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I am trying to keep my personal and “professional” writing as separate as possible, which is why I’ve stopped updating this site every time I post something elsewhere on the {great and powerful} world wide web. But, today I feel compelled to share a post I recently wrote for Mind Positive Parenting.
The post is about food advertising on TV and its effect on children’s dietary intake. You can read it here, if you like. The reason I wanted to link to it, however, is because I’m curious about a couple of things. First, how many of you parents (sorry non-parent readers) suffer nagging for particular food items from their kids? Do you children watch commercial TV? Is there an association between the products they request and the advertisements they see? Our kids don’t watch commercial television; I do not mean that they don’t want TV, because they have their fair share of screen time. I just can’t stomach commercials myself, and I can stomach requests for products advertised even less.

But not showing commercials doesn’t mean that our kids are immune to commercialization and Tim and I are struggling with how to handle it. The culprit: friends in school and in the neighborhood. The target: Princesses. Let me first say that this is insidious – this princess mindset. And now that she’s around these kids more often, and because she’s so socially aware, this has seeped into Eleanor’s vision of herself. For example, Eleanor has started wanting to play at a neighbor’s house solely because she has princess costumes (and their associated jewelry). The other day Eleanor and this girl – let’s call her Emily – were dressing up and Emily’s mother asked “Eleanor, which princess are you? Are you Belle? Cinderella?…” (She went on, continuing to list Disney princess names, which I can’t even do because I don’t know them.) Eleanor just looked at her (she doesn’t didn’t know their names either), but then saw a chair that had the princess who was wearing the same dress she was. “I’m that one,” Eleanor said pointing. “Oh, you’re Belle,” said the mother. “She’s beautiful.”

I wanted to puke. This is a very sweet and loving mother, but come on. “Pleeeeeeaaaaase don’t feed her this stuff,” I thought. “She’s 4! This is the last thing she needs to hear.” The next day, getting ready for school, Eleanor was crying because she didn’t think she looked beautiful in any of her clothes and she wanted “a dress like Emily has. That makes me beautiful.”

{watch my heart ache.}

I do not suffer the illusion that my kids will never know these characters. I don’t intend to shield them from commercials, or commercial television, or named characters forever and ever. What I was hoping was that they – and Eleanor specifically – would be a little older before she suffered these concerns; before she could name the “original eight”. Because at least then our conversations might not have to be so reactive: I’d prefer that I was able to take my own advice and talk about why Disney (or any other company for that matter) presents princesses the way they do and what kind of emotions those presentations create. I wanted more time to equip her to manage the expectations that will be placed on her.

I don’t think it’s too late for this, but it does feel like an uphill climb that just got a little steeper.

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6 thoughts on “advertising

  1. As a stay at home mom I have been able to keep my daughter from being exposed to most of the princess stuff. She did get attached to little Mermaid book we ran across at Goodwill. I bought it for her. The unexpected benefit was that she decided she wanted to be a mermaid. I explained that she needed to learn to swim to be a mermaid. Swimming lessons took on a whole new meaning :). The Ariel / mermaid thing passed pretty quickly (thankfully).
    Something interesting happened last week that gave me great pleasure. My daughter (who will be 4 in November) attended a lunch gathering for my husband’s job. We walked up to the table to sign in and the woman running the table said to my daughter (dressed in blue knit pants and a t-shirt with a horse on it) ” Are you a princess.” My daughter responded “no.” The woman then said “I bet you are a princess.” My daughter looked at her a little funny then started to tell her about the book she was holding. I was thrilled with my daughter’s response but irritated that this woman completely disregarded her answer as if she didn’t know what she was talking about.
    I wish you the best as you struggle through this.

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    1. Shawn,I love the idea of your daughter giving that lady an odd look and pushing back, “No, I don’t think you understood me. I have this AWESOME book…” Beautiful!
      Kiyah

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  2. My approach has been to talk to my daughter about their other qualities. Belle loves to read, Ariel loves to swim and sing. We have talked about what kinds of character traits they exhibit rather than focusing on their “princessness” as the end all be all.

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    1. I second what Shawn said…this is a really wonderful way to take back the very idea of princess. I will say this in Eleanor’s defense: to her, princesses are women who “wear dresses and dance.” There is nothing wrong with that! But I’m going to adapt your strategy too, Chris. THANK YOU!

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  3. LIkewise for us, our strategy has been about changing and expanding the adjectives on the princess motif to include intelligence, charity, kindness and other qualities like that.A gay male friend of mine said (not related to avoiding the princess thing in kids) that he was so grateful to his mom for letting him be the kid he wanted to be. That she let him wear the pink pants or dresses and didn’t try to make him conform to the boy narrative. Let them be the kid they want to be – it really resonated with me and I’ve made an effort not to fight it even though it bristles me.
    When we arrived in Cambodia, Millie was 2 and all of a sudden she was into the princess thing. I don’t know how. One of the great things about Arusha was the ability to be disconnected to the commercialization geared at kids. And while Cambodia is way more commercialized, it was literally within weeks of arriving – and she was 2! – that she was all about Rapunzel etc.
    I feel as though it was inevitable that she’d discover this stuff because it’s part of who she is, a girly-girl. Earlier this year she was playing with boys a lot at school and started getting really into gun-play which I disliked more than the princess thing, mostly because I didn’t know how to craft the narrative for her so she understood how serious guns were. But now she still plays with those boys but isn’t so into the gun thing. My point being that perhaps E is just trying the princess narrative on right now and that eventually it will pass if its not part of her true nature.

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