How Disney Invaded American Childhood to Shill Worthless Crap to Our Kids
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[The] insistence on defining girls and women by how we look and how we relate sexually is not only a way to keep [us] in our place, but a way we keep ourselves there. Obsessing over our appearance is the way we assure ourselves and others around us that even if we’re really successful, we’re not really threatening. [T]he pressures on women to look good from womb to tomb have become more intense and confusing [in part] because we have made so much progress. And the consequences for girls of being prematurely sexualized can be precisely the things we’re trying to avoid, such as negative body image, eating disorders, or depression. One of the things [I found] that surprised me was the relationship between sexualization and disconnection from authentic sexuality: Girls who are sexualized early are more likely to see sexuality as a performance, not as something that they feel internally.
So it’s like from the time girls are very young, they’re always on stage somehow, whether culturally or socially.
When girls play dolls today, the fantasy that’s offered them is that they should grow up to be a rock star or movie star. That was absolutely not true when we were girls. And even the beloved Dora the Explorer -- they split Dora into two because they wanted to keep the audience, and the audience was aging out younger and younger. So they made a tween Dora. [Original] Dora is very sturdy and just neutral: She has short hair, a straight-cut shirt, a backpack, and a map. [Tween Dora] got flirty clothes and pretty hair, and the map and backpack are gone. Her fantasies are about being a rock star performing a benefit concert.
So much of what girls are presented with is essentially about performance. [And] here’s Dora, in this new incarnation, giving a soft-pedaled version of the same lesson. If it were in isolation, that might be one thing. But it’s just constant. That’s what girls are told [to aspire to] -- high-school student by day, rock star by night. It’s about the importance of this surface self.
It’s a constructionist view of identity, taken to an extreme degree.
I’ve been thinking a lot more about the way girl power has been contorted into pro-narcissism. My daughter, Daisy, got a make-your-own messenger bag kit for her seventh birthday -- [it’s] a messenger bag that you decorate with iron-on transfers. [Most of] the transfers were pink and orange and purple, hearts and flowers and stars and all the stuff that you would typically expect. But that was not what we noticed. One of the transfers said “spoiled,” another one said “pampered princess,” and a third one said “brat.” And [Daisy] looked at them and said, “Mom, why do they want you to put that on your purse? Isn’t that kind of braggy?” -- which is the worst thing you can say if you’re seven. And I said, “Yeah, I think you’re right. It is kind of braggy.” Somehow the idea of creating a strong sense of self in girls has been distorted by the culture into announcing you’re a spoiled, narcissistic brat -- like that is what signifies confidence. But it’s that sexualized, manipulative femininity.
If you asked what we want for our daughters, we’d want very wonderful, positive, thoughtful things: strong internal sense of self, self-direction and compassion and potential and all of that. And then [we] undercut that with what they’re playing with. The two don’t add up.
From what you say, it seems that well-meaning parents unwittingly cause split-identity problems in girls.