Here’s a great tip to inoculate your daughter against internalizing the barrage of criticism about her appearance. If that critical voice gets trapped and trained in your kid’s head and wiring, it becomes a bad habit that, like any addiction, is difficult to break. I got this tip from Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals, and so far, it works really well. I can see my kids using it.
Tell your daughter that you use a mirror to see if you have food on your face or something like that. You don’t look in the mirror to see if you are beautiful. Beauty is a feeling that comes from within you, and a mirror can’t give you that. Let your daughter see you use a mirror this way as well.
Repeat this lesson as often as necessary. It’s basic but effective.
Extra tip: If your daughter protests or seems confused, which she may not, explain that the correct way to use a mirror is the exact opposite of how the wicked queen relied on it in “Snow White,” asking “Who is the fairest of all?” Explain how the Queen’s misuse of the mirror, her dependence on its voice instead of her own, sapped her power and helped to cause her downfall.
I guess Disney was right to be so terrified of creating a strong, BRAVE, female protagonist (along with Pixar studios which hadn’t had ANY female protags before “Brave.”) It looks like Merida could be turning Disney’s franchise on it’s head. That’s pretty damn heroic.
Another mistake Disney made with “Brave?” They hired a female director. They fired her, but it was too late. Brenda Chapman wrote “Brave” based on her daughter. She was furious with the character’s transformation and wrote publicly about Disney’s terrible mistake.
That’s right: Although Merida was created by a woman as a role model for girls, the male-dominated consumer product division at Disney has ignored the character’s intended benefits for young girls, sexualizing her for profit. Compared with her film counterpart, this new Merida is slimmer and bustier. She wears makeup, and her hair’s characteristic wildness is gone: It has been volumized and restyled with a texture more traditionally “pretty.” Furthermore, she is missing her signature bow, arrow, and quiver; instead, she wears a fashionable sash around her sparkly, off-the-shoulder gown. (As Peggy Orenstein noted when she broke the news of the redesign, “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.’” I’ve heard the same from parents, as well.)
Is the sexualized image of Merida gone for good? Has Disney learned a lesson? Or will that lesson be: No more strong female characters leading a film! No more female directors writing about their daughters! Keep the females weak and quiet!
Objectifying and sexualizing girls is dangerous. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale.
Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938
Africans circa 1931
Females circa 2013
It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it, not to mention expose my child to it. But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?
Be part of the solution. Demand narratives with strong female characters for your kids.
Update: New Merida may be off Disney’s site but she’s showing up all over the place including Target. Below is Target’s web page.
He bought his daughter boy underwear. A commenter expressed the same frustration: her daughter is fan of Spider-Man and she started a petition to get girl underwear designs integrated with boy underwear. I signed this and I hope you do too, but I want to recognize the deeper issue here and make sure this info isn’t misconstrued into: See, girls like boy characters, so let’s just keep making them and let girls go missing.
All kids want cool characters. They want to see exciting narratives where heroes take risks, make choices, and act.
Why is there no Spider-Girl movie and 5 movies about Spider-Man? Where is Spider-Woman? Why are there 7 Batman movies while Batgirl, like Supergirl, is practically invisible? And why, for God’s sake, are we still waiting for a major release of a Wonder Woman movie in theaters? Not to mention multiple sequels?
“Mom? Every time I watch that Spider Man movie I can see there are no girls in it. I get really mad! I just don’t get why there can’t be more girls in it.” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia, girl and Spider Man fan
“I think it is really important that you noticed that. There should be and easily could be more girls in it. How could we change that?” -Me
“Oh. Oh ho ho. We’ll just show them what girl super heroes look like.” -OPP
“Maybe that could help them have more balance with girls.” -Me
“Yeah, they need more bad ass girls.” -OPP
“Uh no, I said ‘balance’.” -Me
“I know. I said ‘bad ass’.” -OPP
I have always loved Pigtail Pals for its cool clothing, its brilliant founder, Melissa Wardy, and its high quality product. But today, I have one more reason for romance, something that trumps all other loves: today, my three year old daughter dressed herself. She chose all of her own clothing, from underwear to socks, and arrived upstairs for breakfast, fully prepared for the day. What was she wearing, you ask? Lucky for you, we stopped at Whole Foods on the way to school and I got a photo:
All black. Hee hee. Except for the blue socks, of course, which, I’m sure you notice, match. Hallelujah! (Where is her arm though? I can’t wait to show her this. She looks like ghost-girl.) But best of all, and this goes back to Pigtail Pals, check out the back of her T-shirt:
My daughter loves the words, the colored-spiral of them, the bumpy feel, and also, how incredibly soft the material is.
Seeing this outfit reminded me of what a great Xmas shopping destination Pigtail Pals is if you are looking for clothing for children.
Melissa Wardy founded Pigtail Pals when she had a baby daughter, named her after Amelia Earhart, and then couldn’t find a single onesie that showed a girl with a plane on it. Then, Melissa realized she couldn’t find children’s clothing showing girls doing much of anything at all. So she came up with some designs and started a company. Years later, Pigtail Pals has grown into a successful business and Wardy is coming out with a book on “redefining girly.”
Here are Pigtail Pals best-selling ‘Full of Awesome’ T-shirts.
I keep giving you these sites for shopping because there are alternatives out there. It sucks that sometimes we have to look so hard for them, but I think the more we talk about them, (along with the way marketing, in general, is shifting to FB, Twitter) we can get the word out to more people.
Final photo of a proud three year old, her shirt covered in doughnut crumbs just in time for school.
What I said to my 5yo was that Monster High dolls were dressed in a way that I felt was inappropriate for children, that their faces looked mean not nice, and that their bodies sent our hearts unhealthy messages. We talked about different colors of hair and skin being really cool, but that these dolls made little girls focus too much on being pretty for other people and being too grown-up and that is not what kids need to do.
A few months down the road when she asked for more info, I told her that Monster High dolls have the kind of bodies that can make girls sick, because a real person could never have a body like that, and that I loved my little girl’s healthy body so much I would never want her to have something that would make her think her body wasn’t amazing.
And when she kept pushing about the clothing, I told her that girls who dress like that often don’t have full and happy hearts, and they use clothing like that to get attention and make themselves feel full. Then I took it a step further, and had her come upstairs to her dress up drawer, and picked out clothing I knew was way too small and tight for her. She put it on, and I told her to go play. Amelia said she couldn’t move because of her clothes. I then asked if she thought Monster High was silly, because how could those girls move and be teenagers who do fun things and play sports. She said she thought maybe they just stood around and looked pretty.
I told her she was absolutely right. And then we talked about other toys she had, how different they looked, and what kinds of things those dolls could do instead. I hope to grow the idea of full and happy hearts as Amelia (and Benny) age, to help her make good and healthy decisions about all kinds of things: healthy eating and exercise, drugs and alcohol, sex and relationships, good behavior in school, etc. If that is our baseline, I think the things that fall so far outside of that, whether it is Monster High or music lyrics or friends who are a bad influence, my kids will see it for what it is and be that much more equipped to make good choices for themselves.
I want to teach them to use their intuition and common sense when it comes to hard decisions. It is what I do when I tell myself there is no way in hell that dolls like Monster High or Bratz or hooker Barbies will end up in my home. I respect my children far too much to feed them a diet of garbage like that.
I love the idea of asking her daughter dress up in too small, uncomfortable clothing and asking her to try playing. Talk about showing not telling. Brilliant. Read Melissa’s blogposte here.
I started Reel Girl on December 27, 2009 in a post Christmas pink haze. It was my first holiday season with three daughters, my youngest child was nine months old. I was amazed by how gendered all their Christmas presents were. Truly amazed. Even the little one had a stack of all pink toys and clothing. But it was Polly Pocket who drove me to blog. Those teeny-weeny clothes. I can’t even deal with organizing all the clothing for my own kids, not to mention Polly’s ugly, shiny outfits. It wasn’t just Polly, of course. So many toys given to my kids had to do with getting dressed: magnetic dress dolls, paper doll cut out coloring books, Barbie dolls, on and on and on. Talk about training your daughters to be obsessed with clothing and appearance.
In the two years that I’ve been blogging and paying a lot of attention to this issue, have we made progress limiting the ‘genderfication’ of childhood? (I’m using ‘genderfication’ instead of ‘gendering’ to highlight the mass-market, artificial drive to segregate kids)
Movies and TV seem worse than ever. Girls are half our kid population but show up only as a tiny minority on the big and small screens. In 2010, Disney switched the title of “Rapunzel” to “Tangled” and announced it would make no more princess movies. Who cares, right? Princesses suck. But the complex problem is, tragically, if a girl character gets top billing in a film at all, chances are she’s a princess. It’s kind of like if you want to win a Miss America college scholarship, first you’ve got to parade around in your bathing suit. By saying no more princesses, what Disney was really saying was: coming soon, even fewer girl stars! At that time, in response to Disney’s blatant sexism of switching a title to hide a girl and publicly announcing that decision, hardly a parent made a peep.
And toys? Also, only worse. To me, the new Legos for girls that just went on the market hit an all time low in the genderfication of childhood.
But on the positive side, parents are getting pissed off. Hundreds (can I say thousands yet?) are going to Lego’s Facebook page and complaining.
There’s other evidence parents have had enough. Early this year, Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter came out and became a best-seller. Melissa Wardy’s Pigtail Pals, a company aimed at creating empowering clothing for girls, grew enormously, in part when posts Wardy wrote about JCPenney’s sexist T shirt “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother did it for me” went viral. JCPenney pulled the shirt.
This summer Pixar is coming out with Brave, the animation studio’s first film ever to star a female protagonist. It’s kind of unbelievable that we’ve had to wait this long for one girl, but I’m excited to see her. I hope people go in droves and take their sons as well. This whole issue is really about the parents, and I’m happy they’re taking more action.
But there is a kid who is really pissed off and telling the world about it herself. Her name is Riley and the youtube video showing her smart observations on the gendered aisles, toys, and colors forced on kids is going viral as I post this. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. It’s awesome.
And finally some exciting news around here: my husband and I are writing a Middle Grade book inspired by a story he started telling our daughters. It’s a fantasy adventure. Here’s one sentence about it: “Legend of Emery: TheBattle for the Sather Stone is the story of how Nessa, a Frake, and Posey, a Fairy, overcome a history of mutual prejudice to become great friends, working together to stop a war by recovering the stolen Sather stone, the source of all magic, and returning it to its rightful owner, the Fairy Queen Arabel.”
Here’s to hoping we take many more giant steps forward in 2012.
I created Pigtail Pals in honor of my daughter, Amelia, named after Amelia Earhart, when I was looking for a cute outfit for her as an infant and could find only pink and princess. Not a single onesie in all of humankind had a little girl and an airplane on it. I thought girls deserved more empowering and diverse messages than just sparkles and tiaras.
What are your best-sellers?
This fall the best sellers have been my “Pretty’s Got Nothing To Do With It” and “Full of Awesome” designs that I just released in September. Traditional favorites are the astronaut, pilot, carpenter, doctor, military, and scientist designs. And the entire Whimsy Bee line is a hit with its colorful and imaginative designs.
It’s smart of Pigtail Pals to be a for profit instead of a nonprofit! The more successful your company is, the more you can help girls. You call yourself a “mompreneur.” What is that? Who were you inspired by?
Exactly, I want to show other businesses that this is the message parents and girls want, and that a business can be successful doing this. I want to change the way the marketplace looks for young girls. And since Dora has gone the way of the ballerina princess, there is room for the smart and adventurous Pigtail Pals designs to take over. Pigtail Pals has, since the very beginning, made donations to organizations that support girls, and we will continue to do so as our success grows.
A mompreneur is a mother who sees a hole in the marketplace for children, and creates her own product to fill that void. At the time I created Pigtail Pals, there were no other apparel lines on the market that showed girls doing smart, daring, and adventurous things. There were a couple of lines that had empowering phrases, but my preschooler can’t read, so that didn’t mean anything to her. I wanted something in pictures that would really speak to little girls. Girl empowerment is something our daughters need to be raised with, not just something they are introduced to once they are finally old enough to be a Girl Scout or participate in some of the other national programs that only focus on older girls. My girl can’t wait, she needs these messages now.
What do you teach in your workshops? What kind of excercises do you do? Can you see the change before and after or is it more gradual? Do you find parents, teachers, or kids more willing or more resistant?
I teach media literacy in my workshops – a tangible way for parents to digest and parent through all the crap that is out there. I teach how to specifically deal with the highly inappropriate birthday gift, or mother-in-law that bestows makeup and tiny high heels with every visit, or the song that just played on the radio talking about casual or violent sex. Our culture is saturated with this stuff. I find most folks are eager to learn about this, and I see those light bulb moments flash across everyone’s face about 15mintues into every workshop.
The exercises I use are just common sense stuff. For example – I take a box of crayons, and dump it out, but it is full of only pink and purple crayons. I ask the parents, if they had purchased this as a school supply, would they find something wrong with it? Would they return it to the store? I ask them what is missing, and then I ask them to close their eyes and picture their daughter’s closet and toy box. I see little sheepish smiles creep across their face. And they get it – they get how incredibly limiting choices are for girls, and that they bought into it. There is nothing wrong with pink, or purple, but when a girl’s world is full of that and only that, we need to think about what messages that sends. Childhood should be a time full of vibrant, amazing color and learning experiences.
What are your future plans for the company?
In the near future, I’m going to release a line of tee designs that show boys and girls playing together, having great adventures. Also, I’m going to build out the new line of Full of Awesome products. That blog post was such a runaway hit, it is really inspiring to me.
Eventually I want to move into toys and room décor, and I would love to open really special retail spaces.
How do you protect your daughter’s imagination?
We tell stories all the time in the car while driving around town. We create some story to act out while we play outside. My home looks like a preschool with all of the art supplies and learning toys in this place. We take lots of family adventures to educational places like children’s museums and fairs and performances. We read and read and read.
Are there books, TV shows, clothing lines or products you recommend for girls?
There is a lot of good stuff out there, you just have to know where to find it. My daughter is 5 years old, so right now we are really into the Ramona and Judy Moody books. This winter we’re going to start reading the Little House on the Prairie series. Amelia has checked out every single whale and dolphin book our public library offers. For TV, she loves Animal Planet, SciGirls (PBS), National Geographic, Diego, Wild Kratts (they have two female sci/tech assistants that rock the show), Word World, Peppa Pig, and Scooby Doo.
For other clothing lines, I really like Be A Girl Today (http://www.beagirlblog.com/) for awesome girls sports tees. And the Girl Scouts offer great tees, too.
For other products, a few other mompreneur small businesses I love to promote are Cutie Patutus for dress up clothes, Sophie & Lili for wonderful cloth dolls, and Go! Go! Sports Girls for sports-themed dolls. Every girl should have a doctor kit, a tool box, a wooden train, giant floor puzzles, and Legos by the bucket.
On my blog Reel Girl, which is all about imagining gender equality in the fantasy world, people sometimes complain that issues I care about don’t matter because the characters I write about are imaginary. Or that I am limiting imagination by imposing PC dogma on artists. How do you respond to comments like that?
“You can’t be what you can’t see.” –Marie Wilson, the White House Project. Sexualization is an enormous problem, most specifically in the media. The stats on the representation of girls in the media in a non-sexualized manner are so miniscule, I would argue this isn’t ‘PC dogma’, it is a matter of civil rights. Girls get a seat at the table.
In the past year or so, various sites and movements have cropped up to help defend girls from sexist media or at the very least, educate parents about the negative influences out there, so ubiquitous they are ironically invisible. There was Peggy Orenstein’s best seller Cinderella Ate My Daughter, The Geena Davis Institute has been doing studies and releasing statistics about the lack of girl characters in animation, author Lyn Mikel Brown and other founded SPARK and advocated for more girl balloons in the Macy Day Parade. And its great news that parents and advocates got so upset about the JCPenney T shirt and got it off the shelves. At the same time, Disney announced its not doing anymore princess movies which translates to even fewer movies starring girls since girls are mostly only allowed to star if they are princesses. Disney also announced this year that is shifting its tween programming to boy based animated cartoons. Do you see the media and more awareness about the media going in a positive or negative direction? Are there other sites or movements that you know of that support girls and girl media?
I think parents and girls need to be very aware that the media is a long ways off from them content that is fair to girls. Like I said, there is good stuff out there, but in reality it is few and far between. Disney is the very last place I would look for positive girl media. As parents become more aware and more savvy, they will start to demand products and media that reflect that. So Pixar is making “Brave”, and that is tremendous, and that will only fill our appetite for so long. They will need to give us more if they want us to keep consuming.
One under-reported issue is that when girls go missing in kids films, and the toys, clothing, and other products based on and derived from those films, both genders learn that girls are less important than boys. This is a problem with sites and orgs that focus on girls, in some ways, that continue this polarized segregation. Parents are a huge force here– they should be reading their kids stories about girls, taking them to movies with strong girl parts (if they can find any) and encouraging cross gender friendships. What do you think about this issue? Are there sites, movements, blogs that you know of or like that help educate boys also?
I have a three year old son, so this is an equally important issue for me. My colleague Crystal Smith of Achilles Effect (and author of a great book with same name) is awesome. The work of Jackson Katz is like no other when it comes to boys and media. The blog The Mamafesto writes about her son and his adventures through boyhood.
My work focuses on girls, because the crush for them with sexism and sexualization is immense, and it comes at them as soon as they are born. I don’t necessarily think it is easier for boys, but it is different. I think we need to get back to some common sense childhood. Let’s allow our kids the space to play and explore without limitations based on gender. Pigtail Pals also offers a line for young boys called Curious Crickets, meant to honor the creativity and wonder in boyhood.
Both of my children enjoy and thrive in cross gender friendships. These are crucial for the socialization with the opposite sex in their tween/teen years and beyond. We try to find positive media that equally respects boys and girls. My kids will see my husband wash dishes and fold laundry, and they will see me wrestle with the dogs and use tools and run my business. It is all about balance.
Many Reddit readers were outraged. A user who calls herself PrincessJingles chimed in: “‘Allergic to algebra’…really? The last thing the young women of our world need is another reason to think being dumb is cool. This tee is an affront to learned women the world over who have the audacity to dream of a day when women will be respected equally by their male peers, not because of some feminist movement, but simply because we give no reason for our male counterparts to think otherwise. Shame on you.”
Forever 21, a Los Angeles-based retailer that’s popular with teens, is selling the tee for $12.80. This isn’t the retailer’s only shirt implying that girls are stupid and uninterested in school. The words “Skool sucks” are boldly written across one shirt and another reads “I love school” on the front and “Not…” on the back.
After furious parents protested JCPenney’s sexist T shirt that read “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me,” the massive chain store pulled it. It’s is a huge victory for parents and kids, boys included, because when kids repeatedly get the message that girls are only supposed to be pretty, it’s bad for everyone.
Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals has created an awesome T-shirt that’s selling like hotcakes. The shirt reads: “Pretty has nothing to do with it.” You can buy the shirt here.
If you don’t know of Wardy or her site and blog, check it out. Here’s how she describes her products/site’s mission:
“Pigtail Pals was created by Melissa Wardy, a mom and entrepreneur who was fed up of the limitations and stereotypes found in children’s clothing. Melissa wanted role models for her daughter that exemplified courage, intelligence, and imagination.
She doesn’t want to confine her little girl to the pink and purple world being marketed to her. When Melissa couldn’t find what she wanted, Pigtail Pals was born. It is our intention to show girls that they may be bold, adventurous and heroic just like the boys!
A Pigtail Pal doesn’t wish upon a star and wait for her prince to show up. A Pigtail Pal gets into her rocket ship and finds that star all on her own!”