Awhile back, I posted this Lego ad (on the left) from 1981 on my Facebook page. Initially, I had seen it on my friend and author's, Peggy Orenstein's, blog. Literally, I couldn't stop looking at it and thinking "what a great ad." The picture of this little girl and the accompanying copy appeal to all kids. Not specifically girls or boys--the ad does not attempt to even say "girl" but, instead, refers to the look on her face as "a look you'll see whenever children build something all by themselves." [my italics] How wonderful. Now, stop and think. When was the last time you saw an ad that featured a girl building something? Or a little girl dressed in faded blue jeans, a plain blue tee and blue sneaks? This was 1981.
Flash forward to where we are now and the second picture which is of a little girl in a glamour shot. With the rapid onset of princess culture, perhaps spawned by the "Disney Princesses" born in 2000, we are now faced with girls as young as four wearing lip gloss, seven year olds wearing sexualized clothing and don't get me started on tweens! The TLC reality show, "Toddlers and Tiaras," is a huge hit--mainly because people watch in awe and semi-disgust as mothers pretend that their five year old child actually chose to wear flippers (false teeth) and have their eyebrows waxed. But the show is just one of many factors that contribute to today's cultural stereotypes of gender.
There is little doubt that over the last twenty years there has been a tectonic shift in the portrayal of girls and boys (for good reading on this check out Packaging Girlhood by Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb, and Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter). Research shows that kids are developing both physically and mentally faster than ever. In the case of girls, there has been an over-abundance of inappropriate, sexualized messages from advertisements like the Candie's ads featuring Vanessa Hudgins (every little girls' idol!) and highly suggestive music videos. In addition, more and more, companies are providing the images that we, as a society, absorb and ultimately accept as normal (think about the Abercrombie & Fitch controversy over their push up/padded bikini top marketed to girls as young as seven). For a great explanation of sexualization, Melissa Ward of Pigtail Pals sums it up pretty well in her blog post.
We know it's a big deal when the American Medical Association actually adopts new policies on advertising to children especially regarding the extensive photo shopping of pictures of women's bodies to horrific and unrealistic images, saying that "[a] large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems." Do we need more proof that there is a problem?
As parents and adults, we need to be aware of what our kids are seeing and subsequently absorbing as "normal." So, take a look at these photos and ask yourself, "how did we get here?" and "which picture potrays a healthy and happy little girl?" One thing is certain, awareness is key to allowing our children to be children. And isn't that what we all want?