Even before I was ever pregnant, I was adamant: I did not want to know the sex of my baby. I’ve always been bothered by the gender identities imposed on kids as young as infants, and I figured, “That will all come soon enough. Might as well let the baby be itself in untero.” Plus, I’ve always rather hated pink, even when I was a child.
Then we had a girl, thus conjuring the pink tsunami.
A year and a half later, my daughter often wears pink. Granted, I try to find other options when I’m shopping, but it’s pretty hard to avoid. (One time a Hanna Andersson employee chastized me for buying the blue coat instead of the pink. Thankfully another mom shopper vocally stuck up for my choice.) But the fact remains that family and friends—women especially—like to buy my daugher “girlie” clothes, and therefore Szaba ends up with a closet of pink and ruffles.
I’ve come to terms with this. I even think some of those clothes can be quite charming, in a frosted cupcake sort of way. So I don’t blame their givers. I don’t put up a stink about it, and I certainly don’t throw out perfectly nice things, especially in this economy.
But I have to say, when I hear stories like Peggy Orenstein’s recent interview on NPR, I begin to worry about the point of no return on this slippery slope. At one point do a hundred little decisions add up to a toy box full of whores. Oops, did I said whores? I meant horrors.
You’d think these toys would be marketed to 12 year olds (which would be bad enough at such a body-conscious time). But no. They’re marketed to girls as young as three. Why so young? As Peggy Orenstein explained to the TODAY Show:
“Toy manufacturers began following the marketing strategy ‘Kids Getting Older Younger’ when they realized that toys marketed toward kids between the ages of 8 and 12 were attracting kids who were 3 to 8 because they wanted to emulate their older brothers and sisters.”
In Hasbro’s defense, Donna Tobin, director of global brand strategy and marketing, said her company is making over established, younger-aimed brands like My Little Pony to try to get girls to “stay younger longer.” If that is truly your company’s goal, Ms. Tobin, you might be missing the mark. Aren’t you just bombarding young girls with this imagery on both fronts?
In Orenstein’s NPR interview, she went on to warn that this saturation of sexy is especially problematic for young preschool-age brains because they’re:
“The most flexible and the most malleable … I talked to a lot of neuroscientists about this, and neuropsychologists, and they said that it’s also the time when those little differences that are innate to boys and girls—if they’re allowed to flourish by having kids grow up in separate cultures—become big gaps.”
She further explained the appeal of exaggerated “feminine” characteristics to toddlers, and why we should all be more mindful of manipulating the way girls process gender differences at that age:
“When kids are 2, 3, 4, 5, they don’t understand the whole anatomy thing. So to them, you’re a girl if you wear barrettes … So in that way, the princess thing is genius because it hits them right at a time when they’re going to gravitate towards whatever is the most extreme in the culture that will have them represent their sex. When I was a little girl, it was more like baby dolls. Now, it’s putting on your 21-piece Disney cosmetics kit.”
Dale Atkins, psychologist and TODAY show contributor, put it this way (which makes me even more worried):
“When we have these ridiculous models—sexualized children and horses with long eyelashes that are flirtatious—it sets up this ideal of beauty and body image that kids have to pay attention to because they can’t not pay attention to it. And they feel less good as they’re trying to develop a good sense about their own bodies. The sexualized aspect just makes them feel like they’re only good if they are objectified … It’s all so subtle, for a child anyway. We parents and adults look at this and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so blatant,’ but in fact it’s subtle because kids are playing with these things and then they look in the mirror.”
The good news is we all have choices in the matter. Your kids don’t make the money, you do, and with earning power comes purchasing power. Sure, they’re still going to play with those other toys at their friends’ houses. They’re still going to get gifts from other people, and they’ll still want to emulate friends, especially when something is perceived as new or taboo.
But it goes both ways. If you’re daughter has a cool LEGO set, a clever Threadless shirt, or a one-of-kind stuffed animal they designed themselves, their friends will take notice of those things, too. The key is to keep injecting a balance, so your little princess doesn’t become a little … horror.
Looking for more options for your daughter? Check out my Top 3: New Toys for Girls.