Girls in the news…It just has to get better than this. I’m a bit deflated with the amount of time and energy going into three stories this past week or so.
Last week it was the push-up-padded-bra bikini marketed to young girls (age 8 years) from a big retailer in the US. The company has a bad track record and nonetheless, outrage ensued about early sexual images, contorting body image, and simply pushing girls to “grow up too fast.” This month, I started to hear murmurs about a group of 8 year-old girls in a national dance competition, dressed in bikinis dancing to a Beyonce song with controversial choreography. The dance hit sparked thousands of comments on media Facebook pages and the blogosphere lit up like a sunbeam. And then this week it’s about a breast-feeding baby doll that mechanically sucks on nipples (via a bib worn by the doll’s owner). Concern about young girls being asked to act like grown women, perversion by the doll’s manufacturers, and a too-soon anatomic education about physiologic breast function before kindergarten…
But wait a second. What is this really about? We get so lost when this chatter fills our water-cooler moments we remember all the wrong things:
- The name of the US retailer that made those hideous padded bikinis for 8 year-olds.
- Beyonce’s name, her song, the controversy. Or the position that these 8 year-old girls would somehow be to blame.
- The mommy wars bubbling up again: breast-feeding versus formula feeding, with a doll as the excuse to revisit our differences.
What we forget:
- The great reminder to think about how we help girls understand the capacities of who they are, what their potential contains, or the tiny value of the shape of their chest compared to their voice when we think about their future.
- We forget the exceptional talent of a troop of 8 year-athletic phenoms dancing to an iconic song. The 2.6 Million views they have secured on YouTube. How this success will perpetuate the tactic.
- That little girls and little boys like to mimic their moms. That propping a doll up to their breast bone really isn’t something in which a 4 year-old should find shame.
It’s chatter. But it quickly and efficiently becomes newsworthy around here. Enough so to sell a huge stack of (electronic) papers or enough so for a network to share the idea to millions.
My take? I don’t really worry about the doll. I find it a bit awkward, a try-too-hard gimmick to sell more dolls and make more money. A stir the pot type thing. But I don’t think little girls are sexualized by using a doll designed to feed. They already do this with their other dolls, minus the weird bib with the flower nipples. The bikini and the dancers, they worry me…
The trouble is, these material objects, these advertisements, these dolls, they are fundamentally just platforms and channels used to divide us along the lines of our parenting philosophies. And they carry an agenda all of their own.
What About This Girl In The News?
Clarissa, a cancer survivor and blogger providing camaraderie to her peers and advice for enduring a cancer diagnosis in high school. Or what about how March 10th was the 6th annual women and girls HIV/AIDS awareness day? I’m not naive. I just think it would be better to listen to things we really care about like health, friendship, and stories that change our lives and construct our hope.
When will we figure out how to make the stories we treasure most seductive enough for the talk-show circuit, the morning news, or the late night tables? Help me figure it out.
What do you think about all this–distracting or relevant?
I saw friend who are big breastfeeding advocates talking about this doll on their blogs and getting caught up in the controversy, and I was a bit taken aback. I think the fact that we even have to make a doll that is specifically a breastfeeding doll, and that people react as if it is some horrible, sexualized thing is absurd. The fact that anyone is talking about it at all just irks me. The only thing I was talking about in regards to the doll was its $100 price tag – when a doll at the store with a bottle in its mouth could cost me 1/10th the price. And I totally agree with you that children will do what has been modeled for them, and they have wonderful, active imaginations. My little brother used to “breastfeed” my dolls all the time! No need for fake nipples or a specific, expensive doll. Just put a baby in front of him and he thought, “this baby needs to be fed, I’m going to nurse it”.
But yes, in answer to your question I find these headlines to be relevant, but their big points are being missed just like you stated. And I agree 100% that I would rather see the more positive, change-inducing stories in the news.
I heard recently that hearing good news actually makes people behave more altruistically. I’d love it if Clarissa’s blog made headlines. Sadly, controversy sells.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
@Ruth, wow. I love that idea…that hearing good news makes us act in ways that improve the lives of others. If you read it again, send me the link!
The breast-feeding doll doesn’t offend me at all, I just thought, “That’s a little weird or a three year old who probably doesn’t even realize she has real nipples yet” but I’ve seen plenty of little girls that age hold babies to their chest to pretend to feed them and I think it’s sweet and normal. The doll itself sounds silly and gimicky and I agree it sounds like they’re just trying to find a new fad.
The push-up bra for an 8-year old though is weird and scary to me. I don’t know any 8-year old girls who have anything to push up! But I’m pretty hardcore about not teaching girls that they have to “sculpt” their bodies to be attractive. I’m one of those moms who groans at the “high heel” (read: 2 inches at most) dress up shoes for preschool and kindergarteners. It’s not because I think they are being sexualized too early (I’ve noticed that little girls as young as two are into flirting and romance – which is their developmental stage of “sexualization”) it’s the idea that to be attractive you need to change your natural body or you won’t be attractive – and teaching such young girls that awful message.
As far as Beyonce goes, my opinion is no one of any age should listen to her.
Kristen Wallace says
My immediate knee-jerk response to the beginning of this post is echoed numerous times in the remainder of the post and the comments. 1) There is nothing weird or sexualized about toddlers pretending to breastfeed dolls. My daughter was well of aware of boobs, nipples, and breastfeeding at a young age and would pretend to feed her doll. (Little boys do this too!( Buying a doll specifically for this is wasteful and silly, but there is nothing particularly wrong with it.
The other two stories, ugh. I remember watching my young niece and her cousin dance to a Britney Spear’s song long ago and being appalled at the words and moves, even though I know my niece did not understand them. Hopefully, she just liked the melody. 🙂
I’ve never listened to Beyonce. I’ve never worn a bikini. My three daughters know that I think my body is both beautiful and amazing. I’ve got stretch marks that attest to how amazing my body really is. . . it has created and brought into the world 4 amazing people. I think it is powerful to be aware of issues facing our girls. But how do we access useful knowledge about what is facing our girls and how to counteract the negative? By watching a news bit about a bikini for young girls? Probably not. By thinking and reading about what we DO want for our girls and how to give it to them. Yes. I’ve done a lot of reading about girls and advertising. What I have learned has transformed how I am raising my girls. I limit, as much as possible, negative media messages. Where that is not entirely possibly (and it isn’t) I frame the conversation and context about the media messages presented to them. I help them identify intent on the part or the advertiser, tools of manipulation used and then examine if it conforms OUR definition of who we want to be and how we want to represent ourselves. Above all, sharing and showing positive examples is so powerful. They will learn more from a news story that highlights a girl doing something wonderful than they will from a news story about padded bikini’s. And, if you can, take them in to see Dr. Swanson, who is an amazing example of all the goodness and potential that exists in our girls!
My daughters breastfeed their dolls, I caught my 3 year old trying to hook my breast pump to herself, and my 5 year old said to me the other day “so, are my breasts going to get big when I have a baby and they have milk in them, and then when the milk goes away, are they going to be hanging LOW like yours?” (nice, eh?)
I have BIG BIG issues with all of the ways in which our little girls are pushed to grow up too fast – heels and (very) short skirts and down right trashy looking dresses and bathing suits are not uncommon when I’m shopping for my size-6 (as in CHILD’s size 6) daughter. But to me, it all comes down to the parents in the end… we just don’t buy those clothes, we don’t listen to “that” music, we don’t watch “those” TV shows, and we try to have light hearted conversations about our bodies when the girls ask about an overly sexy bulletin board or magazine cover. I don’t think the over-sexualization of our girls is going away, but if us parents stand strong against it (this goes to something I’ve been saying a lot lately – there’s no room for peer pressure in good parenting!) I think we can still raise girls who act and dress their age and have a healthy self-image. I don’t care if I have the only 5 year old who isn’t allowed to watch Hannah Montana and if people roll their eyes at the fact that they are not allowed to wear bikinis (plus, they wear rash guards mostly for sun-protection not only because of modesty).
I worry about the bikinis and dancers, too. I don’t think the media robbed those dancers of recognition for their talent. I think their teacher and choreographer did by not selecting age appropriate music, dress, or choreography. They are not wearing bikinis, they are wearing LINGERIE. The whole thing is so revolting, it’s hard to see the athleticism. I think these girls are being damaged by spending their time and talent learning to perform in this way. They are learning that sex is a source of esteem. Worse yet they are learning to use sexual moves to please an adult audience. I think adults who encourage and enjoy this sort of behavior are voyeurs. They are grooming their child for early sexual activity and sexual predation.
I think that doll is weird. So are other dolls that poop, pee, cry, coo, or move. If we leave out the batteries, we leave more to the imagination.
What a great post WSS! I wasn’t aware of any of these current online brew-ha-has. Guess that shows how much face-booking and twittering I do 😉 (That would be none).
As the mom of a soon-to-be 3 yr old girl, I am very conscious of our society’s interest in sexulalizing girls,and the way many moms nowadays endorse such behavior by buying those clothes, watching those shows, etc, etc. Just the other day I was shopping for some panties for my daughter and I was shocked to see the “sexy” training bras now available. No more just plain white basic training bras. These are colorful, shapely, and having padding!
Both my husband and I grew up in the country with lots of dirt and animals and we are trying to bring the same down-to-earth/common sense approach to raising our own kids. Love learning, love life, run, play, pretend, immagine. Sexy clothes & shoes, and make-up and music are for “older kids” and grown-ups.
I agree with pps — most kids who grow up around breastfeeding will also try to breastfeed their dolls. My son did this many times when he was younger. And yes, having a battery-powered super-expensive doll for this does seem over the top to me.
The little girls dancing and such — it sounds only marginally different than that TLC show Toddlers & Tiaras. Little girls looking like that — like a horrific traffic accident, really — most of us have difficulty NOT looking at, and it’s sad to me.
We talk (or WILL talk, in many cases) openly about normal physiology, sexuality and what’s expected as both my kids mature. I think it’s those parents who don’t have THOSE discussions, yet endorse these things, that produce confused, immature and overtly sexual tweens and teens.
I think it all comes down to what’s taught at home. Told our daughter about how babies were made early on – age 3, when she asked – in a matter of fact manner. Have answered her questions about sex/sexuality, more in depth as she has asked. Monitored the TV, talked about the Hanna Montanas and others her friends were emulating, and WHY we didn’t hold with the message those girls were sending about themselves. We’re religious, so for us, it made sense to talk to her from that standpoint about dressing appropriately. Over the years, I’d take her shopping and hear her ask herself, \would Jesus be embarassed if I wore this in front of Him? Would I be embarrased to wear it in front of Him?\ She’d usually ask me to make hers something instead. She’s 12 now, and likes to choose her own clothes – still a glutton for glitter (at least she’s over pink!) and trends, but has found a way to be hip (I know – that’s a vintage word!) without resorting to clothes that show too much, or have words stamped across her bum luck a branded cow.
That link for you about good news affecting behaviour – a little more complicated than I remembered it: https://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/quality-insider-news/media-reports-about-uncommon-acts-goodness-can-make-good-people.html#