Jeff and I were watching “Scarborough Country” on MSNBC last Friday, when who should appear on screen – again – but Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Wearing identical platinum hair extensions, sky-high stilettos, and matching spandex wristbands (as skirts!), they slid into the back of a limo, where they proceeded to whisper and giggle for the camera. My five-year-old daughter, on the floor with a jigsaw puzzle, was mesmerized.
“Oh my gosh, Mom! They’re so beautiful! So, so beautiful!” she gushed, quickly adding, “But not as beautiful as you.” (She’s a tender-hearted little thing, God bless her, and she also knows who controls the ice cream around here.)
You can’t even watch the news anymore without exposing your kid to dubious examples of young womanhood. Granted, this was the “entertainment” segment of the show, entitled “Hollyweird,” but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a news program that doesn’t dabble in this sort of fluff feature. You want to hear Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan discuss the war in Iraq? You’ll have to endure an update on the behind-the-scenes battle at Grey’s Anatomy, first…or watch “experts” from In Touch and US Weekly expound on the feud between Rosie and The Donald. (I never thought I’d find myself on Donald Trump’s side about anything, but…)
I probably shouldn’t stick my daughter in front of the news at all, right? But she’s an only child and likes to be where the action is. In our house, at night, that tends to be the living room, in front of the TV set, where her father and I stay current on crucial issues of national importance. Like Nicole Richie’s dwindling physique. And Ashlee Simpson’s nose job.
Seriously, these young female celebrities have invaded our culture like no-see-ums at a Lowcountry picnic. Except that you do see-um. And how! No longer relegated to teen mags and tabloids and the E! network, the escapades of these starlets are now a staple in our daily diet of information. These girls often make the news for doing little more than walking out their front doors – and when they have actually done something, it’s usually something unsavory, involving drugs, plastic surgery, or an absence of underwear.
I confess, I’m as interested as the next gal in celebrity culture. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sicken me to the depths of my soul! I’m interested in Betty Crocker Double Fudge Brownies, too, but you don’t see me gorging on them all day long, and you definitely won’t see me shoving them down my daughter’s throat. Instead, I coax her toward healthy snacks… just like I try to coax her toward healthy female role models. In both cases, I have my work cut out for me.
I’m not naïve enough to think my kindergartner will be impressed by the likes of a Condi Rice or a Nancy Pelosi, but I had hoped she might take a shine to Fern in the new film version of Charlotte’s Web. After all, Fern’s ten years old! She lives on a farm! She can talk to animals! She’s Dakota Fanning, for crying out loud! The most popular child star since Shirley Temple…
My daughter’s reaction? Luke warm. She liked the movie well enough, but my rhapsodizing over Fern failed to inspire. Yes, she was cute. Yes, that yellow dress was pretty. Yes, it was cool to talk to animals. Whatever.
Two weeks later we saw Arthur and the Invisibles, not nearly as good a movie, in my estimation, as Charlotte’s Web. But my daughter loved it. Not only was she spared the embarrassment of Mommy Crying in Public (hey, Charlotte’s death scene is harsh), but the film featured a female character that my daughter has yet to stop talking about – Princess Selenia. Now, don’t go envisioning some fluffy, girly princess, a la Cinderella or Snow White. (I wish!) No, Selenia is a warrior princess – an animated hottie in skin-tight, belly-baring fatigues. She has a rockin’ bod, a knowing look in her eye, and a smoky, world-weary voice provided by none other than Madonna. In the movie, sexy Selenia is the object of an innocent ten-year-old boy’s crush. She eventually returns his affection, and the whole thing just feels a little… creepy. There’s something wrong with a culture that believes it must sexualize the girl characters in an animated movie for children. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I must inform you that Arthur and The Invisibles is an import from France. Which kind of explains things.
I guess it’s only natural that my little girl has developed a fascination with big girls. She recently made the connection between Lindsay Lohan, voluptuous rehabbing star of tabloid and internet, and those adorable eleven-year-old twins in The Parent Trap. “What happened to her freckles?” my daughter asked me, dazzled by a picture of La Lohan in her present incarnation. I could almost see the wheels turning in my daughter’s brain: “Hey, if it could happen to the Parent Trap twins, it could happen to me! I could look like that one day!” Over my dead body.
We ran to K-Mart last week to pick up some new play clothes for Amelia. I wanted to get her another pair of their elastic-waist jeans, which fit her really well, and some plain cotton tee-shirts to knock around in at the park. As it turns out, she was not particularly interested in the jeans, nor the tee-shirts, and kept handing me tiny, midriff-baring tops sporting sparkly slogans like “cutie-pie” and mini-skirts with lacy leggings attached. I must have dismissed at least a dozen items with the word “tacky,” my mother’s old standby. We were both getting frustrated, so I grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her toward the grocery section, where I planned to pick up some dishwashing liquid. She waylaid me in the shoe department, though, where she made an impassioned plea for some strappy, patent leather sandals. The things had three-inch heels! And they were her size! “Tacky,” I declared again, though the word seemed to be losing its force. I really need some new material.
Desperate to escape the sticky subject of fashion, I dragged Amelia off to the toy department, where I found myself extolling the virtues of Barbie. You know things have gotten bad when you start pushing Barbie on your kid. But have you noticed, lately, how wholesome she is? How decent, with her smiling face, her good posture, and her can-do outlook? Across the aisle, the Bratz dolls smirked and sneered, the jaded little vixens. I haven’t bought my daughter a Bratz doll, and I don’t intend to. I don’t like their attitude. But I’m afraid it’s a losing battle I’m fighting. It’s a Bratz world we live in today. Try as she may – and Lord knows she’s been trying, what with the ‘rock star’ garb and all – Barbie just isn’t hip. She is, and always will be, a Good Girl. Ergo, my daughter’s no longer all that interested.
But I’m not giving up hope. Amelia and I recently saw a trailer for a new Nancy Drew movie, and she seemed intrigued – if only because the film stars preteen sensation Emma Roberts. Nancy Drew was a huge influence on me as a girl. Huge! Maybe my daughter will soon want to wear nothing but cardigans and penny loafers! Maybe she’ll spend her days romping around the neighborhood looking for clues, playing “girl detective,” just like her mother did as a child – preferring books to boys, smart to sexy. Maybe she’ll be as awkward and geeky as I was!
Right. And Lindsay Lohan’s freckles will magically reappear.