Empowering Girls to Fly High

Monday, May 23, 2011

Want to kill your daughters' self worth? stop by at the nearest toy store

An update on this story:  The impact of “Want to kill your daughters' self worth” aka @hamleystoys campaign

I recently visited Hamleys, London's famous toy store. I entered the store happy and full of positive expectation, what I discovered made me sick to my stomach and really quite upset. But I am getting ahead of myself...

Last week I visited London and I decided to do some research over the weekend. I was looking for soft dolls to get some ideas of textures and materials for our  own 7Wonderlicious soft dolls (one of our future projects).

I walked into Hamleys with a camera in hand ready to take pictures of materials and see how they combined together: cloth, felt, plush that sort of thing...

It is a fun place full of kids, mostly 2 to 8 year olds. There were airplanes flying around,  a lady pirate talking to children and lots of robot toys wondering in random directions all over the floor.

I was as excited as the kids and felt a little like the original Dora Explorer with my backpack and camera ready to discover this wonderful world of play.

A placard told me how the store was divided, I decided to explore all floors as the soft toy floor did not have anything to inspire my creative juices. I was encouraged to see preschool, gadgets and games were not divided into gender sections.

Soon I was in the GIRLS/PINK floor, and it took me about one second to lose the positive expectation I had when I first walked into Hamleys. The account of what I experienced in this floor and on the boys floor is quite comprehensive. I did not do "creative" editing or leave out details to create impact. I literally went around the room and took photos of everything.

As soon as I exited the escalator I was in front of a HAIR & NAIL bar.

Two wonderful girls carrying a bunch of fake nails greeted us with a smile. I have to say that the entire staff at Hamleys is lovely and very helpful. I asked the girls if I could take a photo, they smiled  and nodded. 

So my journey in the "girls" floor started with a nail bar, hmm...I decided to  try and keep my spirits up. Who was I to judge little girls that are having a bit of fun with sparkly nail polish, after all, the lady at the bar was explaining that it was toxic free...

I continued to explore the area inside the nail bar, I found myself in front of an entire wall of nothing else but makeup. No other item in that store had as much wall space...makeup?!!..by now my mood had changed significantly, but I was still not prepared for what was to come.

Near the makeup I found the jewelry section... right... I was ready to leave this section of the store, it was clearly the "beauty" section, it was without a doubt the central feature of this floor and it  was sending a very strong message to all girls coming into this floor: girls value external beauty above everything else ... I was getting too annoyed to stick around...I kept going... it can only get better right?

So I continued walking and I found an entire section focused on arts and creativity. I was so happy that I did not come across another item focused on beautification of girls that it took me a few minutes to realize what was wrong with this picture... all of the arts and crafts items were placed in the girls floor (later I found out that no such items were present in the boys floor) hmm interesting...so we are telling boys they are not creative?

It was a nice section, some store employees were teaching the kids how to create art using paint and other tools, there was also a face painting stand and a place that was featuring sparkly little tubes that could be used to create fun cards. Apparently none of these are boys activities. I continued my journey.  

Wait... I must have turned the wrong corner, left Hamleys and entered a porn shop, what is that? ?Monster High? Bratz?  Is this a store for children? what is she wearing? what happened to her clothes? whats up with the enhanced lips?

The only thing good about coming across the Monster High and Bratz section first is that I had no more energy to get upset at the barbies and the princesses...it is interesting what contrast does to you. Lets ponder on this for a second, here are a  bunch of dolls that all look the same, creating a very narrow definition of beauty...with unrealistic and unattainable body proportions, and yet they almost seam harmless when compared with the porn figures above. But is it really ok to steal just because you are sitting next to an axe murderer?

There were no non-caucasian princesses around.

Dresses, makeup, hair, beauty...where are all those career Barbies that Mattel is so proud of?? I did look around...oh and I found one non-caucasian barbie...one...

Apparently the beauty section did not end with the nail and hair bar. There was another  hair bar teaching girls how to detangle their hair.

The next section was focused on the baby dolls and on the barbie heads for hairstyling. I moved away from this section very fast because I found a few encouraging items in the next sections.

Yay a doctors outfit! Happy dance! after such a bad experience I was really ready to throw a party. Call me cynical but I did check the label on the shirt to ensure it was not a nurse's outfit. Nope it was definitely a Doctors custom.  Hurray!!!

When I got to the pirate and cowboy outfits I had a green from ear to ear, little wins... ( yes they were available at the boys section too )

 Cash Machines and money came next. Not tooo bad...

and yes... the kitchen and the cooking appliances...none available in the boys section. Because "obviously" cooking and house chores are girls activities...

 Last but not least, the frilly dresses.

So wait, do girls ever use their brains at all? ah I forgot to tell you there was one puzzle in the entire floor... a princess puzzle.. sighhh

As you scroll down these images I ask you, is this the definition of girly that you would like to imprint in your daughter? Are we back in the middle ages? 

This is the time when your child is developing her identity. More connections are being made in her brain at this stage than in any other time in her life. She is shaping her model of the world, her belief system. Is this what you want her to believe?  

Many parents write to me saying that we should let girls be girly. Well my personal view is that it depends on your definition of girly. Having a little bit of fun with dressups and sparkle is part of child play, I for one still like doing it. What is happening in these stores, in the media and toy industry is very different. They are narrowing down the definition of girly to activities and items mostly focused on external beauty and objectification of girls. Girly or Pink (now interchangeable words)   equals shallow, obsessed by looks, vain and highly insecure. 

We have shared with you previously a lot of research that demonstrates that an increasing percentage of girls as young as six are now suffering from body image issues and eating disorders. These are the same girls that are being programed by the marketing world to be mass consumers of diet, beauty and fashion products, to be constantly trying to look like barbie or sleeping beauty or later the photoshoped stars and models showcased by the media.
Want to know where the building blocks, science products and outdoor activities were located? check back in with us for the second part of this blog post focused on the boys floor... believe  me this story is far from over. 

Please help us raise awareness of these issues, don't let children be manipulated in this way, it is absolutely criminal. This is not about your daughter playing with a princess doll or playing dress up , this is about the war being waged  on girls' intellects, on their bodies, on their self worth and self esteem.

Want to kill your daughters self worth? Stop by at your local toy store.

PS. clearly Hamleys was the wrong place to try to find inspiration for our soft dolls, my search did continue in other stores but the story above repeated itself time and time again. I am very happy to report that the arts and crafts specialists in the street markets around London were very generous with their time. They saved the weekend and shared with me many ideas that I am really excited about.

Be sure to join us in our Raising Confident Girls online forum to connect with other parents and experts. 7Wonderlicious - Empowering girls all over the world!
Happy parenting!


  1. Inspiration for dolls? Try here: http://www.myriadonline.co.uk/waldorf-dolls-including-kathe-kruse-dolls.php

  2. this is sadly becoming more common for both genders - pigeon-holed and stereotyped. And, I really fell that it will only get worse unless parents, more than just a few, say enough - we're not buying, we're not encouraging this.

    Living outside of the herd,

    Melissa @imaginationsoup

  3. My 3.5 yr old daughter once received a Bratz doll as bday present. it looked like a stripper. I took all shoes and clothes and threw them to the garbage and dressed her as "poor Cinderella" instead. She rather live in a pink princesses world than a ho***rs one!!

  4. Wow - this is unreal. I am expecting my second daughter any day now and can't imagine walking into a store like this with my girls. I don't understand why they'd have to divide the store by gender like this. Boys with no cookware and girls with no trains? Come on already. Let's just take us back to the 50's shall we?

    And yes, what's with the porn dolls? As if being a parent isn't hard enough - we have to fight societal stereotype and bad influence on top of everything else.

  5. a great post. i wrote about the cult of pink in my blog recently, inspired by a pair of wellies in a well known supermarket...
    a lot of people seem to be talking about this issue but very little actually seems to be changing 'on the shop floor'.
    we support the retailers by buying the toys and the wretched pink clothes but then there is no other choice! i'm not sure what the answer is!

  6. This was a GREAT post! Thank you so much! Unfortunately, the pigeon-holing isn't limited to little girls. Ever try shopping for women's motorcycle gear? The amount of pink is appalling, as is the fact that retailers still think a woman dressed like a stripper will sell bikes to women. Not this one. Our dollars are votes. We all need to let our voices be heard by sharing our opinions in a positive way with store management and taking our business elsewhere.

  7. While this is a fascinating post, I would love to see a dissection of the entire store, floor-by-floor. I am wondering what toys were on the "boys," "games," "interactive" floors? Could it be that there are only a few gender-specific sections? Where were the baby dolls? The Betsy and Bobby Wetsy dolls? Were the Legos on a gender-neutral floor, or only on the boys' floor? Were there puzzles on the games floor? Art supplies in interactive or games? Perhaps some other location that was less pink?

    I find the art supplies most interesting.

  8. Think its disturbing that dolls are being described as porn dolls.

    I agree that too much value, even the only value for girls AND WOMEN is on the outside, the surface. I don't think these dolls are to blame. With the popularity of 'Reality tv' kids are seeing that you whore yourself out for money because as long as you get paid, who cares if you humiliate yourself?? (Just to be clear I don't agree with that.)

    I grew up playing with Barbie and I never thought I was supposed to have giant breasts and weird hips like hers. I always wondered why she was shaped weird not the other way around.

    Kids have imaginations and know that they don't have to look like a doll and know that cartoons are just pretend, not models for how you should look.

    Here in America some toy stores are similarly sectioned like this store but big box retailers show boys and girls in their ads for the play kitchens and show boys using the make-believe vacuums etc. It is ridiculous that markers and other creative materials were only on the girls floor. That's just stupid.

    It's a parents responsibility to take their child to different sections of the stores to get an assortment of toys for their kids.
    I hope you complain to the CEO of that toy store to let them know that they should include a better variety of genderless toys in his boys and girls sections.

  9. @Melissa, @Pamela and @TheMule I totally agree if we don't feed it with our money it will stop eventually.

    @Justine best wishes with the new arrival :) I am sure you will find healthy alternatives for both your girls.

    @Sarah the boys floor will be discussed in our next post, the others floors truly represented their names I will detail more if I have the time.

  10. This is a brilliant post. Do you mind me asking why your blog is so pinkified/girlified, though?

  11. Hi Clare,

    we have created 7 role models that are confident, adventurous, full of curiosity and a lot of fun.We have a number of short stories available on book and app that showcase girls in non stereotypical roles. We dont see anything wrong with cute characters and butterflies :) characters and stories engage children in learning. Have a look at our website to get to know us better www.7wonderlicious.com.

    Hope it clarifies,

  12. Great post. These stereotypical gender messages are ubiquitous and come by such "innocent"-looking means, such as dolls and kiddy make-up. My daughters love all that stuff, and I admit to buying it for them, yet at the same time I try to give them "boy" stuff as well to keep their interests and imagination as broad as possible.

  13. When a friend and I went to a local toy store to take pictures for a workshop we were doing on gender stereotyping. We saw this same thing. I wish that toy stores would just allow kids to explore all the different fun things, and not put gender labels on it. I know a lot of little boys who would love the "hair bar' (even though I think that may be a bit of premature sophistication) and lots of athletic girls who want to pick out sports equipment without having to go to the "boy" section. This was a great, illuminating post! Thanks for sharing it.

  14. So, so interesting!

    I find it fascinating that the different floors of a London store--and how they decided to split them by gender--forced forced the owners to decide if a toy should be Male or Female. Here in America with our sprawling malls and box stores, everything is just grouped together and the inference that art supplies belong to "girls" isn't as dramatic.

    And now that I think about it...art supplies/craft stuff leads right into GIRL WORLD at our local ToysRUs.

    Okay--and that Monster High doll? Freaked me out! Her thighs are smaller than her calves! WTH?

  15. When I was young my favorite things were Ring-a-magigs and "Bing Bang Bong". Does anyone remember them? We definately need to promote puzzles and mind games for girls.

  16. All Chain toy stores here in the UK are like this- Early Learning Centre, Toys R Us, etc.
    ELC is particularly vile, as it produces toys such as toasters, microwaves, gardening sets etc all in 2 colours- a pink version or a blue version- no yellow, green, or other neutral coloured versions. Fine, yes- I give my girl a blue till to play with, and my son has a pink doll buggy (because his sister had it first, no other colour was available at the time), but really, why on earth do things need to be polarised in this way?
    In some ways I think the UK is far worse than other countries at this- it didn't used to be like that, elc was very good at gender neutral stuff in the eighties.

    I buy most of my children's toys at a local independent retailer (who doesn't stock anything pink or blue) or online.

  17. Even the toy aisles in large branches of Tesco are labled "Girls Toys" & "Boys Toys"...

  18. Thanks for your post. Kids should be able to choose the toys they want to play with, without being told what they should be playing with. I have an eight year old son and he and his best mate often like playing and acting out stories with my daughters' dolls. They also like science toys and playing soccer. Why should children be corralled by the old-fashioned views of marketing departments?

  19. I don't have a daughter, but if I did, I'd like to think that her self worth would be strong enough to withstand a trip to the toy shop.

    I don't like the stereotyping described above, but I think that it might be a bit short-sighted to lay the blame for body image issues solely at the door of the toy shops.

  20. Hi,

    I think the Bratz doll is horrible! With so many kids and young adults starving themselves to be "beautiful", I can't believe the toy makers would make something like that. I have two differant friends who both have kids with eating dissorders (one boy and one girl).

    Gender stereotyping is not only an issue in toy stores, it's a problem in Clothing stores and even other shops like Laura Ashley. A friend and I were in the Homebase Laura Ashley shop and we came across an apron and cooking set. It even said,"Girls rule" on it. However Bev didn't buy it because, her daughter won't wear pink and it came in no other colour! Green or yellow would have been fine.

    Another friend told me she can't find nonpink girls clothes that aren't all black or tarty. What is up with shops selling these clothes to 5,6 and 7 year olds!?

  21. Great post! Can't believe they can get away with it really

  22. Great blog! I banned my girls (or should that be girlz) from Bratz when they were young and I told them why. It's important that we raise our children to be conscientious consumers and train them to avoid the snare of the megacorps that want to objectify our kids.

  23. How depressing. I studied gender-sterotyping as part of my Sociology A level over 20 years ago and NOTHING has changed! Oh, there is one thing...the 'porn factor'...that's a new addition. Vile. This is the 21st Century and I'm ashamed to be British if this is London's flagship toy store. :O( I have two baby girls and will not give up battling this ridiculous division. I will definitely explore your website further. Thanks for a great post!

  24. We don't allow Bratz dolls in our house because I don't agree with the "prosti-tot" image they present.

    Our local toy store is really not divided by gender, at least not overtly. There is are aisles of similar toys, but there is no reason a girl can't walk down an aisle of cars (and my three girls do) and the craft section is not in the girls or boys section and contains crafts of interest to both genders as well as some more gender specific things.

    Our imaginative play section is also mixed for gender and not segregated to boys and girls stuff.

    Our toy stores have lots of Barbie dolls of color and my daughter has picked out barbies that are ethnically different than our family background... and I'm fine with that. My girls are brown eyed brunettes. They have blonde barbies, why shouldn't they have dolls that don't match their skin color also. They have friends of different hues, why shouldn't they have toys of different hues?

    My girls are also equally happy playing with "boy" toys (cars, building blocks, sporting goods) as they are with the "girlier" toys.

    I had a conversation the other day and described my oldest daughter as both a girlie-girl and a tomboy because she will happily play with anything and not think of what gender role it is defined as.

  25. YUCK! Those pictures really freaked me out! Honestly, we avoid the toy department most of the time now. My daughter is only 9 mos old, but I don't even want to start with the influences. Toy departments are hard on my son too. Luckily we found a generic play stove set at the recycling shed at our dump that both love! My son loves to play with play food etc. It's hard to find stuff that isn't all pinky and with girls all over it for him. Are there boy dolls any more? I had the "my Friend" series growing up and I remember there was a My Friend Mikey doll

  26. I actually found myself getting worked up looking through the Argos catalogue the other day hunting for inspiration for my daughters upcoming 3rd Birthday (and Christmas) for the very same reasons presented above. I was half yelling at my mum in the process: "Look! Look! Do they think boys never do drawing and painting?! And a pink kitchen! Pink!! Because girls are the only ones who do cooking and cleaning so they might as well get used to it now! Argh!!"

    I don't mind pink and sparkles to a point but to me it's starting to represent something brainless and shallow that I don't want my daughter to become. For now, I'm avoiding the 'girly' stuff as much as possible, don't have TV programmes that are interuppted by adverst aimed at children and trying to buy gender neutral toys (which gets more difficult when they even start making lego in pink sets for girls and blue sets for boys!) but I know my daughter will be influenced by other girls once she's in school. I just hope I can be successful in instilling a strong sense of self in her that can see her through :-S

  27. What complete and utter nonsense - you feminists really are on another planet. I mean with statements like "I know a lot of little boys who would love the "hair bar'" - are you serious? Let me guess that comment is from a single mom. I don't know any self respecting father who'd allow his son to entertain such an unmanly interest.
    Honestly, I do wish you feminists would crawl back under the bra you came from. This relentless feminisation of society and attempts to feminise men and boys is deeply damaging to society. Boys and society at large no longer have real strong role models. Instead what we have are weak feminine men with no principles whose opinions sway depending on the flavour du jour. No meritocrity in society - everyone is a winner because we don't want to hurt the feelings of the less talented. If you want proof of the damage this militant feminism does just look at the changes in society over the past generation i.e. ever since feminism really got going. What have we got from it? Nanny states, political correctness, lack of healthy competition is schools, etc.. STOP enough, if you want to feminise your son's fine but don't try to feminise society and other people's sons...
    PS: There is no such thing as gennder equality. How can entities with different attributes every be equal. Lowering the bar to positively discriminate in favour of one discriminates against the other. Just accept the natural order of mother nature - she knows best.

  28. This is lovely. I've never heard of Hamleys. (I thought Toys 4 Us was the only nice toy shop in London). Hamleys is Brilliant and I will visit one day - whenever I am looking after my God Daughter.

    thank you so much

  29. Not to mention all the synthetic chemicals that developing children are being exposed to by using this raft of nail products and make up at such a young age.

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