My daughter is 5 and starting to move into the next stages of human development. She has also outgrown the toddler department in most stores. We visited Target the other day and I was disappointed in the offerings for children her age.
|The girl and boy photos in the children's department at Target|
Some quick notes on these photos:
The girl has her knees slightly bent and foot turned inwards, a sign of being subdued, meek, hesitant. Typically, when advertising is directed towards men, the female has her chest forward. When advertising towards other women or in this case, young girls, a non-threatening stance such as slumped shoulders, folded arms or inward feet is taken instead.
This speaks to the underlying message in our culture that girls are not supposed to be strong, staunch, forward moving, leaders. She is looking away, again more passivity. Her arms are behind her, wrapped around a surfboard. Her purpose is to stand there and her worth is in being admired by others.
Meanwhile, we see a doer in the male. It's common in gendered media directed at children to show the boys in active play and the girls in passive play. He is strong. His shoulders are set back, his legs apart and feet forward. He has a bandaid, a sign of his ambition and activity. Even his shirt speaks of his power. Interestingly, as a reader pointed out, he holds a lifeguard device as if to rescue the girl with the surfboard.
I quickly scanned the racks. The boy rack showed long shorts down to the knees and matching rashguards with short or full sleeves. I turned to the girl rack. It was filled with a variety of 1 pieces and 2 pieces, but all of them had lace, frills and straps. If any of the bikinis had bottoms with more coverage, it was only a "butt hugger" short style. The primary rack had no sun coverage options.
|Girl and boy rack comparisons|
I walked into the actual girl department and saw a smaller, secondary rack of additional swimsuits. On the back of it, down at the bottom, was the one sun coverage option available in her size. It had a black and pink shirt which was cute. But, it still came with underwear bottoms and a strappy bikini top!
|One coverage option, on the back of a smaller display (almost sold out, too!)|
Whether intended by Target or not, when viewed by children receiving messages from social media and the culture all around them, the message was clear. Girls sacrifice their health in the sun to be looked at by others. Their purpose is to be admired by others, to show off their body for others. Careful discussion with my 5 year old confirmed that she received the message loud and clear. We will definitely be dialoguing more on this so that she is more aware of the subtle messages being sent to her.
Talk to your daughter before the industry does: