media

Cinderella is Eating my Daughter and So is the Media

So recently my three year old has decided that being a princess is the way to go. She has princess pants, princess dresses, princess skirts, and best of all, a princess dance. (None of these clothes actually have princesses on them. It’s just a matter of what she feels like wearing that day that makes it princess or not.)

It is fitting that I’m sitting by and watching the transformation of my regular old daughter into mini royalty as I am currently reading a book called “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture” by Peggy Orenstein.

I’m only shortly into the book but I’ve already read some fascinating information. Here are two studies by researchers that really caught my attention.

The First Study

Researchers took two groups of middle school age girls and showed them a series of commercials and then had them fill out a survey asking them what they wanted to be when they grow up.

One of the groups watched commercials of neutral things like phones and pens.

The second group of students watched the same commercials but this time they added two commercials that showed women in traditional gender roles. The commercials were for things like acne medicine or brownies with images of women smiling over the stove.

After the kids watched the commercials they had them fill out a questionnaire asking them about what careers they might be interested in.

The girls that watched the commercials that had the women doing things like fretting about their skin or cooking brownies showed less interest in science and math based careers.

Think about this outcome. What does t.v. and the media do to our children and specifically to our little girls and women of the future?

The Second Study

Researchers took two groups of college students and had them try on either a sweater or a bathing suit before taking a math test. These were all students that were good at math. They then looked at the scores to see if there were any differences that would not be due to chance.

This is what they found.

The young women who took the math test after trying on the bathing suit did worse than the group of women who tried on the sweater before taking the math test.

The boys did the same on the test regardless of whether they tried on a bathing suit or a sweater.

Body image. Self esteem. How we feel about ourselves.

It can affect how one performs on a math test.

If you’re a girl.

Let Girls Be Girls: A Campaign to Eradicate the Commercial Sexualization of Young Girls

 

I once asked a friend of mine why her 10 year old daughter was wearing three inch platform sandals. I was appalled at how mature looking they were. Where are the Keds? She responded, “That’s all they have in the stores these days. That’s the style.” Add to marketing the peer pressure of pre-teens and you have a recipe for marketing-controlled, overly sexualized clothing for young children.

Read below about the “Let Girls Be Girls” campaign to reduce this oversexualization of young children and about the girls underwear at Wal-Mart that said “Who needs a credit card” on the front” and “When I have Santa” on the back.

Christina

Moral Panic?

This aim of this campaign is not to police the developing sexuality of children, or to deny that such a thing exists. Mumsnetters, on the whole, aren’t interested in protecting a misty ideal of “childhood innocence” – in fact, they’re pretty keen on being as honest as possible about sex.

But many argue that it’s difficult for children to learn about sexuality – and to decide for themselves how they’d like to express it  –  when they are bombarded with an all-pervasive ‘commodified’ version of female sexuality. This campaign aims, not to remove children’s control over their sexuality, but to give it back. 

And clearly, sexualisation doesn’t only affect children: many Mumsnetters feel that women too are, to varying degrees, affected by the sexual culture we live in. What can be done? The truth is, we don’t know. But we thought that our collective ‘consumer heft’ could be a good place to start, so we worked to influence the products that were being sold to our daughters, in the hope that the next generation of women will be better able to choose who they want to be.

30% of Girls’ Clothing Is Sexualized in Major Sales Trend

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 20 May 2011 Time: 10:36 AM ET

The sexy-clothes trend

Handwringing over the sexualization of young girls is a common theme both in the media and in the mall. In 2007, Wal-Mart pulled a pair of girls’ underwear with the words “Who needs credit cards … ” on the front and “when you have Santa” on the back from the shelves after parental outcry. Those extreme cases get people’s ire up, said Sharon Lamb, a professor of mental health at the University of Massachusetts in Boston who was not involved in the research. But the trend is more insidious than single cases make it out to be, Lamb told LiveScience. [10 Surprising Sex Statistics]

“It’s not just this most outrageous thing,” said Lamb, author of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketer’s Schemes” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). “It’s a lot of subtle little things, too.”

In 2007, Lamb was part of an American Psychological Association Task Force that reviewed the research on the consequences of sexualization for young girls. The task force found that girls who buy into sexualizing media messages are more likely to experience low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders. One 1998 study found that girls made body-conscious by wearing swimsuits while they did a math test in an empty room did worse on the test than girls completing the same test while wearing sweaters. There were no differences in test-taking performance between boys wearing swimsuits and boys wearing sweaters, suggesting a link between self-objectification and shame and anxiety in girls.

In one yet-unpublished study, Murnen and her research team asked volunteers to look at pictures of the same fifth-grader dressed in sexualized, childish-but-sexualized, or non-sexualized clothing. The adult volunteers viewed the sexualized version of the girl as less competent, less intelligent, less moral and less self-respecting.

“And she’s a fifth-grade girl!” Murnen said. “The fact that they consider her less moral is really disturbing, as if we do blame her for her clothing choice.”

Marketing sexiness

In the newly published study, Murnen and her colleagues went through the children’s offerings of 15 national retailers, from high-end stores such as Neiman Marcus to inexpensive stores such as Kmart and Target. All of the clothes were sized and marketed for toddlers to pre-teen children. The researchers asked independent adult raters to judge 5,666 clothing items for whether they revealed or emphasized a sexualized body part such as the chest or buttocks and whether they had sexy characteristics such as slinky material, leopard print, or sexualized writing. The raters also looked for childlike characteristics such as frills or butterflies.

Of all clothing items, 31 percent had sexualizing features, the researchers found. Most of these, about 86 percent, had childlike characteristics combined with sexy characteristics. Abercrombie Kids was the worst offender, with 72 percent of clothes featuring a sexualizing aspect. Neiman Marcus boasted about 38 percent sexualized clothing.

Child-only stores like Gymboree tended to do well, though older girls might think of those stores as babyish, Murnen said. Target was one of the better stores, with 80 percent of their girls’ clothes falling in the “childlike” category.

“We think that it is bad right now in part of what is happening in the culture with the sexualization of women that has been documented,” Murnen said. “We think this is trickling down to girls.”

It’s easy to blame parents for buying sexy clothes for little girls, Lamb said, but that lets marketers off the hook.

“Blaming the parents is exactly what the marketers want you to do,” she said. “They spend $12 billion  getting your kids to want the things you don’t want them to have, and then they blame you for buying them.”

Murnen’s study appears online in the journal Sex Roles.

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Keep it Real: Day Two! Blog It!

Well, I accidentally published day two a day early. Whoops!

http://www.facebook.com/events/409395502438909/

If these statistics aren’t enough to encourage magazines to stop photoshopping their already stick thin models then I don’t know what is. Perhaps a little cellulite in the magazine and media would bring the whole body image thing back down to earth. Personally I remember my 13 year old self thinking I was fat because I could pink skin on my thigh. Where I got that from I’ll never know. We need to do something to help young girls feel good about themselves and their bodies without looking to the media for unhealthy models (and role models) of people that don’t exist in real life, or if they do exist, are so thin that it’s unhealthy. The beauty industry has extremely unrealistic expectations of the employees. I recently read that Jennifer Aniston was asked to lose 30 lbs in order to be employed by the television show “Friends.” Unbelievable. Keep it Real asks magazines to stop the photoshopping and start redesigning beauty to involve a dose of reality – because even reality can be beautiful, believe it or not….

(Did you know that in some African countries, the bigger you are the better because that shows that you family has the means to feed you well.) The definition of beauty is constructed or created by our society and by the media that we consume. We get our ideas about beauty from the magazines we look at and the actors and actresses we see on t.v. How many slightly plump actresses are walking the red carpet. Ummmm….almost none…! And to make matters worse, how many pregnant actresses are shown three weeks after the baby is born with their pre-birth body all back in shape!? What kind of ideal are we striving for as pregnant women? It puts undue and unnecessary pressure on women, on children, on young girls and it’s not healthy!

American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV, 17 hours a week listening to music, 3 hours a week watching movies, 4 hours a week reading magazines, 10 hours a week online. That’s 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption a day.

Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation “Daily Media Use Among Children and Teens Up Dramatically From Five Years Ago” http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia012010nr.cfm

53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17.

Source: National Institute on Media and the Family http://depts.washington.edu/thmedia/view.cgi?section=bodyimage&page=fastfacts

3 out of 4 teenage girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful after spending 3 minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.

Source: http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.com/

Twenty years ago, the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today that number is 23% less.

Source: http://www.jeankilbourne.com/resources-for-change/beauty-body-image

48% of teenage girls wish they were as skinny as models.

Source: http://www.girlscouts.org/research/publications/healthyliving/healthy_living.asp

65% of American women and girls report disordered eating behaviors.

Source: SELF magazine and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=4726783&page=1

Forty-two percent of first to third-grade girls want to be thinner, while 81 percent of ten-year-olds are afraid of getting fat.

Source: Dove Real Beauty Campaign, 2004

Eighty percent of 10-year-old American girls say they have been on a diet. The number one magic wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner.

Source: justthink.org

32% of teenage girls admit to starving themselves to lose weight.

Source: http://blog.girlscouts.org/2012/04/healthy-media-commission-for-positive.html

The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed in America increased by 457% from 1997 to 2007.

Source: http://www.skininc.com/spabusiness/medicalesthetics/16212492.html

Being the Best of Ourselves as Women: What does it Take to Promote and Empower other Women?

One of The MissRepresentation “Assignments” to Help Women Support Women

As women it is so important to encourage and motivate and to support each other. Too often we are put in a position of competing against each other. Take for example the Time magazine article with the title “Are you Mom enough?” This article, even though it was written by a woman, pitted women against each other.

I would hazard to guess that the competition that is fostered among women stems from a male-dominated society that leaves little, if any, room for women in power, or women who achieve high status. Women know that their chances of being successful or of getting a position are less when competing against a man; however, when competing against a woman, one still has a fighting chance. By eliminating the weakest of contenders, then the only contenders left are men.

MissRepresentation, in a task designed to help women support each other, asks each woman to identify her unique strengths and weaknesses so that she can draw on these qualities when mentoring or supporting other women:

“Take five minutes to write down three characteristics you like about yourself and three you’d like to improve upon. Then use the lists to focus your time and energy on being the best version of yourself!”

They go on to state:

“This action is not just about self-improvement, it’s about acquiring the skills necessary to inspire those around you. By first acknowledging your shortcomings and then being purposeful about your actions, you can work efficiently towards your goal of being a transformative mentor and model in your everyday life!”

I think the point here is that if you can recognize the value that you have in you and also recognize those areas that you might need to improve then you will be a better person, a better woman and, in turn, better able to put yourself forth as an example or mentor to other women and young women.

What are my strengths that I can use to mentor other young women?

These are the first things that came to mind.

1. I am a good writer.
2. I am a good scholar.
3. I am a good educator.

I was happy to see my list when I was done because much of my professional work is in the field of education. I teach men and women at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

Next I need to identify my growth areas:

This is more difficult because of the vulnerability that accompanies it. But here goes. In order to grow we need to be able to speak of the ways in which we can grow.

1. I can become better at teaching students and individuals the skills they need to be successful.
2. I can be more supportive so that people feel validated and encouraged.
3. I can do more to inspire people in ways that I feel inspired and I can help them to find ways to feel inspired.

How can I use this knowledge to help myself be a better mentor or to be a better leader or to be a better role model? That is a good question.

I think identifying my strengths helps me to feel more confident that I do have the skills to help other people and, in particular, to serve as a role model and mentor for other women. Along these same lines, the areas that are growth areas will only make be better at what I do. Casting competition aside and focusing on empowerment is one of the keys to growth and to the furthering of women’s success in the workplace and her place in society.

As a mother, my job is to continually support and further my daughter’s intellectual knowledge as well as her confidence and self-assuredness. These are the skills that are going to lead her down a path of success and independence. Hopefully the skills that I teach her will allow her to compete with men on an even playing-field and that she will hold her own in a male-dominated society.

The Challenge for You: Can you do the same? Are you willing to set aside a few minutes to think about your strengths and weaknesses? Can you examine how these two things affect how you currently are mentoring and encouraging women? Does this reflection change the way you think about how you could be mentoring and encouraging other women to reach their potential? What are your thoughts on this exercise in self-reflection and self-evaluation?

What do we want for our girls? Does the media help us decide?

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On a blog somewhere, Jane Quick said “I saw a very interesting documentary the other night about US media and how it portrays women. Among other things it talked about how the media (run mainly by men) pits women against each other to further their own misogynistic agenda.”

I want to see this movie. The way we are as women, and how we are with each other, will affect how we raise our girls. How the media portrays women and young girls affects how our girls view themselves and how we as women view ourselves.

As consumers of media in a very media-heavy period in the history of the world, we as mothers need to be particularly careful about the messages our young girls take in and how we as mothers might also buy into the messages and images the media has to sell.

If we don’t like what the media is selling about what it means to be a girl or a woman we need to teach our girls something different.

From the website of the film Miss Representation:

http://www.missrepresentation.org/the-film/

About the film

“Like drawing back a curtain to let bright light stream in, Miss Representation (90 min; TV-14 DL) uncovers a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself.

In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

Stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics, like Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem build momentum as Miss Representation accumulates startling facts and statistics that will leave the audience shaken and armed with a new perspective.”

If anyone has seen Miss Representation, tell us what it’s about. Tell us what you learned. Tell us how we can join in to fight against the media pitting women against women.

On a different, yet similar note, let’s take a look at what the March 2012 issue of Parenting puts forth as the ideal for very young girls. (In the image above you’ll find a full page devoted to one girl who poses as three different mini Suri Cruise look alikes.)

On a side note, I recently read online that Suri Cruise’s wardrobe consists of several very expensive purses totalling over $100,000. Here’s a link to her carrying one of her expensive handbags. What kind of precedent is being set for other young women when the net total of a toddler’s purses is more than most women’s entire wardrobes?

The Suri Cruise page in Parenting is titled “The Perfect Princess.” What does this say to mothers reading Parenting Magazine? Is it a forum to pit toddler against toddler or mother-of-toddler against mother-of-toddler? Who has the cutest clothes? Who is wearing the most expensive shoes? I can’t say that I’m immune from being caught up in dressing my child up in cute clothes, and part of it is about clout and status. I, too, need to take a look at my own behavior as a mother of a young girl.

But what is the source of it all? Where do we get out ideas about what a toddler NEEDS? Where do we get out our ideas about what it means to be a girl or a woman? There is a larger issue at hand and that involves the media.

The media…yes…did anyone happen to see that Time article called “Are you Mom Enough?” with the picture of the sexy woman breastfeeding her child? Of course, I jest. If you didn’t check it out here. It seems like it is a perfect example of the media throwing out some sort of inflamatory statement to get women arguing with each other and putting each other down. Does that create a situation where men can then sit back and watch while the women go at it? Divide and conquer, right? Oh, and by the way, Parenting is owned by Time Inc. Hmmm…..

So not only are girls well-dressed and sexy, but the women, their mothers, are also putting each other down and are in battle. If that was Time’s goal, mission accomplished.

Can an iTunes App Teach your Child to Speak? Parenting Magazine Thinks So

I was breezing through the March 2012 issue of Parenting Magazine and an article by Amy Beal entitled “Talking Points: The Latest News from the American Academy of Pediatrics” caught my eye. The article is informative enough and gives some good advice on children who may start speaking at a later than average age. Embedded in the article is a brief sentence on advice to parents when there is a concern. The advice is “The best way to encourage speech: talk and read to your child yourself – a lot.” I’m doubtful most parents make it that far into the article.

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This brief sentence buried in the fine print is the best advice that can be given. Children learn to speak by hearing other adults speak and by modeling of speach. The only way children are going to learn to speak is by hearing other people speak. Speaking slowly, mimicking what the child is saying, reinforcing speech through positive reinforcement: these are all ways to help children produce speech. Here’s a good piece on ways to teach your baby language naturally on iVillage published in 2011. (Baby talk: 8 easy and fun ways to improve you baby’s language skills.) The tips include: talking to your baby, respond to your baby’s cries,  have “conversations with your baby,” talk naturally to your baby, extend her language and describe what you see her doing, sing songs, read books, etc. You’ll notice that technology didn’t make its way into the tips.

READING BOOKS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR CHILD’S LANGUAGE SKILLS.

Reading to your child is the greatest predictor of academic success later in life. The more children are read to as young children, the better they do in school later. Make time in your day to read to your child.

As proof of this point, I was just reading in a sociology textbook about children who were not exposed to language for the first several years of their lives. One was the case of a girl who was locked in the attic with her deaf mother for the first six years of her life. Sociologists use this case as an example of understanding that language is not something that will be acquired simply by being born – it must be learned from the environment and particularly from the child’s caregivers.

My Outrage? iPhone as Speech Therapist.

This brief article was an okay overview of speech delays. What outraged me about the page in the magazine was the little “speech bubble” in the upper right hand corner that has a baby pointing to it. The little bubble says “Speech Therapy! Parents are raving about the First Words app. ($2: itunes.com). It is bright, it will capture the reader’s eye and it may be the only thing a reader sees and takes away from this page.

I almost had a heart attack when I saw this bubble. Why on earth is Parenting Magazine promoting an iTunes app to teach your baby to speak, especially given the information that was just provided that tells readers that babies learn to speak from other humans?

Let’s take a look at the many problems in this brief little advertising gimmick:

What is a parent more likely to do? Read the whole article in small print or read the speech bubble that tells you an iTunes app will teach your child to speak?

  1. Is it just me or isn’t it slightly irresponsible for Parenting Magazine to promote a $2.00 iTunes app as “Speech Therapy.”
  2. Apps are super popular, right? If you were a parent of a child with a slight delay in speech, wouldn’t you pick up your iPhone and download the app? What parent wouldn’t? (Well, I wouldn’t but that’s just me and hopefully some other mothers and fathers out there.) The majority would though, I’d bet. I’ve seen a lot of parents  grasp at any straw they can when it comes to a developmental issue with their child.
  3. Doesn’t the green bubble directly contradict what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends? The article and what we know about speech development recommends that parents and other humans teach children to speak, not phones. Any time spent that the child spends looking at an iPhone or some other electronic device is time that is not spent face-to-face with a human being.
  4. Speech therapists are probably not using things like iPhone apps to teach children to learn to speak. When I was observing speech therapists who were working with young children I did not see any electronic devices. (Granted that was 10 years ago, but I doubt things have changed that much, especially when it comes to small children, birth to three.)

As a society we need to separate out the sexy allure of technology from parenting in ways that are natural and proven to be effective. There’s an unethical blending of the two that occurs, particularly in the media.

Years of experience show us that the media is the strongest influence over how a society develops and identifies itself. Let us not be consumed and swayed by that.

If we as consumers of the media fall pray to such irresponsible advertising, especially when it comes to our most precious commodity – our children – then I am very worried about the future. Please act responsibly and be an informed and discriminating consumer of the media. There is no panacea for things like speech delay and speech acquisition. If a $2.00 iTunes app could solve the problems of child speech delays then there would be no need for speech therapists and there would be very few children with speech delays.

It’s a gimmick and it leads parents to believe that technology is the answer…even when it’s not.

Furthermore, wouldn’t you rather teach your child to speak than a telephone app?

I know I would.

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