Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Raising Girls

Driving to tutoring this morning at the crack of dawn, I heard a story on the radio about how Wal-mart is now marketing a make-up and skin care line that targets tweens, that bridge age between chidlhood and teenager-hood (8-12, officially, but some would argue as young as seven these days).  The best part about this (or at least one of the really, really good parts) is the skin care line's anti-aging properties.  For an eight-year-old. (the other really, really good part is that the products are paraben-, sulfate- and pthalate-free, targeting the parent who is concerned about chemicals on their children.  This, combined with Wal-mart's latest push to offer more fruits and vegetables and open in notorious food deserts smacks of re-imaging more than a sincere desire to help the world, but maybe that's just me.)

In addition to this, Peggy Orenstein has just released a new book, Cinderella Ate my Daughter, building on the work of her previous book, Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the COnfidence Gap. Orenstein argues that although the princess ideology is old and has been around for almost as long as there have been stories, today's princess-driven tween (and younger) culture is expanded and intensified due to mass marketing and the long-arm of the internet.  Princesses are everywhere, and girls are drinking it in like thirsty camels, storing up the ideas of one true love, fairytale weddings and happily ever afters for the arid years when reality hits (generally by the end of highschool) and they realize they have been sold a bill of goods that is deeply flawed and inherently immoral.

At my house we are almost on the other side of the princess dream, mostly, although the Gorgeous Girl did start a conversation about what her wedding would be like (she's ten), and she has recently been busted trying to get out of the house in make-up. How do I explain to her that she needs to be able to rescue herself?  That there are not really "boy jobs" and "girl jobs" so much as there are "life jobs"(things everyone should know, just in case, like how to change a tire and how to cook a handful of dinners that don't involve ramen and macaroni and cheese)?  That the toddlers in Toddlers & Tiaras and their parents are pushing an idea of perfection that is dangerous, unattainable and ridiculously unrealistic?

I refer to my kid as the Gorgeous Girl, and I remind her every day that I value the kind, smart, compassionate inside of her as much as the strong, pretty, funky exterior.  We have to pay attention to our daughters and the message they receive when they wake up in the morning and head out into the world. Yes, I monitor GG's intake of media, but I am loosening the reins a bit as she gets older, choosing instead to talk with her about her dreams, struggles, opinions and ideas, especially as they relate to the false idea of "perfect," as shown on TV.  I could try to raise her in a bubble (which is truly almost what would be necessary if I wanted to keep her away from princess ideology completely), but at some point there would be rebellion and my plan might backfire.  It is harder and harder to combat Wal-mart and Disney, but the fight is worth it.

still waiting for the tween boy version of Wal-mart's anti-aging cream for girls; maybe a Wimpy Kid-themed hair thickener?  Muscle-builder for that perfect six-pack?

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