Who are young girls emulating?

Tomorrow (March 8) is International Women’s Day 2012.
This event, which has been observed around the world since the early 1900s, began in reaction to oppression and inequality as a movement to facilitate change.
At face value, it’s fair to say, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” But have we?
I was blessed with four daughters. I don’t consider that statement to be mother-biased rhetorical sentimentality. My girls are, simply put, my life’s work.
I think that is true for most mothers. The responsibility falls to us to raise individuals who will do better “good” than the generation that precedes them.
Undoubtedly, I wish I had taught my daughters lessons I didn’t and given a second chance, I would parent differently; hopefully better. It’s too late for such thoughts now.
One thing I am grateful for is that my girls grew up in a time when society allowed them the freedom to be children. They got to be little girls playing pretend store and pretend office, building tent forts in the living room or hay forts in the barn, cuddling kittens and ducklings, and galloping on ponies and a myriad of other childhood magic.
They got to imagine themselves as a farmer, as an astronaut, or as a bank teller; the possibilities limitless. Their childhood stretched out well beyond becoming teenagers. Thankfully.
If my daughters were growing up in 2012, what would their reality be? I ask myself that question when I see little girls on the street decked out with make-up and cellphones, hyper-aware of their appearance and being allowed to, or more accurately, encouraged to dress like young women.
Childhood is a commodity we have traded away as if it were valueless; threw it aside as an obstacle to growing up rather than a privilege, a right. Children are entitled to be children; there is no other right more fundamental to their well-being.
We are willing victims wielding to the power of consumerism. Our children are targeted directly by advertising campaigns—at younger and younger ages. This corporate manoeuvre tells us one thing: sex sells.
To be successful, young girls are taught that women must be sexy; talent, heart, and soul fall somewhere in behind. It is all about packaging. My girls’ dress code was clothes I sewed for them, hand-me-downs between siblings, with few name brands in their wardrobe.
Though they complain now about feeling like the Von Trapp Family Singers as a result of my crazed sewing projects that saw them all decked out in matching outfits, which I would like to say is an example of fine mothering, they never worried about what they wore to school or play.
If the clothes were clean and they fit, all was good to go. Lucky girls.
We now have La Senza Girl for little girls aged five-12, marketing lingerie products to children. It raised the rancour of mother consumers but the fight was brief and the stores remain—an example of marketing success.
We have beauty contests for little girls; the resulting images disturbing and frightening. “Toddlers and Tiaras” is pure madness and the images are disturbing of babies and toddlers dressed with full make-up and wigs and other absurdities.
These organizations have the audacity to put the words “baby” and “sexy” together, without any pause or even a teaspoon of common sense. I watch the faces of the mothers whose children’s lives are forever altered and it seems these mothers have little idea of the cost.
This year, the focus of International Women’s Day is empowerment—to bring an end to hunger and poverty. I think of the role models that little girls have today.
Who do they look up to in order to feel empowered? What young women do they want to emulate? Who tells them that it’s cool to be just who they are?
Who shines brightly and shows them the way?
wendistewart@live.ca

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