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Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Incredible Shrinking Girlhood

One of my favorite sayings:

"When you have children, the days are long, and the years are short"

I have yet to find a better one-sentence summation of the crazy time-warp that is parenthood.

If you happen to be the parent of a daughter, it seems those years are getting even shorter.

There exists a bizarre and disturbing cultural phenomenon. It threatens to rob our daughters of years of childhood, and it has a name. It's called "The sexualization of young girls". It also has a task force. I suppose that's a good thing. But somehow knowing that doesn't do much to ease the rock of seething anger that thunks around my stomach every time I think about it.

I am trying to determine what cultural or (more likely) economic need is fulfilled when young girls are made to feel objectified before they hit puberty. Why buy Dora underwear at Target, when you can buy Thongs for your 8 year old at limited t00? Even more baffling to me, is what the parents of these kids are thinking (or perhaps not thinking). I know the typical offenders well. Bratz Dolls, and clothing that makes elementary school kids look like hoochie mama streetwalkers. Why on God's green earth are parents letting their daughters walk out of the house wearing that kind of garbage? Don't they grow up too fast as it is?

Thanks to Tracey over at Sweetney for writing a compelling piece and a link to this article in her post.

The article mentioned above reads:

"Girls also sexualize themselves when they think of themselves in objectified terms. Psychological researchers have identified self-objectification as a key process whereby girls learn to think of and treat their own bodies as objects of others’ desires (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996). In self-objectification, girls internalize an observer’s perspective on their physical selves and learn to treat themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated for their appearance. Numerous studies have documented the presence of self-objectification in women more than in men. Several studies have also documented this phenomenon in adolescent and preadolescent girls (McConnell, 2001; Slater & Tiggemann, 2002)."

Further evidence that parents who place their children in beauty pageants are abusing their kids, and should be placed on parental probation. And probably kicked hard in the shins.

There are emotional and cognitive consequences for girls who self-objectify. And yet, it's culturally pervasive, and seems to be growing more so.

Personally, I don't care if my daughter is still playing with (non-hoochie variety) dolls at the age of 17. As long as she's not preoccupied about whether her body looks good enough for for someone else's enjoyment, I will host her tea parties til she's 30.

How sad to think that young girls get cultural messages that the primary purpose of their bodies (and entire existence) are for being ogled and for the pleasuring of boys. Pardon me while I swallow bile.

How do we battle an entire cultural phenomenon on behalf of our daughters?

I plan to pull store managers aside in every retail operation where I find inappropriate items being marketed to young girls, and give them an earful.

I plan to tell every parent who puts their daughter in a kiddie pageant that they are absolute morons and need to go to remedial parenting camp. Then I will make them watch the epsiode of "Intervention" that features the beauty queen who downed 14 mini's of Smirnoff a day because she needed to look perfect and be perfect. And she was drowning her failure in vodka.

I plan to talk to my daughter about body image.

I plan to honor her mind, and her humor, and her creativity more that I praise her looks. Even though I think she is the most beautiful child in the world. It will be hard not to tell her that on a daily basis.

When she is old enough, I plan to discuss the objectification of women with her, and to point it out when I see it.

Maggie is two and half. I hate that I live in a society in which I have to worry about this crap. Growing up is hard enough. Why are we dumping this stuff on our girls?

What are your thoughts?


Blogger rookiemom said...

I have seen a lot of blogging about this lately. And since I have a daughter now, it really kinda freaks me out and sickens me that society is doing this.

No way is my kid gonna be wearing something her own MOM won't even wear for sake of decency, thank you.

And thongs? Cold day in hell.

4:26 AM  
Blogger EverydaySuperGoddess said...

You don't need to worry about Maggie. She is surrounded by enough role models to know what it means to be a REAL woman of smarts and substance.

And if somehow she ever does become confused regarding what that looks like, we'll just send her to stay with Cousin Tiffany in Seattle for the summer.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Meghan said...

I think she would look good with pink hair.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Krista said...

I'd like to say this makes me grateful that I have boys, but the truth is it affects them just as much. While your girls are being made to objectify themselves, my boys are being trained by the media to notice the very things you're protesting. At three-years-old my son would stop what he was doing if a Victoria Secrets commercial happened to come on. It's a little disconcerting when your toddler is ogling women.

So I turn the channel and send them from the room. But what happens when I'm not around?

This parenting stuff is scary. Unfortantely it's made scarier by marketing experts who want to cash in.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I've been thinking a lot about this stuff lately too. I'm constantly telling my daughter she's beautiful and so is her father, all day long. She is!

And my husband pointed out that we needed to make sure we focus more on telling her how smart she is than how pretty she is.

But I disagree.

I think it will be HUGELY important for her confidence that she knows her parents think she is beautiful. A girl's self-esteem comes mainly from her father, so I want him to keep telling her how pretty she is every day. Of course, we'll be telling her how smart she is just as often, but I don't want to ever leave out the pretty. It needs to be said.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yes, my two and a half year old daughter will be raised to have self-esteem and to fight off Bratz dolls and such.

You can't even buy toddler clothing that isn't suggestive or has suggestive sayings on it anymore! Old Navy, while they do have some cute toddler clothes, is one of the worst offenders.

Why can't they just let little girls be nothing more than kids for a little while?

2:02 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

I agree completely and I'll go further to say that the mothers of sons should be doing all the same things. I plan to teach my son all of the same information, and in addition to instill a sense that people are more than their bodies and outward appearances. I want my son to know that his body belongs to him, that no one has the right to touch it or make him feel bad about it and he does not have the right to do that to anyone else either.
I keep waiting for society to come to its senses and for this whole thing to turn around, instead it seems to be getting worse.
All mothers, of sons and daughters need to work together on this issue before it's too late.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Catizhere said...

I agree completely!
While Maggie *has* sucummbed to the Eviiilll that is the Disney Princesses, I put my foot down at Bratz dolls. Joe actually bought her a Bratz doll for Christmas and when she opened it, she looked at me first and said, "Oh. Thank you Daddy, but Mommy says I don't like these dolls, They are skanky."

She knows that we think she is smart, funny, kind and pretty. Yes, we tell her that she is pretty because its the truth. We also emphasize her other amazing traits. She IS smart. She IS funny, and kind, etc....

We think that as long as she knows that she is loved for more than her looks, she'll be ok.

6:38 AM  
Blogger jenB said...

I am not sure how I will negotiate this as the years go by Charlotte is three. I can protect her from those images when she is really young and then explain them as she gets older. When my niece asked for a Bratz doll, I said I didn't like they way she looked, but how do you explain "whorish" to a five year old? I don't want to hinge her self esteem on anything. Yes, smart is good, funny is good, being pretty is nice, but being a good person is the most important. Being kind and generous and forgiving and loyal and truthful. Beautiful be damned. When she looks nice in a dress, I will tell her she looks great, but it is not going to be a quality that I want her to hinge her self love on. I had enough problems with this growing up, if I can spare her the same pain, I will. Dammit.

Thanks for bringing this up.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Marguerite said...

They have thongs for 8-year-olds?! For real??? Oy veh. I can't even wear thongs, and I'm over 30.

You should be commended for encouraging retailers to change, even if it is a bit like trying to change the weather (unfortunately).

The first time I saw the "Bratz" (a.k.a., "Junior Hookers of America") dolls, I utterly was horrified. But then I thought about the dolls of the 70s and 80s - we had Malibu ("I Hate Feminism!") Barbies, the Farrah Faucet doll, and worshiped at the altar of Daisy Duke ...

I was about to say "and we turned out just fine!," but come to think of it, I might be more of a cautionary tale ...

8:03 PM  
Blogger Pale Girl said...

i think you are doing a great job as a mother to a girl! my girl (6) knows of my distaste for the bratz dolls very well. i recently overheard her at a birthday party say to a friend, "you know, those bratz dolls are really ugly. they don't have any self-respect. do you know how i know, they show there belly buttons. it's too bad you don't like different dolls." i didn't know if i should be mortified at her giving the birthday girl a lecture or beam with pride that my lectures are taking root in her brain. i think i will go with pride. keep up your great work.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

As a daughter who rarely heard that she was pretty, I have to echo the need to put down roots in all areas of self-esteem. I heard "smart", "talented", and "sensitive" all the time - but "pretty", "strong", "funny", or "creative"? Nope.

But I also think it's important to let kids know - even when they're really young - what you consider appropriate (or inappropriate) and why. Obviously, it needs to be explained in terms they can understand, but it's essential to encourage that dialogue rather than issuing a flat "No!" or "Because I said so!" I think setting that precedent will make future discussions of potentially greater consequence easier. Not easy, but easier.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Izzy said...

I have written on this topic repeatedly and repeatedly I find myself going head-to-head with other mothers (of ALL people...) who feel the need to criticize me, however politely, for being too protective or hinting that I am a control freak or that I have some kind of issues with female sexuality and on and on it goes.

If only it were that simple. If only it were JUST ME with the problem rather than a whole society.

It's reassuring to hear voices of reason in the midst of such insanity.

2:50 PM  
Blogger CK Holder said...

I don't know of a single parent who condones this early maturation of our little girls. How does this persist? Who are the parents who are okay with it? Will our collective disapproval help our children retain their childhoods?

9:46 PM  
Blogger Alpha DogMa said...

As the mother of sons I am concerned about this issue, about the trickle down effect of the sexualized dynamics of classrooms and friendships.

I've a hard time finding presents for the children of friends and family that are non-offensive. To say nothing of the fact that in just over a decade my sons will be dating and what am I going to say if they bring home a girl who looks and acts like a Bratz Doll.

8:25 PM  

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