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You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby Part 2

>When I was a girl,Charlie’s Angels and Barbie were going to make us into pliant, barfing, disappointments to the women’s movement. But they didn’t. We played at being Charlie’s Angels at dusk, chasing around in the streets in our torn jeans and grass-stained runners. And Barbie did what ever she wanted to do, when she wanted to, and drove her own van. And we had terrible corrupting teen magazines before we were actually teens (I got a Tiger Beat as part a loot bag from my friend’s tenth birthday. Shaun Cassidy was on the cover. I still have it.) But I have yet the need to check in to a eating disorder clinic.

So what the hell happened?

The Washington Post reports that according to the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, “Throughout U.S. culture, and particularly in mainstream media, women and girls are depicted in a sexualizing manner,” but admits that:

While little research to date has documented the effect of sexualized images specifically on young girls, the APA authors argue it is reasonable to infer harm similar to that shown for those 18 and older; for them, sexualization has been linked to “three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.”

Said report contributor and psychologist Sharon Lamb: “I don’t think because we don’t have the research yet on the younger girls that we can ignore that [sexualization is] of harm to them. Common sense would say that, and part of the reason we wrote the report is so we can get funding to prove that.”

So this is a hypothesis. Normally, I would think this was just more hysteria, but I look around me and I think otherwise. I see little girls–—pre-pre-pubescent, barely out of Pull-ups—–dressing like little hookers. And they ain’t buying this crap with their allowance. No, parents, usually mothers, are forking over for this gear. Even more stomach churning is that makeup and spa treatments (I wish I was joking) are marketing to little girls. Shit, I wasn’t allowed to tart myself up till I was fourteen, the same year I could bear ear piercing. Sure, my mum and I would battle it out over lipstick, but invariably she won. I was too young and she was right. She was being a parent, not a friend.

Apparently, parents are an endangered species. Or is it worse? Are some actually encouraging their girls to “look good”:

Eight-year-old Maya Williams owns four bracelets, eight necklaces, about 20 pairs of earrings and six rings, an assortment of which she sprinkles on every day. “Sometimes, she’ll stand in front of the mirror and ask, ‘Are these pretty, Mommy?’”

Her mom, Gaithersburg tutor Leah Haworth, is fine with Maya’s budding interest in beauty. In fact, when Maya “wasn’t sure” about getting her ears pierced, says Haworth,”I talked her into it by showing her all the pretty earrings she could wear.”
What about all these sexualization allegations? “I don’t equate looking good with attracting the opposite sex,” Haworth says. Besides, “Maya knows her worth is based on her personality. She knows we love her for who she is.”

“Looking good just shows that you care about yourself, care about how you present yourself to the world. People are judged by their appearance. People get better service and are treated better when they look better. That’s just the way it is,” she says. “I think discouraging children from paying attention to their appearance does them a disservice.”

Staggering. So at what age do girls think they have to look presentable? According to the Post,“’A few years ago, it was 6 or 7,’ says Deborah Roffman, a Baltimore-based sex educator. ‘I think it begins by 4 now.’”

To be fair, apparently stores make it difficult to find age-appropriate clothes and accessories for girls. But a quick look at Old Navy’s website rendered the usual modest T-shirts, shorts, and jeans for girls. Nothing particularly risqué there. But then consider that Canada’s La Senza, the women’s lingerie store, has a girls’ shop. And the chain just been bought by Victoria’s Secret. Also, what you see online doesn’t necessarily reflect what you find in stores, or the overwhelmingly pink-glitter swathed malls.

But still, what ever happened to saying no you can’t have that? Ok, I don’t have kids, but I heard that phrase plenty growing up. Are things that different today? And if so, why? And what ever happened to saying no I won’t buy what you’re selling? Are consumers/parents that spineless?

Apparently, Bratz dolls are also culprits in the sexualiztion of girls as they (ahem) provide poor role models. But as the Guardian’s Caroline Bennett points out, reality and its television equivalent aren’t much better:

Meanwhile, the tale of [footballer fiancé] Coleen McLoughlin has been unfolding. Highlights from her life story, appearing simultaneously in the Sun and the Mirror, have explored the transformation from schoolgirl nonentity to international celebrity that pretty Coleen has achieved by the simple expedient of going out with the footballer and former patron of prostitutes, Wayne Rooney. Everywhere, from broadsheet to tabloid, the media celebrates her accomplishments: getting dressed, losing a few pounds, forgetting about Wayne’s “auld slapper”. How long before her first South Bank Show? Or before the makers of BBC2’s The Verdict put in a request for her to play the judge in their next, cutting edge series? At the very least, acclaim for this modern-day Cinderella will, in the words of the task force, provide younger girls with a model “that they can use to fashion their own behaviours, self-concepts and identities”.

When you consider the respect accorded to Coleen and her many C-list colleagues for their achievements in shopping and grooming, the Bratz team start to look a bit up themselves. Coleen and Wayne keep busy watching Emmerdale, Coronation Street, EastEnders, then Corrie again. Look on the Bratz website and you will find the dolls have favourite classes (Jade picks chemistry), movies and even, “fave books”: “mysteries” for Cloe, and, for Sasha, “biographies of successful people”. And what kind of sleazy, disempowering message is that?

But what’s a beleaguered parent to do? Well, look no farther than The Experts! They have all the answers…because common sense isn’t.

Just when you thought we’d progressed two steps forward, we fall four steps back.

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About Muse Ink

Toronto-based freelance editor | feminist nerd | hobbyist photographer | former bookseller

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