When I was in high school, I was obsessed with infomercials. My friend Jen and I would have sleepovers and stay up until 2am watching Ron Popeil hawk his latest invention (Flowbee, anyone?), Jack Lalane wax philosophic about the power of juicing and countless other "scientists", "doctors" and gurus tell us how, for the low, low price of $something.95, all of our problems would be solved. But, only if we called in the next 30 minutes. I was personally obsessed with a hand blender and a nifty contraption that made stuffed triangle shaped sandwiches. Got that last one from the aforementioned Jen and proceeded to use it 4 times. :-) It was slick marketing and we LOVED it. Even earlier than the glorious high school years was my desire to have a Cabbage Patch Kid. Back then, there was no Internet (which, yes, makes me feel about 100 years old when S asks me how we DID anything without computers) so the only way to get said Kid was for my parents to stand in line at a brick and mortar store for hours and buy one. They refused, I whined and yet...no Cabbage Patch Kid for little me.
Fast forward 20 years and now I'm the parent. A conscious consumer with a healthy dose of skepticism about claims made on informercials and ads in general. I find myself in a unique position of having to explain to my girls what exactly corporations are doing when they use "likable characters" on packages, how it the pursuit of making a profit, they will blur the truth and use practices that cross the line of ethically responsible (okay, I don't use those words exactly with a 5 and 3 year old). My first foray into the land of deceptive marketing (especially that geared towards girls) came when we found out that M was going to be a girl and I found this book at the library: Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes and read it in one sitting (with only one kid that napped every day, this was possible). I was HORRIFIED and it definitely opened my eyes to the ways that companies and advertisers are doing everything possible to get kids (YOUNG kids at that) hooked on their brands at an early age. I was horrified at the attempts to make little girls divas at the tender age of 4. Horrified that clothing companies made the same style clothes for little girls as they do for women and teenagers (ex: low rise jeans and midriff baring tops). Definitely started giving a second thought to those Disney movies I grew up with and the way that they portray women (stepmothers, always needing a man to rescue them to have a complete life etc). It was an eye opener and it terrified me that I now had two young girls looking to me to teach them the ways of the world.
After I finished freaking out, I tried over the next few years to make some sense of it all. I bought the Disney Princess stuff because they liked it, but we also tried to expose them to so many other things that were not princessy, pink or girly. Over the past year or so, I've come to realize that I can be a much bigger influence by my actions than any piece of plastic (granted, sometimes that plastic wins, but I keep trying). I take the time to explain to them what is going on in the world around them, have started "lessons" to get S to understand the concept of money and how to choose carefully what you want. I show them that women can do tough work like fixing thing in addition to the cooking, cleaning etc that they see me do. I work to make my body healthy so that I can enjoy life. It's a tough battle and I feel like there is so much working against me, but I press on because to not be upset about what is going on is unthinkable.
And now for some why's....
Why must everything be merchandised within an inch of it's life? You can find DP's on almost anything one might desire and it's everywhere. A simple movie is made into a sham by plastering a character's face on everything not nailed down (and some things that are). Take Shrek...a cute movie, yes. But, Shrek, after being made into a third movie (or is it 4th) can now be found on everything from contaminated cups from McDonald's to my daughter's pull-ups (store brand). I get it..Shrek exists. Why must little girls be force fed stereotypes of what they should like? Why is a store like "Sweet and Sassy" so popular? I get the whole dress up thing, but what parent just sits back and says to themselves "I think today I want my 5 year old to look like a streetwalker"? Why can't kids just be kids? Toys R'Us touts itself as a place** "where a kid can be a kid", but I disagree. I now think that TRU is a place where a kid can be a consumer. A place where finding a "simple" toy in the sea of Barbie, Disney Princess, Transformers and a slew of "battery operated, push a button and be entertained" pieces of junk from overseas is increasingly like finding a needle in a haystack. Doesn't anyone play with blocks anymore? Is there really a whole generation that only knows how to push a button and have their fun created for them?
Oh, and that Cabbage Patch Kid....S got one for her 1st birthday from my aunt. Jokingly complained to my dad that my kid got something I longed for as a child and know what he did?? Went out and bought me one...which is sitting in a box. Somewhere. :-)
** In retrospect, that particular catch phrase is from Chuck E. Cheese and not Toys R'Us. Toys R'Us has a tag line of "I wanna be a Toys R'Us kid". Come to think of it, they started earlier than I thought because they set up the standard of being a kid that IS a toy store.