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Rethinking Pink for a Blueberry Girl

Score one for Pinkie Pie. A few months back, I wrote a post about pinkwashing and the obnoxious overgendering of children's products. I still stand by the obnoxiousness of children's marketing, but I am learning that raising a well-rounded child allows for a little bit of revelry in popular culture without harm.

Last weekend, my daughter hung out with Cinderella (and a crowd of other Disney princesses) and did not get eaten. Nux Gallica and I, together, dressed from head to toe in blinding shades of pink and sparkly things and clickety-clackety high heels and attended a fairy tale princess party at a corporate chain store packed with Disney princess paraphernalia. And after I not only allowed my daughter to indulge in the pinkest and sparkliest of dress-up clothes but also wore a matching outfit and read the barf-inducing book Pinkalicious to her in the store, she made the following choices:

1. What would you like painted on your face? "A rainbow!"
2. At the arts and crafts table, would you like to make a fairy wand, a princess crown, a knight's shield, or a dragon mask? "A dragon mask!" (Hers was the only one and had no pink on it.)
3. What would you like Nonna to buy you from the children's section? "Spiderman stickers!"

Like a true modern princess, Nux whipped off her high-heeled pink sparkle shoes before the end of the event and changed into Elmo Crocs. She had a great time frolicking about as a pink fairy princess AND didn't let that hold her back from enjoying other colors, monsters, and superheroes. I was so proud!

sticker application by Nux Gallica; photograph by Nux Gallica

I believe that pink is like sugar. A cupcake is delightful, celebratory, and fun. It reminds us of the sweetness of childhood and of luxury and whimsy. A cupcake is not inherently evil. But four cupcakes a day just might usher in diabetes, infections, inflammation, rotten teeth, cancer, and premature death. Talk about a poisoned apple! The World Health Organization now tells us that healthy, lightly active women such as myself should ingest no more than 25 grams of "free sugars" each day. For someone whose lifestyle is steeped in processed food, this sounds impossible. A can of soda has 40 grams. An average American might easily ingest half of that in a plate of spaghetti made with sauce from a jar. But if you eat homemade or whole foods, or at least foods with no processed sugar, for every meal and snack of the day, you can also have an ice cream cone without risking your health.

In a culture that packs added sugars and artificial sweeteners into most processed and restaurant food, it is difficult to eat healthily without constantly staying vigilant. The same goes for crappy gender messages in children's advertising. Nux Gallica loves Disney movies, but her favorite movies that she watches repeatedly and has memorized are Ghostbusters and Spiderman with Tobey Maguire. (I'm not proud of the fact that I let her uncle show her PG-13 movies, but I am a little proud of her atypical preferences. Is that naughty?)

At the library, I have gritted my teeth and allowed her to rent a few Barbie movies. In light of my research on medieval European slavery, the infantilized/sexualized figure of Barbie has developed new depth for me. In early and high medieval times, Europe's economy was fueled by slavery. The most valued slaves were child sex slaves, and the finest child sex slaves were blondes. Blondes were thought to be stupid and malleable, and children of any coloration were vulnerable and also attractive because they generally had most of their teeth and hadn't yet started to look like rotting corpses (unlike stale old folks in their late teens and twenties). So to come from that horrific research and watch videos of a coltish, blonde, very pinkly made-up young woman with a high-pitched voice and feminine affectations going on adventures and saving the day (very rarely involving romance or being rescued by a man) looks strangely like the empowerment of youth and women. A positive message I can take away from this is that no matter how sexy, young, feminine, and sparkly a woman is, these qualities take nothing away from her worth or power.

It has made me rethink many criticisms of the infantilization of women in children's media. Now, I understand perfectly well how portraying adults as children to belittle them is wrong. But in media designed for little girls, there might be some true value in showing adult figures (or cartoon animals or robots or whatever) with exaggerated childlike and girly features who also have exaggerated powers, skills, and confidence.

In any case, as with nutrition (and investing and lots of other parallel systems), I feel that diversity is a safe bet. So I encourage Nux to watch, read, experience, and discuss lots of very diverse subject matter. For every episode of Barbie, there's a Jane and the Dragon. We learn that girly girls can be powerful and that "tomboys" are just as perfect as any pretty princess. Of course, we talk critically about the things we watch and read together. I'm trying to say "and" more than "or." Nothing forbidden... and no alternative possibility neglected. It's more fun AND it makes me think harder!

At bedtime, we often read the book Blueberry Girl (written by Neil Gaiman for Tori Amos when she was pregnant with her daughter Tash). It is a celebration of girlhood and womanhood that is beautiful, poignant, and wise. The illustrations show a diverse array of girls moving through fantastical landscapes, and as I turn the pages, Nux likes to point and shout, "That's me! That's me! That's me!" She is the blonde girl, the black girl, the redhead, the pair of rainbow-colored hands. She is a baby sprouting from a blueberry blossom ("I am the one who's awake") and a teenager and a bump inside her mama. She is, as the book says, "all these and a little bit more," and I hope to help her retain that sense of complexity and flow as she grows up.

As Nux grows into a bright, healthy child with diverse interests--superheroes, vintage Duplos, National Geographic magazines, My Little Pony, sports, math problems, gardening, bugs--I have learned to relax and enjoy the occasional indulgence in the pinker things in life.


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