Recently I took my 10-year-old daughter, Teyah, on a trip to a shopping centre. Mother’s Day was coming up, and I needed to buy a gift for my mother and a new outfit for Teyah to wear out for our family lunch.
Rather than enjoying this experience, I found myself increasingly frustrated, and in fact furious, because of some of the ridiculous and simply toxic messages my daughter and I were presented with.
First stop: the girls-wear department at Myer, which caters to children aged 8 to 14. Recently renovated, it now has an instore Weight Watchers shopfront smack bang in the middle. Why, Teyah asked, do they need to promote dieting in the girls’ section? Girls are still growing, so they are constantly moving up to bigger clothes. With Weight Watchers located right in this part of the store, she wondered, is there a risk that girls will think their ever-changing dress size is a sign they are getting fat? Wouldn’t the adults’ section of the store be a more appropriate place for a dieting program?
And it is not just our young daughters who are being told they need to shape up. I am usually a fan of Peter Alexander, the designer of leisure and sleep wear, yet on this shopping trip I was so deeply offended by his store’s window display I couldn’t bring myself to even enter. Their Mother’s Day slogan? “Spoil your Mum (after all . . . you spoilt her figure!)”
And finally, to ALDO, a shoe shop. I don’t know the name of the song they had blaring; its lyrics were so vile it must be banned from radio, so I hadn’t heard it before. The lyrics included the word f*ck and the singer was telling a b*tch to get on all fours and take it like a whore, get on the pole and spin . . .
You get the idea.
Teyah and I retreated into a cafe, and our shared experiences became a catalyst for a really interesting conversation about gender, the media and marketing messages. This impromptu “retail therapy” session got me thinking about powerful questions we can all ask our daughters, to get the discussion going. The following may provide inspiration:
Which brands do you think portray women in a positive light?
Describe an advertisement you thought objectified women. How did it make you feel?
What are the things others do that make you feel precious and special?
What are the things you do for yourself that make you feel precious and special?
What are you most proud of in your life so far?
What are five things that you love about yourself?
Describe a time when you compared yourself to someone whose looks you admired. How did that comparison make you feel?
Who is a woman you admire for reasons other than her looks? What do you like about her?
Describe a time when you felt truly beautiful.
How do you think society defines the words “beautiful” and “ugly”? How do you define them?
I would love to hear what other topics you think are in urgent need of being addressed with our girls and the conversation starters that you have found helpful.