Friday, March 23, 2012

Raising the Media-Aware Child...

So...I let my daughter play with Barbies.  And watch Barbie movies.  And read Barbie books.  I never thought I would.  I always intended to ban the high-heel wearing, disproportioned diva from the house if I had a daughter.  But...but...she loves them so much!

Some of the Barbie movies are actually not that bad.  They convey very positive messages and the production values are pretty good.  Others however...well, let's just say I cringe when she says she wants to watch them.  The books are worse.

There was a book fair at her school yesterday.  We gave her ten dollars and she took ten dollars from her piggy bank.  And she picked out the books she wanted.  She got a book about sharks (yay!), a book for her brother (awe!) and two barbie books, one of which came with a necklace (blatant marketing ploy!).  She asked me to read them for her this morning.  She is a good reader herself, but still likes me to read to her when possible.

So, the first book is called Barbie - an Egg-cellent Easter!  On the first double page spread, Barbie and her sisters (Skipper, Stacie and Chelsea) are sitting at a picnic table in the backyard of a giant pink mansion.  They all wear stylish outfits, have perfectly coiffed hair, and are kept company by a white poodle with pink bows on its ears and a fluffy white kitty wearing a tiara.  And Barbie is wearing pink stilletos!  At a picnic table in the backyard!  Why am I even surprised???

So, I couldn't keep quiet.  I evinced my disdain before even starting to read the story.  And did my daughter appreciate the honest criticism of the vomit inducing messages being delivered to her by this innocent-seeming book?

In a word, no.  Oh, she was pissed!  How dare I criticize Barbie and her sisters?

I apologized and explained that I was simply trying to make her aware of what she was looking at.  She didn't care.  She just wanted me to read the story.

Okay, fine.  I really tried to.  But after a few pages I felt the need to point out that Barbie and her sisters really wouldn't have time to paint so many Easter eggs since they obviously spent hours at the hair salon getting styled and manicured within and inch of their lives...

She got upset again so I shut up and just read the story.  Then she wanted me to read 'Barbie - Princess Charm School'.  I said sure and promised myself I would just read it without the critical comments.

Unfortunately, I was soon presented with an image of two teenage girls in extremely short skirts, knee socks and high heels, little plaid blazers over white shirts and ties, looking completely vacuous and dismayed as they recognized their friend Blair in a painting of the lost Princess Isabella!  I just couldn't keep quiet.  This gives you an idea of what we were looking at:

Although in the book we have, the drawings are even more exaggerated.

She got so mad at me she took the book away and didn't want to hear the rest of the story.  I did apologize and I tried again to explain my motives.  I want her to be aware of the images she's being presented with, and not just gobble them up, mindlessly absorbing the messages contained in them.  She said "Mom, it's just a book and they're cartoons!".  And she's right of course.  But on the other hand, I don't want her to think that teenage girls should be dressing like a straight man's ultimate school girl fantasy either.

Anyway, we snuggled and made up.  I grabbed the book she picked out for Graham and got him to come over so I could read it to both of them, thinking that this would be nice and cozy and comforting.

Unfortunately, this book was about a bear that liked to hug trees.  What's wrong with that you ask?  Well, a man comes into the forest and starts to chop a tree down.  The bear gets so mad he almost eats the man, but just can't do it.  So he hugs him instead.  The man is so frightened that he drops his axe and runs away.  Then the bear gave the tree a big hug and "the tree felt much better."

I tried to let it go.  I really did.  But I had to mention that trees really don't feel any pain when they are chopped down.  And that if we didn't chop down trees we wouldn't be able to use wood for building things.

Man, I am the meanest f-ing mom in the world.

We managed to reach an agreement.  We decided that it wasn't really fair of the man to chop down the oldest, most beautiful tree in the forest.  It was obviously the bear's favourite tree and he had every right to scare the man away.  I explained how foresters now replant trees when they cut them down.  And we try to use other materials to build with when we can.  But that it is still necessary to cut down some trees.

I think they understood.  And I don't think they were too mad at me by the end of it.

I hope they start questioning some of the stories they read now and thinking about whether the story makes sense or not.  I'm willing to piss them off occasionally in the interest of raising media savvy children.

~ Liz


Terry Cyr said...

Did you ever read the story about the little black boy who had the most wonderful wardrobe, runs into tigers in the woods who threaten to eat him, so he gives each of them an article of clothing until he is just down to his underwear. The tigers then raise such a hullabaloo over who has he finest piece of clothing that the chase each other around a tree so fast until they all turn into butter. Then Little Black Sambo's mother makes them into pancakes and he eats dozens of them. Of course this sort of story is now banned, though I still have the original, with all it's colorful illustrations. I loved this story as a kid, and yes it did not make any sense, still doesn't, but I did have pancakes yesterday and thought of this story as I began to laugh how much it had stirred my imagination as a child.

I love the way you tell stories that bring us into your world. This was a sheer delight to read.

TriMomF said...

My only thoughts are that sometimes kids just want to read a book or watch a show and not necessarily have our adult issues brought into them. Not saying you have issues but I get as a mother of a 13year old girl I don't want her to dress like that but sometimes she just wants to hang out and snuggle and enjoy a book or a show. Then I also have to realize that I read many many books with people behaving and dressing how I don't or maybe how I wish I would but in the end I'm just enjoying the story.

Enjoy this time with her because if she finds it frustrating and worried she'll get a lesson then she may stop coming at all and when she really needs to hear a message you may miss that opportunity.

Elizabeth Lister said...

Thank you both for you awesome comments :) Yeah, my mom read this and basically told me to 'chill out' about the Barbie books. But she did like that I tempered the overly environmental message in the bear book.

Nirmala said...

A very thoughtful and persuasive comment from TriMomF. I'm not thrilled about Barbies entering my house and my daughter's life but I had them myself and didn't really miss out on a proper childhood; and it's true, in the end sometimes we all just enjoy reading stories.

Terry Cyr--we found a copy of Little Black Sambo somewhere (in a trash pile at a hospital clinic, if memory serves, which is a weird place to find that book). We couldn't resist bringing it home but! we currently keep it on a high shelf away from our daughter (until she's old enough for us to explain some of the stuff in it) and inconspicuously displayed so visitors aren't too alarmed.