In my childhood, I looked forward to November for three reasons: birthdays (mine, my mom’s and my grandma’s), Thanksgiving dinner and the arrival — via our mailbox and newspapers — of toy catalogs, which I’d use to make my Christmas list.

So this morning, when I stumbled upon a toy catalog in the newspaper, I had to have a look, for old times’ sake. I didn’t figure I’d find the Play-Doh and crayons and board games of yore. But I have one word in response to what I did find, like Bratz and Monster High dolls (the latter of which I had never heard of). That one word is this:


Of all the things one could buy for kids to play with, “the fun toys” — according to the ad — are the ones in short skirts, tight shirts and pairs of fishnet stockings (which they wear on their anatomically impossible legs).

The “fun toys” are these:

And these:

And if you like how fishnets look on your daughter’s doll, you can also buy them for your daughter:

We wonder why, when a four year old girl is asked what she wants most in the world, it’s to look like Hannah Montana (1). We wonder why little girls look (and act) like teenagers, why teenagers look (and act) like adults. But then, when the impact of dolls dressed like the ones in this ad is questioned, parents say, “Please… every girl plays with this stuff. It’s what they like!”

And why is that?

“When you don’t think critically about what is being consumed, you will throw up your hands and say ‘this is what everybody wears!’ (or ‘this is what every kid plays with!’),” said my human sexuality professor — Dr. Dae Sheridan (2) — in a class over the summer. “You won’t realize this is an industry designed to take your money … you can change the demand.”

She added, “We’re pushing our children into these little boxes based on what’s available to purchase. Be a savvy consumer. Think about Bratz dolls. They have large lips and boobs, tiny waists (and are) dressed in fishnets and belly shirts … Parents say ‘this is just what kids wear’ (and ‘this is just what kids play with’) but it wouldn’t be … if parents stood up and (stopped buying it). We have to question it.”


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1. It’s Time to Reshape Our Beauty Standards

2. Dr. Dae Sheridan

Don’t “should” on me.

When I was a little kid, I stood in front of a department store’s fitting room mirror in what would become my new dress. I twirled around in it. I fiddled with its floppy collar and poked its buttons and bows. I held up a matching hat and patent leather purse. I smiled.

“Aren’t I pretty?” I asked my mom.

“Yes,” she said. “Of course.”

“Good,” I thought. Her answer satisfied me. And simply, I moved on.

I didn’t know then that when girls grow into women, it is rarely that easy. Most of us don’t smile anymore when we look at mirrors. Instead, we scrutinize. We point out the parts of us we think are too big or small. Fret over wrinkles. Curl hair that’s straight. Straighten hair that’s curly. Color grays. Cover imperfections. Whiten teeth. Wax and pluck. Diet pills. Body wraps. Brow lifts. Botox. Boob jobs. Some women get fat sucked out of their butts and injected into their boobs. Others have had a toe on each foot amputated to make uncomfortable shoes bearable.

We aren’t satisfied. Ever. What a way to live. It is sad and unhealthy. It is a disaster for women and men alike. And frankly, it pisses me off.

But it makes sense.

Why would we be satisfied when men exist who tell their girlfriends and wives what to wear and what body parts to augment?

Why would we be satisfied when we are bombarded by ads that imply that teeth should be perfectly white, you can’t be attractive with cellulite or stretch marks, hair should always be shiny, hair shouldn’t be gray, boobs should be big, boobs shouldn’t sag, eyelashes should be thick, wrinkled skin should be avoided, it’s gross if you sweat and people who aren’t skinny aren’t happy?

Since I hate to be a bearer of bad news, let me give you some good news: Teeth don’t stay white when you use them. Cellulite and stretch marks happen. Hair turns gray and frizzes. People sweat. Boobs are hangy blobs of fat that come in various sizes and are good for feeding babies. The girls in the mascara ads are wearing false lashes. Skin gets wrinkly. There is something wrong with you if you don’t sweat. There is nothing wrong with you if you have curves. So, stop “shoulding” on us. And if you do it, stop “shoulding” on yourself. There is no good reason to make your body do what our culture says it should when our culture says “God forbid your body functions normally.”

In the words of a producer of the fabulous documentary America the Beautiful, these industries of so-called beauty “bring women down in order to sell products to bring them up.” They fabricate a problem and sell you a solution. In the process, what both men and women expect of women morphs until it is unattainable. We are taught to deplore what occurs naturally so when it happens — and it will — we hate ourselves and will do anything (i.e. spend everything) to “fix” it.

You don’t have to do that anymore. You are not defined by what other people think of you. You are not defined by how you look compared to someone else. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Beauty and the beach.

Like a good Floridian, I kicked off Shark Week with a Saturday trip to the beach.

The hot sun and how hard it is to evenly spray yourself with no-rub sunscreen made for some awkward tanlines. I brought a couple of books, but I barely cracked them. The conversations of the other beachgoers were better.

One guy — a New York Italian — stuck his feet in the water with a cell phone stuck to his ear while retelling the story of that one time he told the one guy “why I’m gonna sue your @$$!”

A couple of women, both on the brink of divorces, discussed their marriages: one, feeling like hers might work out, hopes her husband doesn’t find out about the impromptu beer and conversation she had with a male stranger in a hotel lobby on a trip she took last month. The other, whose husband hopes she isn’t telling her friends that she’s going to Al-Anon, isn’t doing squat around the house. If her husband doesn’t quit drinking, he can forget the Betty Crocker she used to be. (Her words, not mine.)

The third conversation I heard was between two girls, no older than 12 or 13. They floated on boogie boards and discovered they wear the same sizes in pants.

Girl 1: I hate shopping with girls who wear a size zero. We should shop together!
Girl 2: I have short legs, so my pants are always crinkled at the bottom. People say things about it all the time!
Girl 1: Once, a friend of mine actually said, “I have to wear a size double zero, but sometimes I have to wear a zero. It means my hips are getting bigger!” But she is so skinny.

It reminded me of the time I lost 40 pounds in high school and one of the skinniest girls in my class seemed super impressed.

“Arleen!” she said. “Your thighs! They’re almost as skinny as mine!”


But isn’t sad that how we look plays a huge role in how we’re received. Have you ever noticed that the first thing women say when they meet up is often about appearance?

“Have you lost weight? You look great!”

“I love your hair. Did you get it cut?”

“That is such a great top! Where’d you get it?”

And it feels good to get a compliment. I give them all the time. But the tendency is indicative of a culture-wide obsession. It’s the same obsession that fuels the health news headline I heard on the local news this morning: “If you’re heading to the beach, make sure you’re toned up before you put on that bathing suit.”


It’s why before the conclusion of back to back Roseanne on a Tuesday night, it’s really easy to feel like your arms are too jiggly, your hair is too frizzy and your teeth aren’t white enough.

So we buy the products we see during the commercials and deny that we do it because advertisers have set up a problem — something often otherwise perfectly natural — and positioned their product as the solution.

And then, long story short, young beachgoers feel inadequate around skinnier girls or girls with longer legs. I know that the woman in the ad has fake lashes on, but I want the mascara anyway. Guys want skinny girls and they don’t know why.

What can we do about it?

Good question.

Hard question.

We can do our best not to buy into what we’re told about beauty. If you need some motivation, I suggest the following: