"If some pundits are convinced that kids today know nothing, it may well be because they know nothing about what kids today know." -Cathy N. Davidson
When I was young I had paper dolls. I punched out perforated girls and put them on stands. They sported outfits held up by square tabs. My daughters have an online game called Princess Maker on Doll Divine. They can select a virtual model and then choose skin color, hair, boots, clothing and accessories to dress her up. My seven-year-old fashion-focused daughter, Ahna, enjoys this game. Dressed in a plaid skirt, black leggings, cowboy boots, preppy green sweater and a scarf to pull the look together, she swings her legs as she plays.
My older daughter, Maya, walks by and asks "Body one or body two?"
"I always use body two," Ahna responds.
Maya smiles and high-fives her. I sit there waiting for some sort of explanation.
"What's the difference between body one or two?" I ask.
"Well, body one is usually really skinny. Like all the women you see in magazines. But you can also select body two and those ones are normal and a lot healthier."
"Show me," I said.
Ahna clicks a question mark icon to advance the two body choices. The thinner model, "body one" as the girls call her, has a waist barely larger than her neck. And is it my imagination or does she look more fearful, more fragile? Body two princesses have waists the equivalent of three necks, curvy thighs and lips parted in engaging, satisfied smiles. I'd love to see bodies 3,4,5...57 to represent true human body types, but it's a start; there are two to choose.
In these situations I find myself being an over-the-shoulder observer of my kids' media time. I am not the expert; after all, I grew up with paper dolls, not virtual dolls. As my kids play games, I ask them questions and listen.
What do you like about this game?
What do you think about that comment?
How does this work?
Why does this video have so many views?
What does that mean?
I want to know what my kids know and what they are thinking. Online games provide openings to have conversations about values.
Later I ask Ahna, "Why did you choose body two?"
"It makes me uncomfortable to look at number one bodies. They remind me of Barbie," she makes a face.
Ahna has never owned a Barbie. I think if she'd really wanted one, I wouldn't have prevented the pinkness from entering our home. One time she asked me why I'd never bought Maya a Barbie and I said, "If she was going to connect with a doll, I wanted it to be one with a healthy body." I told Ahna about Get Real Girls that came out when Maya was two. They were the anti-Barbies of the times. They had active wardrobes for activities like snowboarding or soccer. They were proportional and even (gasp) flat chested with names like Skylar and Nakia. Maya used to mistakenly call them "Forget Real Girls" which I adored. Yet when Ahna expressed an interest in these dolls, I found Get Real Girls were no more. They'd never quite caught on -- they'd been forgotten.
"I want my princesses to look regular, not with a stomach like this," she lifts up her shirt as she sucks her stomach concave.
I know that values are communicated through media, and that media is often manipulated to show unrealistic images. Those images affect girls' and boys' attitudes about their own appearance and sexuality. The way I've found to help my kids grow up as emotionally healthy as possible is not to shut them off from media (that would be impossible anyway), but to have them engage knowing they need to be thoughtful and in control.
Long hair or short? Tiara or not? Boots or sneakers? Body one or body two? It's their choice.