The commercialization of childhood is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide; little girls still in nappies are already being bombarded with toxic messages from media, marketing and even toys.
Society reinforces these messages, as if pink, pretty and princess where genetically imprinted in every girl child. What is wrong with a cute four year old “princess”, playing dress up, wearing a beautiful pink frilly dress, pretty jewelry and glowing from a little touch of sparkle on her rosy cheeks? Nothing, there is nothing wrong with that if it wasn’t for the fact that there is an entire corporate machine ensuring that is all they have access to, that is all they can aspire to be.
In the mid 80s, as parents started discovering the gender of their baby through the rise of prenatal testing, marketeers found a new way to increase sales by segmenting the market. Gender neutral disappeared and we witnessed the birth of a new meme: pink equals girl and blue equals boy. From that point in time girls’ choices were forever reduced to a sea of superficiality.
Today in the pink isles of a toy store you will find makeup, jewellery, nail polish, frilly dresses, sparkly high heeled shoes, princesses, dolls with impossible waist lines and very little else. Items that drive one single message; that her value comes from her looks.
Science kits, games and building blocks rarely have a girl showcased on the product packaging and are nowhere to be found in the sea of pink that are the “girl” sections of the stores. The rare exception is likely to be simplified and beautified beyond recognition.
Who benefits from making little girls obsess with their looks? The multibillion-dollar beauty and diet industry does.
What is their strategy? Get them young, objectify them, and sexualise them. Make them believe that they are what they own and how they look. Make sure that they know that their value is strictly dependent on external approval. Peddle unattainable ideals of beauty to ensure they are forever hooked, addicted to a never-ending cycle of consumerism as they try to look like the photoshopped girl in the magazine or the doll with the pin sized waistline.
The impact is significant; eating disorders are increasing all over the world and impacting girls that are still in pre-school. High profile institutions are also very concerned with the effects of the rising sexualisation, some of the most recent activity coming from the American Psychological Association, the Australian Medical Association and the UK Government.
“Sexualization is not about healthy sexual development. All people are sexual beings, and have desires and thoughts that are a natural part of development. Sexualization is treating other people and oneself as an object of desire, with their value primarily from sex appeal and physical attractiveness. When someone is repeatedly sexualized, they begin to think of and treat their own body as an object of other people's desires. We call this self-objectification.” Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker
The price is paid by young girls as they enter their teen years. Pressured to follow the values and behaviors of celebrities like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian, discarding professions that do not fit in with the stereotype, abandoning influential futures in STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), showing lack of interest for leadership roles.
To date many of the princess characters have been portrayed as passive, compliant, in need of rescue and obsessed with external beauty. There is a glimmer of hope that the industry is starting to redefine this archetype. Perhaps Brave will forever redefine what it means to be a princess. We cannot afford another generation of women to be held back by stereotypes that weaken their ability to speak up, to assert their opinions and to acknowledge their value.
According to Peggy Orenstein the “Princess Industrial Complex” arrived in 2000 with the advent of the Disney Princess line. They earned $300 million the first year and $4 billion in the second year and by then there were 26,000 Disney Princess products. The choices are gone and little girls are peddled a combination of compliance, consumption and approval.
Pink, Pretty and Princess: It is not Nature it is Corporate Nurture
Every year corporations perform market research to determine what is popular for their target consumer segment. When anyone complains about the limited choices they market to girls, large corporate engines hide behind the research claiming that they are just responding to market demand. Do we really expect girls to come up with any other answer than pink, pretty and princess, after being peddled the same mind-numbing propaganda from the day they were born? It is a self-fulfilling prophecy! Corporations use the excuse that they know what girls want based on the stereotypes they have been promoting ruthlessly, using every single trick in the book.
Unplugging from the Corporate Matrix
As parents become more aware of the impact of toxic messages on their children’s future, they try to find alternatives, they look for ways to guide their daughters and provide them with empowering values. It is a very hard task, even if they manage to create an empowering environment at home, they have to deal with peer pressure at preschool, gifts from misguided friends and the fears of exclusion from social groups for themselves and their children.
The Rise of Pro-Girl
Some parenting and girl empowerment groups both online and offline are a safe haven where parents exchange advice, express their frustrations and share information in regards to books, media, toys and apparel that counter stereotypes or that are gender neutral. These communities are growing in number and strength and have also been able to influence corporations through the power of activism enabled by social media. Successful campaigns focused on Lego, JC Penney, Hamleys or Diva are good examples of the western world’s backlash against the sexualisation and stereotyping of girlhood. These communities are highly networked globally and can quickly self organise in defence of healthy girlhood.
Small values-driven businesses are also emerging focusing on apparel, toys, books and other media that counter stereotypes. But can small businesses really take on the corporate giants? It is hard, these businesses are typically ran by mumpreneurs, many rely mostly on word of mouth and online marketing, have limited investment capacity and spend most of their time driving literacy and awareness with parents and educators within their reach.
A coalition of all pro-girl businesses from around the world, a values driven online marketplace similar to etsy.com but focused on products for girls. A way to unleash the passion of many into one single global brand, the combined power of the global pro-girl community creating a real alternative to the “Pink, Pretty and Princess Industrial Complex”. Taking back girlhood, showcasing that girls are strong, daring, intelligent, adventurous, athletic, outspoken, leaders and fun.
We already have the support of many Pro-Girl experts, not for profits and businesses, what we need now is the support of the general public. We need to prove that parents and educators care and are behind this project. Support the movement: AChainOfGirlGoodness.com
Chief Super Hero Wannabe @ A Chain of Girl Goodness and @7Wonderlicious
Inês recently resigned from her highflying role as an executive in a Global IT Consulting Firm to focus full time on this project: A Chain of Girl Goodness. She has an Engineering Degree in Computer Science and her experience includes business strategy, marketing, product design and development where Software is the enabler, leadership, organisational design, and change management. She is also the founder of 7Wonderlicious a parenting community and social business focused on overturning the gender stereotypes that limit our girls ' true nature and potential.