I feel sorry for little girls today who are expected to leave childhood behind in about first grade. There’s not much room for innocence these days.
Ten years ago, our older daughter Mary came home from her private Christian school at age 6 and announced that her new friend had the Backstreet Boys on the cover of her notebooks and folders and asked if she could please have some, too. (She had no idea who the Backstreet Boys were, but wanted to be like her friend.) The boy band du jour was apparently considered essential for first grade girls’ school supplies. (This fall they were selling pink notebooks with the terms “Eye Candy” and “Love Muffin” on them.)
Marketers came up with the clever term “tween” for purposes of making money. It’s what we once called childhood. Little girls are expected to dump their baby dolls by kindergarten and buy Slutty Barbie and Smokin’ Hot Ken dolls. Or maybe just the ugly and appropriately named Bratz dolls with their little hipster clothes and attitude. By age 7 or 8, it’s time to actually dress like Slutty Barbie, which explains the summer clothing items, and I do use the term loosely, hitting the racks this spring in the girls’ department.
My mother didn’t have any use for Barbies for little girls. Not having a television when we were little, we weren’t inundated with ads promoting what everybody else was getting, so we didn’t miss them. At a school gift exchange once I got a cheap Barbie knock-off, but lacking any Barbie stuff, I was uncertain what to do with the skinny, straw-haired creature with the big bust. I don’t know what happened to it.
I had a sole baby doll for several years when I was little. Her name was Sally, and I lost her in a park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a very traumatic event for me, and I still remember the horror of not being able to find her anywhere. Mom replaced her in the toy department of the JC Penney at Capitol Court shopping center. Not having a room full of dolls, shopping for a new doll was a big deal to me.
I’ll never forget how thrilled I was to look into the glass case ( they kept the dolls in a glass case which made them seem even more special) to pick one out with Mom’s help. I spotted the lost Sally’s replacement immediately. She was a sweet baby doll lying on a white blanket trimmed with pink and white gingham ruffles. That’s the one I brought home.
When I loved a doll, I really loved her. Nobody else’s doll could take her place. Some friends of our family once delivered a huge box of battered toys and broken crayons from their 5 kids who had all outgrown them. I remember seeing some very rough looking dolls in the box, the objects of some other little girls’ affections. They weren’t for me, as they had already lived out their dolls’ lives. With eyes askew, hair half shaven off, minus any clothing, they couldn’t touch my heart. It was already taken by my new Sally doll, clean and pristine in her pink and white blanket.
When I was nine or so, I got a wonderful surprise. I may have loved Sally, but by then, my heart was capable of adding one more. I got a Crissy doll for Christmas. She was the size of a real nine-month-old and you could pull a long pony tail of red hair out of the center of her head. I was enchanted. Sally gained a sister that Christmas Eve, and Crissy and I had many hours of fun. Lisa got one just like it the next Christmas and named her Carrie. We played house for hours on end.
Girls are wearing make-up now at an age when I still enjoyed dolls. Little girls have their own pop celebrities they follow, wear fake tattoos, talk about their boyfriends and message each other about the latest gossip. Looking “hot” is a grave concern for little girls at an age when my sister and I were still oblivious to the concept. I pity little girls, some of whom will never have many memories of that time “before”—before advertisers ruled childhood, before the male-female dynamic and peer tyranny filled their thoughts night and day, before celebrity freaks in the music world and Hollywood imposed their values or lack of them.
Is it possible to provide a real little girlhood today? I would say yes, but only if you’re prepared to really fight for it. The power of peer pressure is toxic from an early age now. For that reason, Tom and I feel strongly about kind of influences we want Emily to have, and what kind we do not want her to have. Popular media is the enemy of innocence and little girlhood. Advertisers and show producers are only going to continue stooping lower and lower to make a buck. To put it bluntly, that trash is not welcome in our home, because it is antithetical to the values we are trying to instill.
Parenthetically, I stood at a store the other day and observed that Cosmopolitan magazine is now directly at eye level for little ones. “30 Sex Moves” said one headline. “Woman on Top” said another. I felt a slow burning rage hit me at what we have allowed our culture to become. How many children had read those headlines standing there while tired, complacent parents just shoved their stuff onto the conveyor belt to get home. It makes me sick to my stomach, because I have a little girl who deserves a childhood, and shopping with her mother shouldn’t be the enemy of her innocence.
Our girls will only have a chance at self-respect, decency and every other virtue if we are willing to carve out a safe space for them to be little for a while, jettison the entertainment media and toys that teach them wrong (yes, wrong) values and actively protect them from a culture that devours little girls and spits them out.
Emily is very interested in babies right now. She has a baby doll and a bottle with fake milk that she plays with a great deal. The doll fell out of her arms today and I saw her stoop down and carefully kiss the doll’s head. “It’s OK,” she murmered tenderly. “I take you to the doctor and get medicine.” Atta girl, Emmy. Enjoy your little girlhood while you can.