Saturday, February 19, 2011

Crowns and Consequences

In a timely follow-up to the Strawberry Shortcake rant, I thought I would share my opinion on the curious sub-culture of childhood beauty pageants. In a booming business, supported by corporations across North America, children (usually young girls), as young as 2, are transformed into cosmetic creations of idyllic beauty, competing for crowns, titles and prizes. They are judged on their appearance, poise and 'personality', while parading for adult judges, adorned with make-up, fake teeth, fake tans and enough hairspray to create a small hole in the ozone. Young girls are pitted against one another for elusive fame and fortune, in the pageant circuit (circus) that often engulfs a family's energy, time and resources. (See Little Miss Sunshine for a great Hollywood depiction!)

The garish exploitation associated with glamorizing and sexualizing toddlers and children with cosmetics in swimsuit contests, frankly horrifies me. Judging these girls on a competitive, public stage on narrow, stereotypical standards of adult female attractiveness raises more than a red flag.

Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in adolescent North American girls. Our society is obsessed with image. One in ten parents would abort a child if they knew it had a genetic tendency to be fat. 90% of Canadian women are unhappy about their body or appearance in some way. The pressure on girls to be physically perfect appears to be very, very real. How can these young beauty pageant participants not be receiving unhealthy and unrealistic messages about how they should look, how they are judged and how cosmetic transformation is their key to success? The high-glitz beauty pageants that showcase the extravagant costumes and hairstyles simply encourage young girls to be decorative objects. This feeds the 'girl-watching' and female objectification that is so sickenly popular in North American culture.

Childhood beauty pageants are a gamble with girl's self-esteem. Objectifying anyone, is sadistic, and exposing girls to a world of cosmetic enhancement and exhibitionism is a dangerous way to raise a daughter. Focusing on physical beauty will build self-esteem based only on a myth; a beauty myth that is dependant upon the fragility of one's appearance and on the superficial and fluid judgement of others.

TLC's Toddler's and Tiaras documents the hyper-sexualization of young girls and in doing so desensitizes us to the horror, as it broadcasts as mainstream, living-room entertainment. I don't subscribe to TLC, for one reason; this show.

Children are intuitive and clever. They absorb everything; compliments, criticisms, admiration, rejection. The world is already a tough place for a girl. Images bombard them with unrealistic ideals causing feelings of inadequacy, self-loathing and anxiety. I cannot imagine what these girls absorb from their moms, their peers, the judges, their 'failures'....their 'successes'.

The failures and successes, I believe, lie in the parenting, and in a society that allows this to happen.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Re-styling Strawberry Shortcake

What the hell happened to Strawberry Shortcake? It wasn't enough for Dora the Explorer to hit puberty in 2009 and ditch the backpack and sneakers for earrings and mane of glossy hair, the toymakers have now decided to glam up Strawberry Shortcake too.

She's now longer and leaner, wearing tighter clothes and has plumper, pinker lips. Her hair, just like Dora's, is a long shiny mane, only for some bizarre reason completely unrelated to strawberries (which are RED), Shortcake's is HOT PINK. Freckles are out. Eyelashes are in. And in slyly re-launching an old favorite as shinier, skinnier, more glamorous, and more girly, young girls inevitably absorb all of these messages regarding appearance and desirability.

What kind of market research goes into these decisions I wonder? Does anyone actually ask 5 year old girls what changes they would like to see? I'm pretty sure that a research panel of 1st graders didn't give them the idea to trade Shortcake's cute kitten companion in for a text-ready cell-phone.

The marketing corporations have a lot to answer for.