Warning: This post is going to ruffle some feathers. Or tutus, I should say. But I am fascinated by this topic and really want to hear your thoughts. So here goes…
Last week a friend took her daughter to a five-year-old girl’s birthday party that involved makeup application, up-dos, runway strutting and paparazzi-like photo shoots. Five years old. I had drinks with her the other night and as she was telling me about it I swear I felt like we’d warped into some other dimension. My jaw dropped as she painted the (slightly creepy) picture for me. What’s worse: She just moved to a new town and she was meeting many of these kids and moms for the first time—and her introduction was like an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. I felt so bad for her. And then I thought, OMG, I have to blog about this!
Here’s what she said when I pressed her for more details:
So the party was in a kids-themed salon. Basically the kids get their hair done in one of five styles they choose and while waiting they sit at tables and put on makeup (which they then take home). After hair and makeup they put on cheesy princess dresses and walk down the cheesier runway/crushed-velvet red carpet. Did I mention this takes place in a tacky windowless room? I feel like such a snob but it was really a culture shock for me; I don't fit into that scene and just keep thinking that my friends would never throw a party like that.
You got that right! You guys know how I feel about the princess/over-sexualizing our little girls thing. If you don’t, read this. Basically, it scares the crap out of me. Peggy Orenstein wrote a book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter and it is fascinating and disturbing and a must-read for anyone raising a girl. Don’t get me wrong, I put Nora in dresses (she wore one to school today, but instead of, say, high heels, she worn bright orange crocs that she picked out), and I have become quite deft at wrangling a hair-do out of her mop (i.e. a pony-tail with bangs clipped back). And the kid has a purse and a Barbie and enough pink that you’d at least know she was a girl from looking in her closet. I am not opposed to dress up or fantasy play in any way. But I am also aware of the challenges that come with raising a girl today (did you see that we’re not even supposed to call girls pretty anymore?).
As I wrote in the Peggy Orenstein post, I always assumed that because I was a well-rounded girl (i.e., I grew up knowing how to shoot a gun, bait a hook and play with Barbies) that my daughter would be the same simply by osmosis. I was voted prom queen the same day I sprained my ankle in a championship volleyball game, for crying out loud (I was on crutches at the prom so I’m pretty sure I got the sympathy vote). But, as they say, times have changed. And as mothers to daughters we need to be aware of how those changes can affect our kids.
I remember growing up my sisters and I got to wear mascara and blush once a year at our dance recital. It was magical and we felt so special. Because it was special. Now they market beauty products to little girls—and have birthday parties centered on getting dolled up so everyone can exclaim how pretty you are. Is that the right message to send our daughters? I’ve recently been with two little girls (one five and one seven) who were wearing lip gloss, blush and eye shadow. On a regular old day. Is that normal? I have a two year old so it’s easy for me to be on my high horse and say never. Who knows what Nora will be into as she gets older. But honestly, this stuff scares me. And I know I can do my part to limit her exposure to something I'm not completely comfortable with.
Would I let her go to the Toddlers & Tiaras party? Sure. Would I throw out the makeup as soon as I got home? Absolutely. Would I be catty and talk about the party to all of my friends afterwards? Yes, I would. Sorry, but it freaks me out. At the same time, I do feel like, as with any of these parenting issues we face today, the fact that Nora has Nick and me in her corner (and in her genes) means she’s going to be able to survive the princess phase just fine. I really don't worry about her being comfortable in her own make-up-less skin. You guys have seen my homeless-lady look, right? And my friend’s daughter will be fine too. So maybe we’re overreacting. Maybe we are just being catty because that’s not the kind of party we’d ever throw.
Like I said, I know not everyone is going to like this post. But I’m curious about what you think of parties like this for a five-year-old girl. Would you have one? Would you go to one? Do you understand my concern and my friend’s reaction to this?
PS, be sure to check out our big fundraising campaign for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Two Sisters. Two Cancers. One Mission.