Why are you looking at girls aged 5 to 11 specifically?

The educators want to deepen elementary school teachers’ understanding of media. They will present their research, entitled the Pink Project, at a U.S. National Association for the Education of Young Children gathering in Charlotte, N.C., next week.

Early childhood education specialist Kimberly Bezaire spoke to The Globe and Mail.

Why are you looking at girls aged 5 to 11 specifically?

There’s so much research on teens and that three- to five-year-old range, but so little from 5 to 11. Biology and branding are really changing the ways these girls are growing up today.

What do you mean by biology changing?

Accelerated puberty – early onset puberty. It’s commonplace now for a certain percentage of girls to be having their period when they’re 8. We still haven’t gotten a clear answer on that one. Body mass index is one of the speculations, and also environmental conditions. Then it’s coupled with acceleration in social maturity and high achievement pressures. Girls excel but it’s a double-edged sword: Along with that comes an obsessive perfectionism.

 

You look at digital characters. What do you mean by that?

Miley Cyrus, the G-rated [actress] on Nickelodeon who seems so wholesome – she doesn’t stand alone: There’s Hannah Montana, clothing, products, YouTube videos, her Vanity Fair photo, her fashion photos in all the tabloid magazines, and there’s 24/7 access to those things. [Colleague] Shelley Murphy wanted to be Laurie Partridge when she was growing up. The most personal information she could learn was her star’s height, weight and favourite toothpaste. Now, the girls mine and know every single little detail – who [Ms. Cyrus] is dating, what she wants to wear and buy, who she’s posed in her underwear for, what picture she took in the shower to send to which boy and that she wants to have breasts like Katy Perry. We found from our interviews with parents that they often aren’t aware of the extent of information their girls know and make sense of.

And how do they make sense of it?

That’s the complicated question. Making a YouTube video of yourself in a push-up bra and a tank top when you’re 10 years old and having adult men subscribe to your [channel] – that’s what we’re seeing. They’re looking at media role models and imitating. What are the deeper spiritual and mental health implications to your identity? What are the girls spending their time, money and energy on, that could be spent on other things?

 

You look at clothing. What stood out?

We’re hearing from parents that it’s hard to find neutral, innocuous clothing. It’s all pretty, pink, sparkly and sexy. There’s a lot of trash talk on the clothing. We saw skinny jeans for babies at the Gap. We’re seeing high heels and thongs, belly shirts, low-rise jeans and wedge heels. How did we get to this point, the pornification of little ones? How did we get used to it, and who is the audience? The feminist theory that it’s the male gaze doesn’t quite satisfy us.

 

What about toys?

The Bratz are so explicitly sexualized that [children’s book publisher and distributor] Scholastic has banned them.

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