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

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 shocking!

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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