Sexualization of Girls: No to Sexy, Yes to Fun

My mom called me a few weeks before K was due to visit her.  “I have a question,” she began.  “I want to take K to a spa where they specialize in little kids.  I know that you write about the problems with this type of thing all the time, so I thought I better ask you if it’s okay first.”

Mom gave me the website of the place, which is called Sweet and Sassy.  She suggested I check it out and then get back to her.

I knew that K would love it.  She would think she was in heaven.  And, yes, it would be a one-time treat, a special outing with her grandma.  Would it be harmful?  Probably not, because K is a grounded kid.  But when I looked at the website, I knew that I could not let K go to Sweet and Sassy.

All my mom wanted to do was get K’s nails painted, and I had no problem with that.  I let my girls paint their nails.  AR likes to do each nail a different color.  But even if K were only getting her nails painted, she would be surrounded by other little girls who were receiving up-dos and make-up applications, and those types of salon services cross the line into the sexualization of little girls.  I didn’t want K to see little girls being tarted up to look like pageant princesses.

I called my mom back and told her no.

I was very appreciative that my mom consulted me, knowing that I have strong feelings about this subject.  I know she wanted to do something special and different with K, but she realized that I might not like the activity, and she asked me first.  So, thanks, Mom, for being respectful of my wishes.

Several months ago, I spoke with Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, about how hard it is to say no to make-up, high heels and sexy clothes, when our little girls beg and beg for these items.   Orenstein told me, “You have to fight fun with fun- don’t just tell your daughter no- find fun things to say yes to.  When they are little they need to assert their gender identity.  The opposite of princess is not squashing femininity- it’s not so black and white.”

My mom found a way to fight fun with fun, while still letting K feel feminine and special.  Mom held an age appropriate spa night at home with K.  First, she filled a tub with bubbles and let K play in the bath.  Then she carefully painted K’s nails.  There was no make-up, no sexy clothing, no hair-sprayed up-do.  K loved it.

Orenstein told me, “Everybody is concerned right now about the ever-younger sexualization of little girls, and we can agree on this and work together to stop the purchasing of these products.”

My mom didn’t mind not purchasing the services of Sweet and Sassy.  She created something better at home.  And that left the daytime open, so my parents took K to see the awesome IMAX film Born To Be Wild and then they went bowling.  K got a strike and felt like a million bucks.  And isn't it better that she felt good about herself for something she achieved, rather than for looking like a princess?

Talk about fighting fun with fun!  There was no comparison in my mind.  Fortunately, not in K’s mind either.  “What was your favorite part of your trip?” I asked her.  “Everything," she replied.  "Every single minute."

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    This is such a great post! When my daughters were growing up we didn't have to contend with the same overwhelming sexualization. But there was still good old sexism and that's where we had to draw the link - it was why we wouldn't get our girls Barbie dolls. They had plenty of fun without them and didn't miss out on anything. And like Katie, they had more wonderful experiences because we were always focused on sharing the fun and growth of valuing their actions, not their appearance. Brava!

  • Thanks, Nancy, so much for sharing your thoughts. And we love your magazine, New Moon Girls! Katie was featured in an article in New Moon earlier this year. I am currently writing a book about bullying that also discusses the sexualization of girls and how it plays a role in bullying.

  • As a grandma I'm going to hold on to the 'fight fun with fun' idea. Peggy orenstein has been saying smart things for years!

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