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“She’s just a cute Tween…but she grows up to be a curvy, cool Teen!”

Unlike most little girl’s dolls, which are designed to represent older teenagers or women, Mattel’s “My Scene, Growing Up Glam” doll openly set out to depict a tween, a girl aged 8-13 years. She is dressed in lace stockings, short skirt, diamante belt, midriff top and wears a full face of heavy make-up ( complete with false eye lashes). Her cute accessories? A teddy bear and school books:

Twist the screw on her back (oh how symbolic!) and her abdomen stretches. It’s gruesome to watch. She looks like she is being stretched by a medieval torture device.

Hey presto! Now she’s a “curvy, cool teen.” But wait, you say, all that has really changed is that her stomach has stretched to make her appear taller! 

How telling. It seems there is no physical difference between an 8 year old girl and an older teen in Mattel land.  Nor should the clothes they wear differ. The accessories do change though – she trades in her school books and teddy bear for a full make up kit (“Whoa, her make up changes too!”) and some glossy fashion magazines. Flats shoes are out – its all about the stilettos now. Out too with cute hair clips and in with designer sunnies.

 

Where do I begin in explaining why this type of doll is so toxic for our daughters? And why do I feel I must actually explain why this is not acceptable. Isn’t it self-evident?

In the wake of the Senate tabling the findings of its much anticipated inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment in parliament last week, more than ever I feel I need to justify my concerns.

The committee observed “…that children are certainly more visibly sexualised in terms of the media to which they are exposed. This basic assumption was not challenged by any evidence received, and is based on recognition of the increasing targeting of products to child-related markets and the greater exposure of children to information via the many available media forms, and particularly the Internet. However it would be a mistake to equate these influences with actual harm.”

Why would it be a mistake to equate these influences with actual harm? Because not enough long term research has been done yet on the impact of the sexualisation of children on their physical and mental health? Does anyone think for one moment that any research that is commissioned will come back showing that stealing childhood has actually been helpful? Healing? Why do we need to wait for more numbers to come in before we act – there has already been a large body of research that has alerted us to numerous potential dangers including an increase in eating disorders, self harm, risky sexual practices.   Why can’t we err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting children?

Clive Hamilton, former Director of the Australia Institute whose report ‘Corporate P-dophilia’ prompted the Senate Inquiry, summed up the recommenations thus: “The recommendations..amount to nothing more than a polite request that advertisers and broadcasters might perhaps, if it’s not too much trouble, consider listening to community concerns a little more.”

I have found the debate surrounding the Inquiry very interesting too. Those who dare question the path society is taking have been labelled prudish, out of touch, alarmist. Catherine Lumby, the Director of Journalism  and Media at UNSW, expressed concern that some commentators were viewing children as “uncovered meat”, she told the world she was “furious” that children were being made to feel ashamed about their bodies.  

I will join Catherine in her fury if anyone dares suggest children’s bodies are provocative and need to be covered up. I too will dismiss as alarmist anyone who wants nappy advertisements banned. But I haven’t met, nor heard, from any of these types. I haven’t seen people up in arms over singlets, or nappy ad’s or innocuous pictures of girls looking pensive. Such people may well exist at one end of the continuum, just as those that design t-shirts for toddlers emblazoned with “All my Daddy wanted was a blow job” do exist at the other end of the scale. 

Do I have a problem  with little girls wearing singlet tops? Absolutely not – unless they are emblazoned with slogans like “Porn  Star”, “Flirt” or “Tease.” A 10 year old girl I worked with in a school recently turned up at her school camp wearing a shirt that read, “Wrap your lips around this.” Can you see why I might be concerned about that Ms Lumby? And this is not by any means another extreme example. Raunchy messages aimed directly at young girls are mainstream.

I am concerned too not just because I think there are too many hyper-sexualised messages bombarding our girls, but becuase the messages presented are so narrow. It’s all big (fake) breasts, pouts, and male fantasy soft porn. It’s all Hugh Hefner bunnys and pole dancing. Women’s sexuality (and men’s) is in reality so much more diverse and complicated. Just as we are told that only a leggy blonde size 8 model can be truly beautiful, we are now being told only a busty, wet and wild blonde can be truly sexy.       

And Ms Lumby just for the record, I have never had a problem with teen girl magazines offering age appropriate advice on sexuality. Magazines are a valuable source of information as some parents do feel uncomfortable having these important conversations with their children. But I do think some of the advice and articles offer too much too soon – do tweens and teens really need detailed information on anal sex and to be told it is a “personal choice” ? Isn’t there a risk that a twelve year old will feel left out when she reads in the June issue of Dolly that over 21% of the readers profiled in their sealed section say they lost their virginity between the ages of 10-13?

And it’s not even just the advice and articles that concern me – it is the mixed messages buried within the pages that really trouble me. The mag’s occasionally do offer great articles on self esteem and body image, yet they allow advertisements for mobile downloads that include slogans like “Save a virgin, do me instead” and “Fancy a quickie?” I never wanted magazines to be banned. I just wanted common sense self-censorship, and age appropriate guidelines on the covers to alert parents and readers to the fact that the content might not be as innocuous as the oh-so-wholesome airbrushed covers might lead one to believe. It seems even this was asking too much. 

Do I sound like a sore looser? I feel like one. There was a lot to loose.

I am comforting myself by holding on to the belief that despite the senate’s softly, softly approach, the process itself has at least brought about a heightened awareness of the issues.

Instinctively, we all know that we do not need a government report, or a team of academics, or a myriad of research papers to tell us that enough is enough.

And despite the divisions there is one point on which every one seems to agree – education is key. Girls and boys, now more than ever, need to be savvy media navigators. They need to be given the skills they need to make sense of the adult world that is becoming more and more part of their childhood world too. Teaching and helping girls navigate Girl World is the work that I love passionately, and it is the work that my team and I are gifted in doing well. 

Education works. 

This week my own real life “too cute tween” , an eleven year old girl I worked with at a school recently, was told by her dance teacher that she had to start wearing not just a full mask of make-up for her dance concerts, but false eye lashes too. When her mother, who has completed my course for parents, questioned why this was really necessary she was told by the dance teacher that the eye lashes would “increase her (daughter’s) confidence.” Mum and “Ms Enlightened Tween” are both saying no. Neither are comfortable with this and both feel that long batting eyelashes are just too much. As is so often the case, the dance teacher tried making Mum feel stupid – “But all the other parents think it is fine.” When Mum investigated this claim, she found that four out of the ten dance mothers were also actually really worried about the appropriateness of wearing false eye-lashes but they had been scared to speak out.

And whether you think the eyelashes were actually harmless or harmful is ultimately immaterial. What I love is the fact that this little girl will no longer allow herself to be stretched and pulled into becoming a “curvy, cool teen.”  

She’ll be a teen who will set boundaries, deconstruct all the mixed messages she will be presented with, and make choices she is truly comfortable with.  She will not allow her sexuality to be shaped by misogynist music, plastic Paris-wannabee dolls, or the contemporary media environment that would have her believe that everyone is up for anything, all the time, and that to be hot she will have to get more make up and less clothes. 

She’ll grow up on her own terms.   

That is my wish for her. That’s my wish for all girls. That is what I will continue working towards.

P.S In an effort to offer parents something positive they can latch on to a resource, I have asked Women’s Forum Australia to reproduce here an article from their excellent publication “Faking It.” The extract below in PDF format is entitled ” The sum of your body parts – reducing women to sex objects: how it happens and how it hurts us.” It is a great catalyst for conversation – and we must continue having powerful conversations. 

fakingit_sumbodyparts_lowres

Interested in finding out more? “Faking It” is also being launched in Sydney in July:   

Time:        8pm – 9.15pm

Date:        Friday, 18th July

Venue:     Darling Harbour Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Bayside  

This will be one of the World Youth Day events, a chance for the Get Real! message to go global. The event is open to all, even those who are not official WYD participants: go along and be empowered and inspired to GET REAL! I spoke at the launch held in Perth earlier this year and thought the night was just brilliant. So inspiring! For more information, or to let them know that you’re coming, contact

Erica on 0414-690-487, or email WFA at: nsw@womensforumaustralia.org 

Finally, the PDF below is the Facilitator’s guide for the Canadian Documentary on the sexualisation of children entitled “Sexy Inc.” Even if you have not seen the film, the booklet offers excellent discussion questions:

sexy-inc-facilitators-guide

STOP PRESS – there has been a change of venue for the “Get Real” event – it will now be held in the Parkside Ballroom, Sydney Convention Centre. Same start time. I have been asked to be the MC – hope to see you there!  

 

Published inAdvertisingEnlighten EducationMagazinesMediaParentsResourcesSexualisation of children

18 Comments

  1. Selena

    Danni, what a great post. You should consider polishing this up and submitting it to a journal or newspaper. I am seriously disturbed by the stretchy doll! I guess we can’t always rely on the government to do the right thing so we need to ramp up the advocacy for girls and do it ourselves!!!

  2. Jane Higgins

    I ask you … why have a Senate Inquiry if they are not going to act on the overwhelming evidence that our young girls are being sexualised by the media at such a young age and with such a detrimental effect?
    And those dolls ….. they are disgusting and revolting!!
    How can the makers of this trash think our girls need or want this?
    The mind boggles!! Thanks Danni for putting my thoughts too in to such an eloquent piece.

  3. Jane Higgins

    While I am at it…. your videos Consuming Kids is soooo disturbing. I agree with the woman when she says its just “creepy”. Get ’em young appears to be the advertiser’s mantra. It makes me ill. While I consider I possess a heightened radar to the advertising onslaught – I will be continually talking to my children about what is happening under the radar. It appears from the Senate inquiry that the Govt won’t be doing much about protecting our kids from the pariahs so it is up to parents and Enlighten. Thanks for the video.
    The Chaser one is good too. What is freaky is the mother asking about sizes and showing a real interest in what can only be described as trash fashion for adults let alone kids. If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny.

  4. Olivia

    Wow what a great post! Bad news in it, but all the points about it are so true! That doll is so disturbing!!!! And I can’t believe it’s from Mattell! We need more people like you Danni! Thank you for having this blog and for being so active about protecting our children and I guess the next entire generation! It’s much-needed and I’m so happy that someone has been able to stand up and say something about it! Keep up the great work Danni and good luck with the Senate! You certainly have my support!

  5. Olivia

    P.s. i agree with the first comment too! You should DEFINITELY approach written media publications to have your blogs/articles published (if you haven’t thought of that already of course! I’m sure you have!)! I’m a writer/sub-editor/journalist/ex magazine editor and would definitely say you could have a regular column in some publications! I’d go for the Sydney Morning Herald and newspapers like that first as they’re more likely to be ‘objective’. Whereas of course the girly mags would be defensive about it!

  6. Thank you for such a great post. I am new to your blog and have found it a great read. I am a proponent of (what I call) consumption literacy and I think your blog is fantastic for raising awareness of the many issues behind advertising and the pitfalls of taking the marketing of products at face value.

    Its wonderful that your daughter has chosen to define her body image her way. I can only hope that my daughter (currently 5 years old) will also gain the skill of de constructing the advertising messages aimed at her.

    Thank you too for the videos.

  7. Welcome newbies Olivia and Eilleen! I am so touched by your comments. I really feel like we are creating a community of like-minded people here.:)
    The videos in my Vidpod are always worth checking out – as are the articles I collect on the “Articles of Interest” page. This page may have gone unnoticed – explore!

  8. Storm Greenhill-Brown

    Fantastic reading Danni…so thought provoking…….

    I felt overwhelmed recently by the words of support from women in my state(Qld) who believe in the work that we do at Enlighten as we try to protect our children’s innocence from being consumed by popular culture. The video of “Consuming Kids” about corporate marketing makes me so desperately sad because i see this as a generational disease that has become a “societal and cultural problem”. I see the damage seeping into my own children’s lives as my middle child has become the ultimate “wanter” never satisfied by just one purchase but looking at what tomorrow might buy him. I always analyse this behaviour and wonder what we as parents have done to encourage this needy desire for material goods and it’s not always the want for toys-it’s anything “shiny and new” were his exact 6 year old words. As parents we have worked very hard to create a balanced life for our kids- only G rated games, t.v., no $200 Nintendo etc. Our 10 year old has not seen any of the regular fare such as Spiderman, Star Wars etc. but we do not live in a bubble. This type of saturation by the media does permeate the fabric of children’s lives and we need to safeguard them and create incredibly resilient kids who as Danni says “can grow up on their own terms and make choices that they are truly comfortable with.” The more we talk about these issues and support one another the stonger our voices grow.

  9. Mariana O'Driscoll

    There are definitely some concerns when our government is ignorant to the harm caused by such influences on young girls. In today’s technologically advanced society, much of what adults see is easily accessible by children. Where once, information was limited to children, through text or the written word, today children are saturated with sexuallised images. This is surely exacerbated by products such as the new Mattel doll. Surely the Senate realises that harm can come from such influences. I guess even scarier is the fact that these influences have become almost unquestioned in our society. The more sexualised images become, the more desensitised children become to seeing such images …… now there’s definitely harm in that!

  10. Sonia Lyne

    It really isn’t getting any better is it? A doll that clearly symbolises the way in which larger corporations and advertisers have been able to penetrate our way of thinking: that is, you can look a particular age forever. This doll is clearly giving out the wrong message. Oh how I would love to stand in the middle of a toystore and shout … “STOP!” at the top of my lungs. I’m sure you are feeling my rage and your post has heightened this … thank you! I plan on utilising this and transforming it into positive action. I will begin by deconstucting this horrible doll with every girl I work with across Victoria because I agree with you Storm, “The more we talk about these issues and support one another the stonger our voices grow.’

  11. […] “She’s just a cute Tween…but she grows up to be a curvy, cool Teen!” from Danielle Miller at The Butterfly Effect. This posts starts with a critical review of a new […]

  12. Hi Danni-

    Great work, as usual.

    I’m so sorry to hear that the senate isn’t ready to admit that there is a cause for concern. I’m impressed that the Australian government is at least beginning to hear people discuss the problem– I can’t imagine what it would take to even get the response you did here in America. But of course, it sounds like the officials were only ready to “hear” but not ready to “listen.”

    As far as the doll is concerned, I’m particularly disturbed that maturation appears to result in no weight gained, as in a typical girl going through puberty, and the waist appears to be the size of 2 pinky fingers put together. That’s a curvy teen? Could we put a little extra flesh on the girl– and why does she need to still stuff herself in her old preteen clothes which if they weren’t too short to begin with, are definitely too short now! Is that skirt a belt? Lord.

    The message I read is this: “This is what puberty looks like. You should still be able to fit into your kid’s clothes when you grow up because this is what a normal curvy teen looks like! Dress like this! Look like this! And if you don’t…you must be an “uncool” teen.” Do they perhaps wonder where girls come up with feelings of low self worth and low body esteem?

    All we need is for them to be wearing the “wink wink” thong panties and a t-shirt that says, “Wanna Pop My Cherry?”

    Thanks, Danni. Keep me updated– let’s talk soon.

    Dr. Robyn

  13. Larissa Hofman

    Happened to check out your latest blog this morning and it was quite a thrill for both Elise and I that you were able to use our “eye lash” incident to help spead your message.

    We had the Eisteddfod on the weekend and Elise went without false eye lashes…and as expected, you couldnt even see the girl’s eyes for long enough with all that dancing, let alone determine who was wearing false eye lashes or not! Facial expression was much more visible, and thats not something that can bought from the cosmetics counter or applied with a brush.

    Another of our troupe’s Mum’s was sitting next to me and her daughter was wearing them but she agreed that you couldnt even see their eyes. Another Mum let her daughter wear them the day before but realised that her daughter’s own eye lashes were much longer than the false ones so she didnt wear them at all on the second day.

    You’ll be happy to hear that you message really is sinking in with Elise. Her friends mum told me that she had overheard a conversation between the two of them last Friday, and Elise was telling the other girl that there was no need for them to wear false eye lashes at her age at their ages, that they should be being judged at the Eisteddfod on their feet and their facial expressions and not on what makeup they are or arent wearing. The other girl’s mum was very impressed and said I should be very proud of her(which I am) and that what I am are telling her is getting through. You really need to take most of the credit for that as it was your program that brought this to her attention, I am just reinforcing it(if I had bought this to her attention alone, she wouldnt have paid much attention, for what 11yr old likes to believe that their parent is right??) But coming from a third party makes all the difference..and you have made a difference to Elise.

    I too am very disappointed at the Senate’s inquiry lack of firm commitment to reduce the sexualisation of our children in the contemporary media environment. But please dont be disheartened, what you do is making a HUGE difference. Through this episode alone, many of my friends are now looking at advertising and childrens products through different eyes. By making people aware, it draws their attention to other topics related to this.

    Did you happen to see the article in The Sydney Morning Herald letters section last wednesday titled “All the wrong moves threaten childhood innocence and modesty” ? It was about the inappropriate dance performance of young people at a local dance school. Take heart Dannielle, your appearance on “60 Minutes” has taken awareness of this issue to a whole new level. YOU GO GIRL !!! :-)))

  14. Selena

    And another thing. Why is the little doll “just” a cute tween? Is it better to be a teenager? Is being a child so undesirable these days?

  15. Marlee

    Hi
    I love your programs and blogs enlighten came out to my school in belgrave melbourne not long ago! i remember all the girls thinking it wuld be a waist of time.But once it had started we were having a ball!!! i hate these dolls and it makes me ask where do they get their sluty ideas from i mean no one rwally lookes that fake not even models!

    ILY xoxoxox

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