2.15.2011

marketing, modesty, and the art of baby dressing

I am on a mommy quest to avoid marketing cleverly disguised as clothing – I made a silent vow to myself that I wouldn’t put clothing with cartoon characters on my baby until she can calmly ask for it, and even then I’m not so sure. I may take the passive aggressive parenting stand on that one, and tell the future Pie that I would buy her the item without the cartoon characters, and if she wanted the cartoon one badly enough, she could pay for it herself.

I just don’t like my child being a billboard. I don’t like to be a billboard. But what’s even more important to me, I don’t want my babe to grow up with branding being emblazoned across her chest (or bum) as the norm. I want her to grow up without being barraged by advertising, at least in what areas I can control.

A friend & reader sent this link about Disney marketing on maternity wards. And if you think about it, it’s open season! No one is marketing there yet! I mean sure, you get your little gift bag full of formula samples and coupons (I didn’t take one, and the Laramie Breastfeeding Project is working to promote breastfeeding at the hospital instead of formula) but where are the cartoon characters and company logos? Absent. It’s true, during my own birth experience I was confronted with a disturbing lack of marketing to my fetus.

“Now, Disney has identified another problem: Children are not becoming consumers of its products until preschool, resulting in a good three years of potential revenue loss. Getting an expectant mom thinking about her family's first theme-park visit while her child was in the womb, an exec told the Times, would be like hitting "a home run."

Wow. a 3-year dry spell on EVERY CHILD IN AMERICA. That’s a huge loss of potential income. It’s a hard market to crack, though. They don’t yet have expendable income, they don’t yet have control over their family’s spending habits. I mean shit, they haven’t even clamored out of the womb yet! But Disney is gonna get ‘em hooked. Remember that old dealer’s adage “first one’s free”? By giving away some cheaply made, sweatshop-quality snuggly suit, Disney will have my fetus aligned with their marketing strategy from birth!

So what do you need to do to get in on the Disney Freebies for Fetuses program? (OK, I made that program name up, but it’s a good one, right?) Just give them your email address, and they’ll send you even more coupons and freebies, along with ads and pictures of cute babies in cute Disney outfits playing with cute Disney Toys at Disneyland!

I had kind of heard rumblings that there was this secret underworld of baby freebies, but I never saw a thing. Friends were getting unsolicited “gifts” in the mail from doting Aunt Enfamil and crazy Cousin Nestle – formula, bibs, cute little outfits from Weird Uncle Carters, and of course COUPONS! Maybe it was because I never stepped foot in a Babies R Us until my Pie was 5 months old, and then just to get a couple of things for my hand-me-down breast pump. I never figured out how people were getting free bottles and pacifiers and diapers. I kind of wanted some freebies too, but I wanted the stuff I wanted… and I didn’t want to be on a mailing list.

I hate the idea that companies are using freebies to hook exhausted new mamas. I hate that people walk around with their 3-month-olds in Elmo outfits. I hate the whole princess paradigm. Little girls grow up buying into this story that they just have to be the prettiest, they just have to be patient and wait for their Prince Charming to come sweep them off their feet, rescue them, carry them off on a white stallion, and live happily ever after.

And that’s not to say that my Pie doesn’t own anything “princess”. My dad is a Disney fan and loves the princess thing for his granddaughters, and he’s already bought a set of princess play shoes (with wands) for my Pie and her cousin, waiting for when they get a little older. He also gave both my Pie and her cousin Disney Princess play mats for Christmas. I would have rather bought the faux-hardwood mat, but it’s functional and it was a gift and it serves a purpose. The princess shoes may have to stay at Oma & Opa’s though.

And that’s not to say that my Pie won’t play dress-up. I loved my costumes as a kid, and the Pie already has a few circus outfits to wear, courtesy of her Moisture Festival friends & fans. And she can wear princess dresses and play, but I won’t buy branded princess outfits, and I won’t let my baby BELIEVE she’s a princess.

She’s not.

We’re just not royalty. And you know what? All those little girls with “princess” rhinestoned across their butts or on their chests aren’t either.

Most girls probably go through a princess phase, but I don’t have to encourage the early adoption of it, and when it does come around, we’ll play Medieval Princess games, not Disney Princess games. I can make costumes and wands. I can encourage her to pick out her own princess gear and not buy into the sexy-but-helpless pre-designed princess character. If she wants to wear a tutu to the grocery store that’s fine. But she won’t wear a fairy princess baby outfit with Disney logos across it.

As if the marketing wasn’t enough, the princesses are all sexy.

They teach little girls to be pretty, sexy, and helpless, waiting to be rescued to make themselves whole, complete.

I see little girls dressed in outfits that I wouldn’t wear – things I wouldn’t have even worn when I was in college, going out and enjoying my youth. There is no more modestly in youth, which is not only unfortunate, but interesting.

I try to buy the Pie’s clothes used – in fact I have only bought her two things new, both purchased before she was born. I found it hard, even then, to find baby clothes that were not too adult. These adult styles and cuts are considered “cute” – but really look not only adult, but spring-break-Cancun club-going, melted-skittles-with-vodka-drinking adult.

Part of my purchasing strategy has been practical – if I have another child I want to be able to re-use the clothes, and anything too trendy or tied to a popular cultural icon will be too old to be cute and not old enough to be back in style or ironic. Plus, we keep our house cool which requires more coverage. So I opt for conservative, plain, and warm.

Although I purchase conservative clothes, and although I would never dress my babe in the sexy-cute baby style, I’m totally OK with baby nakedness. In fact, I think it’s good for babies to be naked. In the first months, they are all tactile learners. Skin-to-skin contact is so important for comfort, security, biorhythms. Babies learn by interaction with their bodies.

And babies bodies are not sexual. Sure, there is potential for sexuality, but until the pre-pubescent years, our bodies are asexual.

To me there is no reason to not let my babe run around diapered (or possibly naked) at home, in the yard, at the homes of friends or neighbors, at the beach, or even the park. If we see this as culturally inappropriate, it is because we have sexualized these tiny beings. And ironically, the taboo of nakedness, stemming from our modesty and fear of sexualizing our children, is in part caused because of our low-touch society AND perpetuates the inappropriate dressing of our children.

We see our children as innocent and perfect, which they are, and we know that children love to be naked, but we don’t permit it. This covering up, the taboos around our bodies, and the teaching that there is something on their body to hide, to be ashamed of, makes children curious, confused, conflicted.

Why should they feel ashamed of their bodies? Most American children have probably seen sexual content on TV, in movies, magazines. And it’s not just sexual, it’s hyper-sexual, eroticized.

So they see this media image of sexuality and the importance of these secret, naughty parts, So much attention is paid to nudity and sexuality in the world, and so much attention is paid in kids’ worlds getting them to cover up. So they see their bodies as naughty, dirty, bad, but with so much potential for positive attention.

But in our low-touch society, all nudity, and all intimate touch is too readily equated with eroticism.

Intimacy of touch does not equal eroticism. It is the sexy-but-helpless princess and risqué baby clothes that perpetuate nudity as erotic for children. You can’t let your kid run around the yard naked, but you can dress them in any number of eroticized outfits available at every retailer in your very own town.

it is our lack of touch, taboos around nakedness and skin contact that perpetuate the sexualization of all touch.

I do and will continue to touch my baby. We sleep together in our family bed, with skin-to-skin contact all night long. She will know what a real woman’s body looks like, rather than only have the comparative image of a hyper-sexualized, highly edited version of a woman’s body. I’ll do what I can to make sure she doesn’t grow up confused, attention seeking and hungry for touch because of our cultural taboos.

2 comments:

  1. I totally agree with every single word you wrote here, and I don't even have daughters. It's funny though, one of my girlfriends whose last name starts with "P" ended up choosing a name for her child that has the initials "G" and "A"... hence, his monogram is "GAP." She did not do this on purpose, but now she and the grandparents do not miss an opportunity to buy anything for this little boy with the GAP logo on it. They say, "Hey, cheapest monograms we'll ever buy." I like it. :)
    MOV

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  2. That's hilarious. Now I need to open a store called SER so I can sell monograms to all the people with the Pie's initials! Oh wait... that may be a failing investment.

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