My daughter, a fifth-grader, has been coming to me with more and more specific requests lately. A certain computer game, a specific Webkinz animal, an Abercrombie and Fitch sweatshirt. Peer pressure is advancing! She doesn't watch TV in the typical way. No Hannah Montana or Cheetah Girls. We get Little House on the Prairie on Netflix and we watch Survivor (commercial-free, but for their obvious product placement). But the marketing is getting to my daughter nonetheless, through her friends, pop-music on the radio, and American Girl magazine. As a mom, I feeling the squeeze. She doesn't have all the information to make healthy decisions for herself, so I have begun to educate myself so I can help her navigate her choices.
I borrowed the book Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketer's Schemes by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown. I recommend this book for all mothers and grandmothers of girls--no matter how young or how old. What I like about this book is the fact that it points out the problem areas and gives methods for traveling through the minefield that marketers have set in motion for our daughters. It doesn’t advocate discipline over your child, but rather takes the path of informing you and your daughters as consumers and encouraging discernment. For instance, in a world of fashion merchandising where the same styles are sold from sizes 4-16 (Does a 6-year-old interact in the world in the same way a 15-year-old does?) the authors encourage parents to make choices about what slogans their daughters wear. Supplement a young girl’s wardrobe of slogan T’s that are cropped or form-fitting with plain cotton T-shirts in an array of colors (not just pink and sparkly). Likewise with cropped pants. The message is that girls’ clothes should be cute. Maybe, but above all, parents need to ensure that girls have clothes that give her the ability to be active.
Another disturbing trend is the sexualization of young children. Here we can look to Abercrombie and the sexy way that it markets to the preteen crowd. Not only in the photographs in the ads (nudity for the middle school crowd?), but the blatant STUD printed on boxer shorts for pre-teens boys.
I am also interested in this book because I have started a novel for middle-grade girls. I want to be part of the solution for young girls and not some unaware author who helps them buy in further to the Princess myth. It may be my downfall as far as marketing to my audience. Recently, my daughter was with me at the used book store. She wanted to buy 7 books. I told her she may have two. How did she decide which two books to buy? The covers of course. The cover of one of her choices showed two cheerleaders in short skirts with pom-poms. The other cover showed pre-teens dressed in prom-like dresses. Did I tell her to put those books back and make more appropriate choices? No, but after she reads them, I will ask her why she chose those books. We will have an age-appropriate conversation about images, messages, and what is important and healthy for girls her age.