This year’s dance recital was The Little Mermaid. My daughter wasn’t going on until Act 2, but at intermission, all the younger dancers got to take their bows and come out to sit with their families. The aisles were filled with tiny starfish, sharks, and other creatures of the deep looking for their parents.
In the row behind me, a small seahorse found her people and climbed across. Grandpa met her with a big hug and said, “who was the prettiest seahorse up there?!”
Perhaps I am a little on edge about such things these days… but it was all I could do not to turn around and say, “It’s not a f*n beauty contest, old man. Let the kids dance.”
I didn’t. Because if I can’t be happy at a dance recital, then I don’t have much left to live for and should probably just remove myself from polite society and go live in a cave somewhere. But once you start having some awareness of all the ways we condition girls like this, you can’t not hear it. And I hear it all. the. time.
It doesn’t matter if they’re 2 or 22: girls are told a hundred times a day that their goal in life is to be pretty. And also–be competitive about it. “Who’s the prettiest seahorse?” THEY’RE 6 YEARS OLD. They are all beautiful, and they should think all their friends are beautiful, too. With no concern for how they measure up accordingly. And also, they were up there dancing, after a full year (or several years) of ballet classes. It’s an art, and it’s also ass-busting hard work. There will be no swimsuit portion of the evening.
The follow up to the “be pretty” message is, of course, “so you can snag you a man.” A friend shared that she was in Dollywood last week, and a magician pulled a 7-year-old girl up on stage to help with a trick. The first thing he asked her, after her age, was: “Do you have a boyfriend?” Seven years old. Why would such a thing ever occur to her? And why does creepy magician dude think that’s an appropriate line of discourse for talking to children?
Remember how JC Penney got in trouble a few years ago? For the shirt that said “I’m too pretty to do homework,” or some garbage like that? We could go on and on. This shit is everywhere. As parents, teachers or other ‘trusted adult’ types in the life of a child, the business of raising kids calls for unwinding this toxic messaging. Maybe shouting at the grandpa behind me at The Little Mermaid while we were all having an otherwise nice time was not the answer (I didn’t! I swear!). But what we can do is call it out when we see it, and empower kids with healthier words and worldview.
My friend Kristyn noticed that her daughter kept coming home with playground clappy songs about boyfriends. So she made up a better one. It goes like this.
(here are the words)
We went to another protest
to talk about human rights – rights – rights
We talk to the news reporters
they asked for our sound bites – bites – bites
We want to fund education,
offer people healthcare,
care for our neighbors,
stop gun violence everywhere
We want to look for the helpers,
be the change we want to see,
give with generosity–
May we be kind!
Not a boyfriend or a princess in that whole business, y’all. I’m a fan.
Just a reminder that if you don’t like the song the world is singing to your kids, you can sing them a better one. If you don’t like the story the world is telling your kids, tell a better one. And repeat. (clap-clap-clap).