Okay. At least once a year I get on my soap box about society and body image. It isn't because I am an expert on how to achieve high self-esteem, no, it is quiet the opposite. It is because for whatever reason as a young woman I was particularly susceptible to society's pressure to meet the "ideal" standards of femininity. I put a lot of stock into what popular culture dictated was acceptable and desirable. I fought my very hardest to achieve it, and suffered dire consequences. For 99% of the female population achieving the gold standard is impossible, simply just out of reach.
Why am I bringing this up today? Because my two year old son asked me to buy him a princess doll at Target.
This morning Julian accompanied me to purchase birthday gifts for my 8 year old son. We shopped the toy aisles, neatly and clearly differentiated by sex. The rows of pink and purple, baby dolls and barbies, kitty cats and purses, those are the aisles I ignore. Having three boys leads me to the other section. The shelves stacked with blue, black and red, guns and dragons, muscled superheros and wrestlers, race cars and weapons. Sigh. I hate these toys. I searched through the plastic, trying to find something my son will love on his big day, that doesn't completely contradict my values. I opted for a couple Star Wars Lego sets, a football, a board game and some sort of dueling disk toy my son requested. I made my way to the wrapping paper and passed over the butterfly and cupcake wrap, selecting scary purple monster paper. That should do it.
As I waited in line with my purchases Julian began to inspect the items available close to the register for impulse shoppers. He became mesmerized by a princess in a pink dress. He held up the tiny doll to me pointing to her gown and said "pwetty." My heart skipped a beat. I agreed with Julian that her dress was pretty. He held the doll close to him and demanded "mine." I did NOT let the opportunity pass me by. If Julian wanted a pretty princess doll, damn straight I was buying it for him even if it was a plastic piece of garbage that is probably made of harmful toxins. Julian held that doll all the way home, took her to his crib while he napped and then to the playground. I braced myself for the inevitable. As soon as Julian's princess was spotted by his older brothers, the mocking began.
"Why is Julian playing with a Barbie?" my five year old sneered. "That's a girl's toy" Zachary snickered. I hushed them as quickly as I could, telling him that they mustn't make fun of Julian and that it was perfectly fine for a boy to play with dolls.
Of course I realize if I had daughters I might be annoyed or even upset by the dolls available on the shelves of our toy stores. The tiny waists, the flowing hair, high heels and cat eyes. The dresses which would likely prohibit anything more physical than knitting. These princesses send a message to impressionable minds loud and clear: You must be pretty. To be pretty you must have impossible proportions and a painted face. So here I sit conflicted. My son likes a doll, this is fabulous! But the doll is a representation of an unrealistic standard that I believe is incredibly harmful. It sends a message to girls, but it also sends a message to boys. This is what your girlfriends should look like. My Spiderman toy is strong, her Barbie is pretty and stands on her tip-toes. I don't like it. I don't like it.
Yet as parents what are we suppose to do? We can stop buying the toys that our children ask for, but the message is everywhere. It's in the movies that our kids watch, it's on the covers of the magazines we pass by in the supermarket, the billboards on our freeways and the clothes that we buy. And it runs deep, so deep.
Today I got excited that my son wanted a princess doll. Tonight I am sad because, really I hate what that doll represents to all of us.