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With all the media hype on the perfect body, with the enormous expectations presented to kids these days on the being dressed in the latest fashion, who has the most “stuff”, the coolest hair style–all of this pretty narrowly defined–there is a lot of pressure on little girls, starting from an early age. If those little kids are not of the same race as those predominantly in power, there may arise much frustration from just not “fitting in”. Hopefully, as we age and mature we grow out of this need to be part of the group, to be the best-looking, the best dressed, to top out the race to get the coolest tech or newest iPhone…but kids live in the midst of this steamy, pressurized atmosphere and don’t have the years under their belts to mellow what is coming at them.
Latina girls are faced with tremendous pressure in American society and often confronted with an overload of sexual advertising, not always understanding what is being presented to them. I have seen, with much amazement and sadness, what passes for little girl’s dolls. Sure, as a kid we had Barbie, which was enough to keep up with–little girls love their dolls and it’s part of childhood to have a host of favorites lining their bookshelf or sitting up on their pillow–but take a close look at what advertisers are presenting nowadays. Dolls with sexy outfits, extreme mini-skirts, spike heels, “lady of the evening” make-up, oversized shiny lips and “bedroom eyes” heavily lined and shadowed. It is all part of a push to sexualize children and take away their precious innocence.
There is only a short time in a child’s life when they are truly innocent, just able to be a kid, without thinking about sex and how to be sexy, and their biggest worry is how to get that homework finished and still have time to watch their favorite cartoon before bedtime. Mothers know that this golden time, when they still fit into your lap for an afternoon snuggle, when they believe in the strength and wisdom of their parents to heal all hurts and answer all questions, is so, so brief. What your child experiences in these years will either strengthen her for the future, or fill her full of doubt.
All around your daughters is a miasma of questionable culture telling them that their coffee-and-cream skin is not quite as good as pale white, that their pretty curves mean they are overweight, that their culture is somehow not as cool as being part of the American scene. I’ve watched kids secretly toss their healthy tortillas & beans in the trash just so they could eat pizza and chicken nuggets with the other kids at lunchtime. Working in school, as a secretary, I’ve seen one little Latina girl crying because her girdle hurt her so much under her school uniform–this was a child in 6th grade! I’ve witnessed the popular blonde, blue-eyed girls snub the new Mexican student, others following their behavior, and that child stand puzzled and hurt, not understanding what was wrong.
The mainstream media plays a big role in how your little girl sees herself. It isn’t hard to find popular shows on TV that present kids as young as 12 or 14 getting into sexual behavior better suited for adults. Suggestive music, even ads for gum or soda, make it seem as though being sexy and desirable is meant for everybody, regardless of age. Girls clothes sold in big department stores are often something that an older teen or adult would consider wearing in their own size–the line between being a child and an adult is getting softer and less pronounced every year.
A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association Task Force explains it well: “The sexualization of girls in all forms of media is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development”. As your daughter ages she will be caught between wanting those lovely curves that historically are cherished by Latin culture and wanting to starve herself into the thin, pale beauty she sees in magazines and on TV. Bi-cultural teens may also experience confusion when American culture clashes with what her Latino family tells her is right–not only her self-respect is at stake, but the self-image she carries with her into adulthood.
Parents are there to help their little Latinas move gracefully from childhood through the teenage years and into responsible adulthood. It is important that your daughter has confidence in who she is, how she looks, what she can accomplish. A recent ad, Always #LikeAGirl - Unstoppable has gone viral: it shows young girls being asked, “Have you ever been told, because you’re a girl, that you should not do something?” The children come from many races—each one of them answers a definite YES. There is a note shown that states, “72% of girls feel society limits them.” They feel as though they must be ‘perfect’, always happy, obedient, not taking risks or challenging themselves, not allowed to step out of the traditional role of what ‘girls are supposed to be’.
In the video they are told to write the limitations they’ve had imposed on them, in bright colors, on a set of big white boxes: girls are “weak”, they have to be “perfect”, girls can’t be “brave”….then, they are unbelievably joyful when they are told to SMASH the boxes! When a girl moves into puberty, her self-esteem plummets–the changes in her body are overwhelming at times, the awakening response of young males and the media’s expectation of their molding themselves into sexual goddesses when they are just learning how to wear a bra, can drive them to depression and despair. As her self-confidence erodes, so does her ability to escape limitations; many girls hold back, stop trying for top honors, would rather be seen as cool than strong or individualistic, quit dance/music/science clubs and classes and try to make themselves less noticeable in order to fit in. Keep an eye out for these changes.
You, as a parent, can help your daughter move beyond these troubling changes, tempering her uneasiness with plenty of love and attention; praise her , not only her beauty or looks, but for her talents, her academic accomplishments, her kindness. Notice when she is patient of others faults, when she is open-minded and inquisitive–do not stifle her creativity or her enthusiasm for sports or interest in careers that are usually seen as mostly male-dominated.
Moms, be a positive role model! If your daughter always hears you complaining about your ‘love-handles’ or making negative statements about your looks, age, weight, etc., realize that you are setting up a pattern for her own problems in the future. Children tend not to listen to what you say is right, but they always watch what you do.
Dad, be more involved! Just because she’s a girl, don’t think you cannot identify with her–you were once young, foolish, questioning yourself, and wondering how to cope–now you must support her in this crucial time of life. The daddy who is kind, humorous, patient and interested helps build a positive image of what a male should be in his daughter’s mind and heart. Each man she chooses to be close to later will reflect in some way–positive or negative–what you have shown her as she grew up.
Little girls need dolls that look like them, not some model or sexy actress! Dr. Lisa Williams is revolutionizing the toy industry with her dolls in the ‘Positively Perfect’ line. She says, “I am a mom and former professor, so I have always wanted to inspire the best in young people. In 2010, the World of Entertainment, Publishing and Inspiration (World of EPI) was formed with the mission of expressing joy by providing children access to dolls that encourage dreams, promote intelligence, challenge perceptions, and open their hearts to all types of beauty…Every doll represents positive statements, such as “I am proud,” “I am smart,” or “I am beautiful.” They are lovingly designed to show the beauty in our diversity, from curly to straight hair and buttercream to chocolate skin.” You can find out more at her website, http://positivelyperfectdolls.com/, and see her lovely Latina dolls!
Here is a short list of positive, life-affirming books to assist your little Latina in becoming the BEST she can be! You can either order these from Amazon.com, or get them used (still in good condition) for much less at Half.com :
Good Night Captain Mama/Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá, by Graciela Tiscareno-Sato (Author) , Linda Lens (Illustrator)-This the first bilingual children’s picture book showing young children why women and mommies wear military uniforms and serve in our nation’s armed forces.
When Christmas Feels Like Home, by Gretchen Griffith (Author) , Carolina Farias (Illustrator)- When Juan moves from a small village in Mexico to a town in the United States, he fears that he’ll never feel at home in this strange new place.
The Poet Upstairs, by Judith Ortiz Cofer (Author) , Oscar Ortiz (Illustrator)- When homesick Juliana’s cold causes her to stay home from school one blistery, snowy day, she makes a new friend in the poet who lives upstairs.
Becoming Naomi Leon, by Pam Munoz Ryan (Author)- Between having a very unique name, not-so-hip-clothes, and an absentee-madre, Naomi Soledad Outlaw has a lot to deal with in her young life. Despite her abuelita’s attempts to help Naomi see the bright side of every situation, Naomi still feels like “a nobody.”
Arturo and the Navidad Birds, by Anne Broyles (Author) , KE Lewis (Illustrator)- Young Arturo loves decorating the Christmas tree with his “Abuelita Rosa.” For every ornament they hang together, Abuelita Rosa shares a new piece of their Central American family’s history with Arturo.