I’m a mother to an 8-year-old girl and I’m really concerned about what the world is telling her. (I have no son, but I know they’re also faced with mixed messages and poor role models on a daily basis.)
My little girl wakes up wanting to shine. She wants the world to see her beautiful spirit and for others to shine along with her. Crass advertising and TV have not yet spoiled her from just being her unique self. She takes her teddy bear to school for PJ day, and isn’t yet afraid of being laughed at for being different.
Sadly, I know that might change. It’s part of growing up, and I’ll try to deal with it. I’ll tell her it’s okay to be herself, and encourage her to try things, all kinds of things, that build self-confidence.
But the world for little girls has changed in my lifetime. Almost everywhere, every day, media targets her, overtly telling her that she must change who she is. She must present herself to the world differently than how she feels inside. The real, natural her isn’t right; isn’t good enough.
My girl likes cats and bugs, and teddy bears and fairies, and unicorns. Yes, she also likes pop music and videos, which I scrutinize before letting her listen to and watch. She likes texting her cousins on my phone and using the Apps I approve on my iPad. She likes doing ‘cool new things’ – and that’s where confusion enters her young mind.
I can only guard her so much. I must give her space to grow and discover things on her own. So, I let her play a fashion App that covertly tells her that girls are more popular (and richer in this game!) if they wear knee-high boots and leather corsets. At first I thought it was harmless, like playing paper dolls, right? I momentarily forgot that fantasy and cartoons still deliver a real message to a real kid.
I let her ‘buy in’ (we paid for that App!) to the ‘image is everything’ mindset. Then she was confused even further weeks later, when she saw a young celebrity on a magazine cover at the grocery store. This celebrity is a person my daughter thinks she’s supposed to admire, but in the photo, she was grinding her almost naked bum against a man’s crotch. ‘Why did she do that, Mommy?’
What do I say? “Sex sells, honey, sex sells.” No. But I tried hard to explain, using the words “attention” and “fame-seeking.” She was silent the whole drive home.
I don’t allow her to watch music videos (ok, maybe Alvin and the Chipmunks) but I see that same celebrity singing her latest hit, swinging naked on a wrecking ball while sensually licking a sledgehammer.
The song is beautiful. Why can’t the artist rely on her voice to sell it? Sadly, she doesn’t. And despite my no-videos rule, my daughter will likely see it since several of her friends have iPods. I know she’ll ask me, “Why did she do that, Mommy?” Again, what do I say?
She’s in a world that tells little girls to sing half-naked on stage, and to wear lacy bustiers and panties saying, “Call Me.” Wait a second… I was 12 when I saw Madonna sing, ‘Like A Virgin,’ but never once thought I had to wear fishnet stockings and a tin bra to get a man’s attention. (Ok, I did think it’d be a pretty cool Halloween costume).
But my concerns, and those I’ve heard from many mothers, are justified.
Instead of tweeting and commenting our rage about all this, parents should focus that time and energy on family life. We must keep an honest, open dialogue with our children, loving and respecting them for who they are; making them believe they’re already good enough as themselves.
We can’t stop the pop culture machine. Media will always try to teach girls to buy more stuff to be, ironically, less than they are, to grab attention. But if we constantly remind our individual girls that simply being who they are will make them stand out, they’ll grow up just fine.
Of course, they’ll still want an extravagant gown for their wedding day—you simply can’t un-program years of Say Yes To the Dress—but underneath it, they’ll be happy and confident in their own skin.