by Julia Bluhm
We all know that the media’s messages are having more and more of an effect on kids. Whether you’re reading a book, watching a movie, or just taking a walk down the toy aisle, everything marketed towards girls is pink, has to do with beauty, or ends with a prince charming sweeping the perfect princess off her feet. Some of that is fine in moderation, but what happens when that’s the only type of thing girls see growing up?
Often times, parents act as shields from these messages. I know my parents did. They tried to expose me to an even amount of trains-type toys and princess-type toys from the beginning. My older sister chose strictly the trains, and I chose the princesses. Lots and lots of princesses. Recently, I wondered why that was? My older sister could name all of the construction vehicles in the world, and never willingly wore a splash of pink until she was probably thirteen, while I would prance around the house in pink tutus, playing with my ballerina Barbies.
My parents are really awesome. They were incredibly supportive through the craziness of the Seventeen Campaign. My dad took all the phone calls that came through, and my mom carted me around New York City to various interviews. Some people have even interviewed them about me. For this blog, I thought I’d interview them about them.
My parents both agreed that my sisters and my different interests were just a part of who we are. For whatever reason, I was mostly attracted to pink and princesses, and she was most attracted to cars and LEGO. My mom says, “I think the problems come in when people don’t respect the unique interests that kids have and try to sway them to like something that seems culturally acceptable.” So they were happy with the fact that my sister and I were expressing ourselves in different ways. My dad says he thought it was “fun” that we liked such different things.
There were some things I wasn’t exposed to, however. I had never heard of Lizzie Maguire, Hannah Montana, or the Jonas Brothers until I started public school when I was 9 years old. That was the same with stores like Limited Too, and Justice. As soon as I discovered them through my new public school friends, I loved them immediately. And as I became older, my parents didn’t mind if I liked them. But I wondered why I had never known about them earlier, when everybody else did. I know now, that my parents were protecting me from being brainwashed by the media, and the products they market towards girls.
When it comes to restrictions, my dad says “We tried to steer you away from Bratz dolls and makeup kits and things like that” because my parents agreed that those kinds of toys were focused around beauty and appearance only- while those toys may be culturally acceptable, they represent the unhealthiest ideas that surround childhood. My mom says that the thinks there were some movies and T.V. shows that were too mature for my age at the time, like Hannah Montana and Lizzie Maguire. She said “they often showed girls who were only interested in their appearance or their relationship with boys.” My parents wanted me to focus on having fun, and being creative and active as a ten-or-eleven year old. Once I started seeing those kinds of things, my parents made sure I knew how unrealistic they were. I think it was important that my parents had the restrictions that they had. Because now when I watch movies that focus only on looking “hot” or “sexy” and having boyfriends, I laugh. I know how unrealistic that is, and how there are so many more important things in life.
On the subject of restrictions, I decided to ask my parents some hypothetical questions about getting multiple piercings, wearing tons of makeup or revealing clothes, or getting a tattoo. You know, common debates among teenagers and their parents. My dad said he’d tell me to wait until I was 18 to get a tattoo or piercing, because they last forever. My mom said that her initial reaction to me wearing revealing clothing or tons of makeup would be “no,” just because of my age. But if it was something I felt strongly about, she says she’d talk to me about it, and that we could try to come to a modified compromise. She’d try to figure out if I wanted to dress like this for my own personal style, or to try and measure up to the heavily sexualized images in the media.
Overall, I think the most important things for parents to do, is to educate their kids the way my parents did, by giving them tools to question the media, and the products marketed towards girls. If kids have the tools they need to make their own smart decisions, they will be ultimately be better off than if they only live under the restrictions of their parents for their whole childhood. I think my parents did a pretty awesome job at setting me up with the knowledge I needed, instead of just sheltering me. I owe my confidence and success to them. Or at least, part of it!