After becoming aware of the “Are Make-Up Kits For Tots Evil?” campaign last week (aka Slap on the Face of Childhood), along with a brief chat about little boys with guns and swords on Twitter the same night, I started thinking.
Are we over thinking certain areas too much? Are we making too many choices for our children? Assuming that certain mindsets and opinions are formed based on what we form ourselves? By withholding access to certain toys from an early age are we actually encouraging them to rebel in the future when they have access to them, with our without our approval/consent/knowledge? By shielding them from marketing, and not teaching them about it, are we in fact making them naive to it in the future.
I am very pro positive body image, I am very pro women realising there is more to life then Pink shoes and a flat stomach. I know it’s surprising for ME of all people to quote that, but it’s true. I may suffer from low self esteem at times, but as a whole, it’s because I’m terrified that I could be considered dumb and shallow. Even if I am a little bit of both.
I have two children, both boys. They mix with boys and girls on a regular basis, either at nursery/pre-school or on play dates. Because of this not only do they have a magnitude of toys to explore, they have the opportunity pick their favourites, and are able to begin to explore their likes and dislikes. Not only with toys, but with who they mix with. At three and a half my son already has “best friends”, and people he likes to play with who “aren’t his favourites” and also little boys and girls he doesn’t like to play with.
Some of the toys my children love I approve of, some I even like. However, some I hate. I’ve not yet banned a toy coming in my house (although musical instruments are a close – that’s not because I disapprove of them, I just value my sanity), however, I have been known to steer an opinion/preference – for example I really didn’t want my eldest to have a Baby Annabel for Christmas. Not because I’m against him playing with dolls, but because I hate that particular doll, it freaks me out. Therefore I showed him an advert with a remote control train on it, the one that I knew a relative had already bought him. That promptly changed his mind.
If he’d begged for the doll like he did for his lighting up and web shooting Spiderman, I think I would have given in, or done the thing I swore I’d never do, get a slightly less ugly doll. (For the record. I also hate Spiderman, he’s annoying, and probably far too grown up for my son, I have never marketed Spiderman to him, he never saw it on the TV or computer until his friends at school introduced it to him.)
Which leads me to thinking a lot about the current war cry regarding toys such as pink lego. What’s the harm really? Is it being overtly marketed to girls? Or is it just our assumption that it is for girls, as is the age old generalisation. Pink is for girls and blue is for boys? If my son pointed out the box of pink lego on the shelf and demanded that one rather then the pink, would I try and steer him to the blue one? No. if he wanted pink so be it (I may also be a bit excited at the thought of building a pink windmill instead of a black and red one), however, he was bought a box of blue lego earlier in the year. Am I meant to be horrified that whoever bought it for him assumed that because of his gender he should have/would want the “boy” option? Will the pink make him camp and girlie, and blue make him macho and sporting? By painting our childrens nails – whatever their gender – whilst letting them dance around the house in our necklaces and shoes to Britney Spears and Girls Aloud, are we jeopardising their future?
If we’re saying they shouldn’t make make-up kits for little girls, that it’s steering them down the path of self esteem issues…should we be looking at dress up clothes (surely dressing up as princesses and superheros have the same impact, will not having a six pack harm self esteem along with the lack of fairy wings?), at school uniforms (maybe boys should be allowed to wear skirts instead of just trousers or shorts? Some schools I know of wont let the girls wear trousers, is this something we should be protesting against?), should we be looking at hair (perhaps we shave the heads of all our children(, send them in to the world in pants and vests (white so not gender specific) and let it pan out. Oh sorry. Am I being an extremist?
As a child I grew up in the country, caught frogs by day, slept in tents in the bottom of the garden by night (well for a few hours until we snuck inside in the early hours), I owned a sword, I wore green wellies with frogs on them. I also had fairy wings, barbies, and bright pink dressing up shoes that came with a make up kit. I used to watch HE-MAN and SHE-RA, but I always wanted to be SHE-RA, she had amazing long blond hair. These days the thought of camping kills me, but I love to catch frogs with my kids to scare my husband with. Although, I’d still rather be She-Ra. What does that tell you? Has that confused the issue? Perhaps we’re allowed the overtly girly pink stuff if we had non-gender specific stuff too?
I’d like to think I class myself as a feminist. Although admittedly often I forget this when it suits me (putting out the rubbish, mowing the lawn lifting anything heavy). I wear nail varnish, I have a pink handbag, I colour my hair, and shopping and cooking is a therapy to me. But I believe women should be classed as equal, that the world is our oyster and that we can do the majority of jobs out there as well as men…sometimes even better because we can multi-task. I think men are as bitchy and emotional as women are these days. The strain of modern society appears to have caused everybody to be riding on an emotional roller-coaster.
My body image issues didn’t come from a play make up kit where my eyes were bright blue and my cheeks were stained red for days. My low self esteem hasn’t come from wearing my mums white stilettos (HA). They’ve come from school, from TV, from magazines. From my natural competitive perfectionist streak which means that I’m never happy with anything I do or how I look.
Surely, when it comes to helping our kids grow up from little people into rounded individuals we should be focusing on the bigger stuff out there, the lack of children who seem to be starting school toilet trained, the inability to hold a pencil let alone write their name. Those who don’t know the difference between a carrot and a grape, but do between a Mars Bar and a Snickers. Please’s and thank you’s, swear words, manners, respect, growing old before their time (does smudged lipstick and felt tipped nail varnish count as growing up or just playing at being mummy?), the list is endless.
Surely we should be focusing on the lack of outdoor play that seems to happen, the lack activities across the country to encourage children out of the house (here all there is soft play if it rains – which begs the question, should we be scared of the rain, or should we just get out there and enjoy it?). Why are our children getting fatter and lazier?
There are so many more issues to think about with our children, so much more to protect them from why can’t we just let them play what they want to play with and perhaps guide them in the right direction of who they want to be. Encouraging them along the way.
Just a thought.