By: Shannon Clarke
Feature image via thejanedough.com.
Boys have their brains, their strength, and their sense of humour and girls have — their face. At least, that’s the message Disney’s new line of T-shirts is sending.
The iconic animation corporation released a line of T-shits in January, depicting classic Disney characters in silhouette, filled in with their relevant traits. Donald Duck is “funny and feisty,” Goofy, “silly and smart,” Mickey is “The Boss and brave.”
And Minnie? She’s “cute, gorgeous, adorable, beautiful, pretty and hot.” While her male cohorts are described in terms of their intelligence and personality, Minnie’s most notable qualities have more to do with looks.
Though “adventurous, sweet, fun, loveable and genuine” are also on the shirt, hers is the only shirt that emphasizes physical appearance. The closest Donald comes to is “tall.”
This isn’t surprising so much as frustratingly predictable. This is, after all, the same company that’s churned out more than a dozen princesses, most of whom do nothing more than get courted by their Prince Charming.
And sure, Minnie Mouse was “born” 84 years ago. But after Rapunzel got a feminist revamp last year in Tangled, there was hope for the phasing out of the passive Disney princess.
The word choices are raising eyebrows and discussion in the feminist blogosphere over the superficial marketing aimed at young girls everyday.
Consider the onesies baby retailer Gymboree were forced to pull from their website: girls were “Pretty like Mommy” and boys “Smart like Daddy.” JC Penny also drew heat for their T-shirts, marketed for preteen girls that read: “I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework So My Brother Has To Do It For Me.”
And these are just the clothes that made news. It’s so common to find “princess” and “pretty” themed clothing for preteens (“hot” for the older set) that one hardly bats an eye.
The problem isn’t that girls may think they’re pretty. There is never any harm in fostering positive self-image, respect and esteem in young girls. But there is a problem with telling a six-year-old that her most valuable traits are completely subjective to a culture with very narrow standards of beauty. Standards that only get narrower as you get older, until, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, companies start selling us things for “insecurities” we didn’t know we had.
Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, examined our preoccupation with girls’ beauty and the undervaluing of things like intelligence and resourcefulness. She discusses it further in an article for the Huffington Post “How to Talk to Girls About Beauty,” focusing this time on what she calls our “standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker.”
“Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything,” she writes. “It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23.”
Bloom, who was unavailable for comment, challenges readers to have conversations with girls that don’t include compliments on their appearance. Surprisingly difficult, she writes, when tried on a friend’s five-year-old daughter.
“As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.”
So, since advertisers and clothing companies will continue to teach young girls that being pretty is far more important than being “adventurous,” even “genuine,” it’s up to their family and friends to teach them that they’re also, smart, strong and generally awesome.