Tuesday, October 09, 2012

thoughts on barbie

Welcome to the October 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Instilling a Healthy Self-Image
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared confessions, wisdom, and goals for helping children love who they are. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

When I ponder what a child with a good self-image might act like, I imagine a smily kid who is humble but tries hard to succeed, is happy-go-lucky, is competitive but not aggressive, and in a sense plays well with others. I don't think about their physical looks at all, but I know even despite my best efforts, looks will creep into the conversation.

I want more than anything for my girls to be able to separate their sense of confidence and pride from their physical looks. I remember many years in which I had trouble differentiating self-worth from outside factors like social rank, breast size, and other markers of traditional beauty. I recognize that it will take work for my kids to get past those factors, and it might be a bumpy road along the way.

Last April, I participated in another Carnival of Natural Parenting and wrote about redefining beauty for my four-year-old daughter. When I covered the subject back in April, I chose to cut our hair to prove a point to both myself and my daughter that beauty stereotypes don't define us as females. Looking back, I can say without a doubt that was a great experience; the lack of grooming time alone makes it worth it.

I feel generally good about the development of my kids' self-image thus far. I give them many chances to participate in a variety of activities, in the hope that they will find the activities they love and excel at to influence their self-image positively. However, I see the outside influences of our sex-driven culture causing some potential trouble in self-image paradise down the road.

Recently a study by Knox College in Illinois determined that girls as young as six years old identify scantily clad dolls as popular and "their ideal self" as opposed to normally dressed dolls. I even noticed this phenomenon a bit in Vivi the other day, when she was ranking some plastic cut-out dolls in order of prettiness. When I asked her how she knew which doll was more pretty, she said she liked the one best that was showing her belly button. Ummm...

Is it too predictable of me to place some of the blame for this situation on Barbie? I loved Barbies as a kid and don't expect that they won't play any role in my children's lives, but on the other hand I wonder if I ought to invoke some parental control over their outfits. One of our newest Barbies came wearing plastic (i.e. non-removable) lingerie. C'mon! Although it upsets me, I recognize it's not Mattel's job to regulate Barbie's outfits, it's mine. I love the idea of buying knitted outfits for Barbies, which I saw on corner blog.

Even leaving Barbie out of the equation, I have often contemplated why so much of young girls' clothing today is even vaguely sexual. I understand the notion that sex sells, but for kids?! Do we really need outfits that say "Juicy" above the bottom?

The study listed maternal TV mediation and religiosity as counter-effects on sexualization. Might it also help if I screened the princesses and halter-top-clad dolls we allow in our lives too? I miss Holly Hobby and Strawberry Shortcake, but I think my feeling goes beyond simple nostalgia. Is it just me that believes the princess business has spiraled out of control? Can it be only a personality difference that makes my four-year-old daughter so hyped up about princesses? I never even saw the movie Sleeping Beauty more than once until I was an adult, and I can remember being more excited about seeing Goofy when I went to Disney World than the princesses.

So there we are, arriving back at a question I've asked before: How do we combat princess propaganda and sexy Barbies? Do we allow well-meaning relatives to purchase the scantily clad dolls, or do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Perhaps I should look toward myself as the best role model for them and not worry too much about outside influence.

I hope my daughters see me as a positive image role model, but I honestly question how much influence I personally have on them. I will try my best to counteract the message my girls get from so many other sources, but it feels like an uphill battle. In the end, this post comes up with more questions than answers, but I think that speaks to the difficulty and sensitivity of the subject matter.

If you're the mom to an older girl, I would love it if you could weigh in with your opinion. How much of a role do you take in influencing the sexual imagery your kids encounter? Do you actively attempt to influence their self-image positively?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon October 9 with all the carnival links.)
  • Why I Walk Around Naked — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she embraces her own body so that her daughter might embrace hers.
  • What I Am Is Not Who I Am — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses her views on the importance of modeling WHO she is for her daughter and not WHAT she sees in the mirror.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Verbs vs. Adjectives — Alisha at Cinnamon & Sassafras tries hard to compliment what her son does, not who he is.
  • The Naked Family — Sam at Love Parenting talks about how nudity and bodily functions are approached in her home.
  • How She'll See Herself — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis discusses some of the challenges of raising a daughter in our culture and how she's hoping to overcome them.
  • Self Esteem and all it's pretty analogies — Musings from Laura at Pug in the Kitchen on what she learned about self-esteem in her own life and how it applies to her parenting.
  • Beautiful — Tree at Mom Grooves writes about giving her daughter the wisdom to appreciate her body and how trying to be a role model taught Tree how to appreciate her own.
  • Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Nurturing A Healthy Body Image — Christy at Eco Journey in the Burbs is changing perceptions about her body so that she may model living life with a positive, healthy body image for her three young daughters.
  • Some{BODY} to LoveKate Wicker has faced her own inner demons when it comes to a poor body image and even a clinical eating disorder, and now she wants to help her daughters to be strong in a world that constantly puts girls at risk for losing their true selves. This is Kate's love letter to her daughters reminding them to not only accept their bodies but to accept themselves as well in every changing season of life.
  • They Make Creams For That, You Know — Destany at They Are All of Me writes about celebrating her natural beauty traits, especially the ones she passed onto her children.
  • New Shoes for Mama — Kellie of Our Mindful Life, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is getting some new shoes, even though she is all grown up…
  • Raising boys with bodily integrity — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants her boys to understand their own bodily autonomy — so they'll respect their own and others'.
  • Sowing seeds of self-love in our children — After struggling to love herself despite growing up in a loving family, Shonnie at Heart-Led Parenting has suggestions for parents who truly want to nurture their children's self-esteem.
  • Subtle Ways to Build a Healthy Self-Image — Emily at S.A.H.M i AM discusses the little things she and her husband do every day to help their daughter cultivate a healthy self-image.
  • On Barbie and Baby Bikinis: The Sexualization of Young Girls — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger finds it difficult to keep out the influx of messages aimed at her young daughters that being sexy is important.
  • Undistorted — Focusing on the beauty and goodness that her children hold, Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children watches them grow, loved and undistorted.
  • Off The Hook — Arpita at Up, Down and Natural sheds light on the journey of infertility, and how the inability to get pregnant and stay pregnant takes a toll on self image…only if you let it. And that sometimes, it feels fantastic to just let yourself off the hook.
  • Going Beyond Being An Example — Becky at Old New Legacy discusses three suggestions on instilling healthy body image: positivity, family dinners, and productivity.
  • Raising a Confident Kid — aNonymous at Radical Ramblings describes the ways she's trying to raise a confident daughter and to instil a healthy attitude to appearance and self-image.
  • Instilling a Healthy Self Image — Laura at This Mama's Madness hopes to promote a healthy self-image in her kids by treating herself and others with respect, honesty, and grace.
  • Stories of our Uniqueness — Casey at Sesame Seed Designs looks for a connection to the past and celebrates the stories our bodies can tell about the present.
  • Helping My Boy Build a Healthy Body Image — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school offers readers a collection of tips and activities that she uses in her journey to helping her 3-year-old son shape a healthy body image.
  • Eat with Joy and Thankfulness: A Letter to my Daughters about Food — Megan at The Boho Mama writes a letter to her daughters about body image and healthy attitudes towards food.
  • Helping Our Children Have Healthy Body Images — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares information about body image, and her now-adult daughter tells how she kept a healthy body image through years of ballet and competitive figure skating.
  • Namaste — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment shares how at barely 6 years old, her daughter has begun to say, "I'm not beautiful." And while it's hard to listen to, she also sees it as a sign her daughter is building her self-image in a grassroots kind of way.
  • 3 Activities to Help Instill a Healthy Self-Image in Your Child — Explore the changing ideals of beauty, create positive affirmations, and design a self-image awareness collage. Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares these 3 ideas + a pretty affirmation graphic you can print and slip in your child's lunchbox.
  • Beautiful, Inside and Out — It took a case of adult-onset acne for Kat of MomeeeZen to find out her parenting efforts have resulted in a daughter that is truly beautiful, inside and out.
  • Mirroring Positive Self Image for Toddlers — Shannon at GrowingSlower reflects on encouraging positive self image in even the youngest members of the family.
  • How I hope to instill a healthy body image in my two girls — Raising daughters with healthy body image in today's society is no small task, but Xela at The Happy Hippie Homemaker shares how choosing our words carefully and being an example can help our children learn to love their bodies.
  • Self Image has to Come from WithinMomma Jorje shares all of the little things she does to encourage healthy attitudes in her children, but realizes she can't give them their self images.
  • Protecting the Gift — JW from True Confessions of a Real Mommy wants you to stop thinking you need to boost your child up: they think they are wonderful all on their own.
  • Learning to Love Myself, for my Daughter — Michelle at Ramblings of Mitzy addresses her own poor self-image.
  • Nurturing An Innate Sense of Self — Marisa at Deliberate Parenting shares her efforts to preserve the confidence and healthy sense of self they were born with.
  • Don't You Love Me, Mommy?: Instilling Self-Esteem in Young Children After New Siblings Arrive — Jade at Seeing Through Jade Glass But Dimly hopes that her daughter will learn to value herself as an individual rather than just Momma's baby
  • Exercising is FUN — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work talks about modeling for her children that exercising is FUN and good for body and soul.
  • Poor Little Chicken — Kenna at A Million Tiny Things gets her feathers ruffled over her daughter's clothing anxiety.
  • Loving the skin she's in — Mama Pie at Downside Up and Outside In struggles with her little berry's choice not to celebrate herself and her heritage.
  • Perfect the Way I Am — Erika at Cinco de Mommy struggles — along with her seven-year-old daughter — at telling herself she's perfect just the way she is.


Emily said...

I stress about these same things! I worry about everything from the sexy/violent commercials she sees when we visit other peoples homes to the gifts I can't control. I worry that watching Beauty and the Beast will normalize abusive relationships. I worry that I worry too much. I know I can't protect her from everything and hope talking to her about all of it as she gets older will help. But I still worry. I worry one day she won't believe us just because we're her parents. We do what we can at home to build up her confidence so she can better deal with outside influences but I know there is only so much we can do because she is her own person.

Shonnie Lavender said...

Justine I enjoyed your post and share some of your disbelief at what's sold for girls. In college one of my roommates was a research to a professor who conducted body image research using barbie dolls. The dolls (which happened to be at our apartment during a party) were identical in clothing but their bodies underneath had been altered (padding added or taken away to change proportions). The research which we duplicated with our guests asked questions like which doll would be the best wife, which would be the most faithful, which would be most sexual, which was most feminine/masculine, etc. It was amazing to see how both men and women (whether sober or drunk) "preferred" certain body types over others. If my memory is correct, this professor concluded that some of our body type likes are hard wired and deal with things like procreation (e.g., no matter the barbie's overall figure, one whose hips were larger than her waist gave the subconscious signal that she could more easily bear children). Given all this, I think it's even more reason for girls not to wear clothing that says "juicy" anywhere. ;-)

hobomama said...

Not having any daughters at this point, I can only imagine how tough it must be to raise girls especially with a grounded self-image. The princess fad is everywhere, and of course, Barbie and her ilk are not going away. The study you linked about scantily clad dolls and self-image is so interesting (and disturbing).

Dionna Ford said...

Eek - you've just reminded me that I need to write an email to my family, asking them not to buy certain toys for Christmas. I am not above asking for certain products to be kept out of our home.
Have you read Cinderella Ate My Daughter? It is an interesting read from a feminist who had a daughter (who loves princesses). It starts at such a young age! At any rate, it is up to us - hopefully we can band together and change consumer culture, which obviously plays the biggest role in the "Juicy"-type labels (because if no one bought them, then they wouldn't be sold!).
~Dionna @ CodeNameMama.com

Kellie Parrott Barr said...

I have found that having children has cemented my positive self image more than anything else ever did. And I have found that when I'm honest with myself, I know when things are and are not good for my kids. I don't keep them in a bubble where there is no such thing as male/female interaction, but I make sure that what they see is positive. When I dress up, I don't bare skin that I wouldn't normally bare. When I wear make up, we talk about that sometimes I think it is fun to paint up my face. I don't wear things that I would be ashamed to see my 6 year old daughter in. And I don't buy her clothing that is made to accentuate her body in a sexual manner. It disturbs me to no end to see little girls in clothing that sexualizes them. But I also don't obsess over it. It simply is what it is, and my kids have already figured out that we do things differently than lots of other people - and they are ok with that. :)

tree peters said...

this is the scariest topic for my husband and myself. We have a 5 year old daughter. I was horrified when she was 1 and got a leopard print bikini from her grandmother. Seriously!!!? We had a gentle talk with grandmommy and luckily she understood. Although we do some t.v., we monitor it carefully and try to avoid those image. Even cartoons are crazy with hte sexy young girls.
So... My husband would like to buy an island and take her there. BUt htat isn't going to happen(plus we can't afford an island which is probably lucky for our daughter).
I think that you have more of an impact on your daughters than you might think. All the things about you and what you've given them will be there with them even when they (possibly) rebel and make you feel like you don't.
I also think that so much of the over-sexualization of these young girls is coming from moms who have their own issues.
The more parents who don't buy into it, the better the future will be for all our children.
This was a very thought provoking post. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

Swimwear one piece said...

This is fantastic way for fashion evaluation as well as latest

Erika @ Cincodemommy said...

Unfortunately, we just do the best we can. I think homeschooling has benefitted my daughters -- they're kept away from popular culture (even though I struggle with the idea of intentionally sheltering them from life). My sons are in the dark about most pop-culture things, but my daughter whose BFF goes to school knows words like hot and sexy -- UGH, WTH?!?!? She's seven. Thanks for the post.

Becky Bluemel said...

Interesting research!

Becky Bluemel said...

I recently came across that interpretation of Beauty and the Beast too. I had never thought of it that way before. I've come to the conclusion that even though there are movies, shows, etc that can (or will) be misinterpreted shouldn't be sheltered from my daughter. She'll probably hear about that stuff later on, so her parents might as well be the people who discuss difficult topics with her.

Michelle Bowman said...

My best friend has a 5 year old step-daughter that was raised by her husband's parents until last year (he has been deployed for a year multiple times and has full custody). They treated her as a princess, fairy and taught her that she was to be "rescued". Bought her any and every single princess toy or movie they could, and they talked to her in baby talk until just recently when my friend's husband asked them to speak to her like a big girl because she was starting kindergarten. My friend and her husband have been spending the past year teaching her that she is smart and strong in her own right and she can be strong, too- that just because she's a girl, she doesn't have to be rescued. They've got a lot of problems ahead, but my friend is teaching her through modeling, and removing those Barbies and tinkerbells from the house.
Anyhow, they have made it very clear that no princess, brats or barbies in the house as gifts. Removing these has allowed the little one to learn about "strong" princesses- Mulan, etc. They made a decision and have stuck to it. It's hard around the holidays, but they either exchange or donate the gifts that his family chooses to buy against their wishes. It may be tough, but over time, I think they know what they're doing is in the best interest in their daughter.

The Lone Home Ranger said...

I just re-read the comments to this post, and I have to thank you all again for writing them! It's encouraging to see such a great group of intelligent moms who are battling these issues alongside me. It really gives a mom courage, so thanks!

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