosie. Just because they’re the same age doesn’t mean they have to like each other, right? There’s a mystery at the heart of Kepler’s Dream, which I won't spoil, but really, this  a family issue story in the tradition of Paul Zindel or Judy Bloom. As Kirkus said when describing this “utterly satisfying” book:

Ella learns how blame can tear a family apart and how forgiveness and the things of which dreams are made can heal. The credibly realistic resolution leaves Ella firmly grounded with deepened family ties, a new friend and some hard-won horseback-riding skills.

 

Meanwhile, back in the land of fantasy and fairy tales, Daisy and I have been riveted by the audiobook of Shannon Hale'The Goose Girl. It is performed by our beloved Full Cast Audio and, as usual, they do not disappoint. Amazon says this book is for 6th-9th graders and they may well enjoy it, but as a read-aloud, Daisy and I were riveted (and she’s 8 ½ these days). She has friends in second grade who are enjoying it as well.

You may be familiar with the Grimm’s story that inspired this tale, but Shannon Hale has taken what amounts to a (very bloody) sketch and turned it into a (less bloody) masterpiece. At 16, Anidori–Kiladra Talianna Isillee, Crown Princess of Kildenree is sweet, if naïve and cosseted. She possesses the gift of “animal speak, ” something little valued by her imperial—and imperious—mother, the queen. When she’s shipped off to a neighboring kingdom to marry its prince (and keep the peace) she is easily overthrown by a mutinous entourage headed by her lady-in-waiting. Ani barely escapes with her life. Eventually she disguises herself as a goose girl. Before the story is over, she learns lessons in courage, justice, perseverance and coming in to your own as a woman and a person. In the end, birthright doesn’t make Ani a princess—her character, forged by experience, and her brave actions do. I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough.

Both Kepler's Dream and Goose Girl are about girls who face enormous obstacles they have to work hard to overcome--that only they can overcome. And through making hard choices, facing unforeseen challenges, they make not only their lives but the lives of those around them--friends, family, strangers--better. They come into power, and that is a beautiful thing.

Enjoy.

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

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

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

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

 

Hi there –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

How nice: 9 towns now spread misinformation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pink Fund? What does it do?

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

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

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

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

 

We Need Your Help!

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

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

 

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

 

Prom Plastic Surgery and Girls SPARKing a Difference

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

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

Oh, well in that case....

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

Like we need to vote on that????

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

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

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

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

Another good clip, especially for boys:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

(posted by avivajaye)

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

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

_________________________________

For My Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Spoonful of WHAT Makes the Medicine Go Down?

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

Rebecca concludes so beautifully and succinctly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

FIGHT THE MADNESS: PLAY NOT PRESSURE!

In CAMD I talk about “age compression” as a culprit in  the Kardashianization of girlhood. Here's how that works: products are initially pitched to older kids; younger ones who want to be “cool” like their older brothers and sister  latch onto them making them instantly anathema to the original demographic. Since for girls being cool means looking “hot” we’ve seen a downward drift of things like spa birthday parties (now the rage among pre-schoolers) and cosmetic use.

 

According to NPD group, for instance, nearly half of 6-year-olds say they use lipstick or lip gloss regularly and the percentage of 8-12 year olds who use mascara or eyeliner doubled between 2008 and 2010. 8-12 year olds are among the fastest growing sectors of the cosmetics market, prompting Walmart to launch its popular “anti-aging” Geo Girl line for elementary school girls. This month, Target introduced the Disney Fairies "PixiGlow" line of makeup (which "captures Tinkerbell's fresh-faced, timeless beauty" and includes--kill me now--the  "Straight on until morning eyeliner"). Target also carries Willa Beauty , which is aimed at girls as young as seven. Recall that an early focus on appearance creates a vulnerability to the most common mental health problems we see in girls: depression, low self-esteem, negative body image, eating disorders, risky sexual choices. That belies the argument--typically proffered by the people who sell this stuff--that "tween" cosmetics are "innocent," that they bolster girls' confidence by allowing them to “experiment safely with their femininity.” The truth is the opposite: girls' well-being is undermined by the message, at ever-earlier ages, that who they are is how they look and how they look is not good enough (unless you buy PixiGlow/Eco Girl/Willa makeup!).

But sexualization is not the only place we’re seeing age compression. In 2009 I wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine called “Kindergarten Cram,” in which I talked about how, when I was a child, in the increasingly olden days:

We danced the hokey­pokey in kindergarten,  swooned in suspense over Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (that’s what Minnesotans stubbornly call Duck, Duck, Goose) and napped on our mats until the Wake-Up Fairy set us free.

No more. Instead of digging in sandboxes, today’s kindergartners prepare for a life of multiple-choice boxes by plowing through standardized tests with cuddly names like Dibels (pronounced “dibbles”), a series of early-literacy measures administered to millions of kids; or toiling over reading curricula like Open Court — which features assessments every six weeks.

According to “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” a report recently released by The Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, all that testing is wasted: it neither predicts nor improves young children’s educational outcomes. More disturbing, along with other academic demands, like assigning homework to 5-year-olds, it is crowding out the one thing that truly is vital to their future success: play.

That report mentioned a survey of 254 teachers in New York and Los Angeles which  found that kindergartners spent two to three hours a day being instructed and tested in reading and math. They spent less than 30 minutes playing. Now the Alliance for Childhood is back with a new report, "The Crisis in Early Education: A Research-Based Case for More Play and Less Pressure." It looks at the rise (and harm) of not only academic kindergarten but academic preschool. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, for instance, found this sad scene on a recent trip to kindergarten and pre-k classrooms in Miami.

[Classrooms] were barren--no materials whatsoever. No blocks, no easels, no play activities. Bare walls. No art.

Children sat at tables while the teacher did individual testing. The kids were copying from the board: "Class Rules. Sit in your seat. Raise your hand to talk. Keep your hands and feet to yourself."

One little boy sat quietly crying in his seat. I looked at his paper. There were messy letters trailing across the page. Clearly, he was nowhere near this task developmentally. It broke my heart to be unable to help him.

This is the woman who  raised Matt Damon, so she must know what she's talking about (she's also one of the country's foremost experts on early education and author of  Taking Back Childhood among other things, but that wouldn't catch your attention in the same way, would it?).

The new Alliance for Childhood report opens with this quote:

While early formal instruction may appear to show good test results at first, in the long term, in follow-up studies, such children have had no advantage. On the contrary, especially in the case of boys, subjection to early formal instruction increases their tendency to distance themselves from the goals of schools, and to drop out of it, either mentally or physically.

I’ve written before that guiding principle, whether we’re talking about sexualization or accelerated academics, is that kids should be allowed to be KIDS as long as possible. Our task as parents is to  resist  everything in this souped-up culture that pushes them beyond their natural development. Our babies only so few years in which they can simply play. Their internally-driven creativity, their fantasy lives, their imaginations are a precious resource that should be cultivated for their own sake, not harnessed to sell products or to create some super-kid who is smarter/faster/earns more money.

So, I'll say it again, and as often as I must:  play, draw, read, build, go for walks, stare at ants, climb, jump, pretend….Repeat (for as long as possible).

And for goodness sake, send your child to a play-based preschool!!!

 

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

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

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

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

Hi Peggy,

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to your thoughts! Danielle

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

What better way to be the Mockingjay than to mock?

 

 

 

 

Fat is a Preschool Issue

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Again: preschoolers.

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

In Memoriam: Benedict and Nancy Freedman

Ben Freedman, my friend, inspiration and the co-author (with his wife Nancy) of my favorite book as a girl—Mrs. Mike-died on February 24 at the age of 92. I found out earlier this week when the New York Times obituary page called me for a quote. Here is a picture of my original copy of Mrs. Mike, which I still have, held together by scotch tape and rubber bands.

Ben and Nancy (who died in 2010) led rich, full lives—I loved going to their apartment to listen to stories of their adventures, schemes and foibles. Even in failing healthy, they were exuberant and intellectually engaged, full of plans for the future, still writing every single day.

In honor of their lives, and to mark their loss, here is a link to Ben’s obituary.

And here is a link to a piece I wrote for Oprah Magazine about what they meant to me . I’m so grateful I had opportunity to write it—and even more grateful that I could do it while they were still around to read it.

Nancy and Ben were iconoclasts, free-thinkers, the ultimate champions of the  "fight fun with fun" mentality.  Nancy used to reminded me, “You have to celebrate bad news. Good news, you're happy anyway, but bad news--you've got to have a great dinner and kick up your heels.”

May we all, like then, remember to kick up our heels.