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A dad's take on Libby Lu and other 'girl' pressures

Published on: October 01, 2009

As the father of a precocious and engaged 5-year-old, I was tagged with
the recent parenting responsibility to accompany my daughter to a
birthday party at Libby Lu, self-described as a "special secret club
for super fabulous girls where they can get makeover parties, play
games, get advice, and find really cool princess paraphernalia."

I have never been so uncomfortable, full of anxiety and totally out of
place! Indeed, the entire experience stood as a distressing metaphor
for what I believe is challenging our youngest generation and their
parents today.

During the last five years as a daddy, I have become acutely aware of
the significant differences between girls and boys as they experience
the process of growing up. Like most boys, I went through school
unknowingly fashion-challenged and unencumbered by peer pressure,
clique behavior and media-induced head trips that find traction for
decades. As a loving dad who is engaged and aware, I want to protect my
precious bug from the insecurities enabled through this "girl" pressure
and empty cultural promise
. But I find myself somewhat overburdened by
an outrageous and veracious bombardment of "Madison Avenue" messages
that serve to feed a growing and clearly supported appetite for
physical perfection and subliminal mind games.

I do not find mall environments friendly and avoid them completely. The
Libby Lu we visited was in Bellevue Square Mall, and I was shocked as I
awkwardly tip-toed my daughter through the zoo-like maze toward our
party's storefront. The minefield was littered with countless images
and storefronts advertising an empty promise encouraging our now
"makeover" society. And my daughter Sydney ate it up: The cat was jumping out of
the bag!

This environment was also populated with boys looking the way I did at
that age: messy hair, shirt untucked, jeans faded and stained.
(Although my tight-assed 501s prevented me from tripping on my crotch
in those days.) The girls, on the other hand, were all tarted up,
dressed provocatively
and seemed quite focused on a Cosmo look, a
materialistic aura and sensational physical improvement. I wanted to
immediately place duct tape goggles over my daughter's eyes.

But I had no idea of where I was about to alight. Our ceremonial
arrival into the overwhelming plastic environment of Libby Lu
immediately flashed a vision of Sydney on her knees at the Holy Grail
of today's Girl-Dom. "Step right this way and let us save you and
convert you from your daddy's reality into your world of fashion
splendor: tight permissive threads replete with requisite bare midriff,
teenage makeup and a sparking MTV coif." Indeed, the teenage
assistants, all dressed in a similar influencing style, dressed each
little 5-year-old to mirror Britney and the MTV generation. It was

Now don't even go making assumptions about this author's Right Wing
Fundamentalist association: Nothing is further from the truth. However,
I remain extremely concerned about our culture's preoccupation with
physical appearance, provocative advertising, and rising and resultant
permissive norms.

Our daughter does not watch television other than a few PBS shows that
promote good family and moral messages. An occasional children's movie
with similar themes has always been our commitment. So where do she and
her buddies get these fashion messages? They are out there abundantly,
like flypaper, ready to catch our little girls' attention. And I am
shocked at how readily they pick it up and how it becomes part of their
lexicon. With all the other girl issues that I hesitantly look forward
to as a dad, I certainly do not want to compete with a cultural message
that condones a promiscuous look
and leaves empty the conflicting
bucket of healthy moral choice and values.

Standing alone, Libby Lu's promise to give young girls a chance to wear
silly outfits, don otherwise prohibited makeup and coif their locks is
rather innocent, I suppose, if viewed apart from other loud and
intruding cultural messages. I am more concerned about the larger
landscape of raising a very healthy snuggle bug who learns to separate
playtime make-up from our new cultural preoccupation with
underachieving "makeover."

As parents, we are confronted with what I and others perceive as
unprecedented challenges and attacks upon our sensible, moral and
personal familial messages to our children. Intelligent people often
now debate the limits of the First Amendment and the current
overwhelming and detrimental "spamming" of our daily lives. While we
all work harder to protect our children and provide the love and
inspiration that comes naturally, I remain very concerned that our
broader cultural commitment falls far short of supporting our mission
and, in fact, in many ways is providing a growing and alarming
competitive and conflicting detrimental influence.

We really have no choice now but to provide our children, and
especially our daughters, with a secure personal foundation and
confident voice that drowns out the unhealthy influence of Madison
Avenue. Unfortunately, until our society and those who lead us take a
stand against what many see as decaying values, our families and
parents are burdened with a serious responsibility: To combat and
clarify for our children the overwhelming public messages and images
that encourage vulnerability
, insecurity and a false trust in the empty
promise and superficial need of physical improvement.

Martin Henry Kaplan, AIA, the father of Sydney, 5, is an architect residing in Seattle.


Originally published in the October, 2005 print edition of ParentMap.

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