# Be Present

 

The eight kids in my life ranging from 19-months to 13-years.

My blogging days are coming to a close. This will be my final entry for #TweenSwag, but I feel it is an important entry. I want to talk to you about being an active adult for the kids in your life. You as parents, family members and loved ones have the chance to make a difference in the world that they see around them. Often when adults talk to kids, we may feel like we are not making a difference or that the things that we say go in one ear and out the other. As for me, I would rather talk too much than not enough.

Talking with the kids in my life started early and often.

This weekend I had a chance to talk to my nieces who live in Italy. These girls have traveled the world because they are in a military family. They have seen more than my eyes have seen and yet, I still feel like I have things to teach them and they have things to teach me. I hadn’t talked to them in quite some time, but I try to stay current with what is happening in their world. Just in the short time I talked with them, I had the chance to discuss so many things that are happening in the media.

The first thing that I said was, “hey, did you know selfie is the word of the year?” and then the conversation opened up from there as I was speaking their language, I was making an effort to discuss what is important to them and what is happening in their youth circles. We discussed Catching Fire and Peeta and Katniss’s gender roles, Snapchat and things that I want them to be careful about while using online media, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic and Equestria Girls(last week’s blog), One Direction and Katy Perry.  One of the last things we discussed was sexuality as one of them is reading a book where a boy comes out. She said she was “shocked” when he came out and that gave me the chance to talk to them both about young love, crushes and that we are all different, but that it was OK. This is just a small list of what came up during our conversation.

Each day they continue to grow and amaze me.

Being active in the kids in my life is important to me. For me, I think that if I just give them a chance, to at least hear things that are different than what they are seeing in everyday media or what they are hearing on the bus or in the hallways at school:  A. gives them someone to go to if they want to talk more about things that are going on in their lives and B. gives them a chance to choose something that might look different than what outside entities are telling them to do or be. As adults I feel like we need to give kids more credit for being able to look at issues in more complex ways. Their minds are so much more bold and so much more open than many of ours who have been jaded by everyday living and growing up. They too will have to grow up, so why not help them use the tools that they have to build something completely new and different than what tweens lives are supposed to be today according to the media?

Smith Carlson at Moorhead Public School Meeting found at www.kfgo.com

The last thing I want to talk to you about before I sign off is activism. Activism in a short and easy sense is working towards something you believe in or to make a change. A couple of  weeks ago I had the displeasure of attending a Moorhead Public Schools meeting where mother Natalie Smith-Carlson was seeking new policy changes to create a clear and concise plan of action if a student is assaulted at school. Her daughter recently had been assaulted at school and the care and treatment of her, in my opinion, was abysmal. An entire account of the incident can be heard on The Jay Thomas radio show. A student should not have to fear treatment from the adults around them and the adults that surround them should be trained in critical care after an assault. It isn’t too much to ask of our higher administrators and our teachers in general to be knowledgeable about violence and the care of those who have had an experience involving violence. Students should be able to trust the adults around them, especially at school.

Activism can be scary. When a mother is talking to an entire school board (and city) to try to change a policy that affected her daughters health, that is hard to do. But she did it and continues to fight to this day to work towards a policy change. This is a mother and family being active in their kids’ lives. It is not always perfect, it is not always fun, but it is important to show the kids in our lives that there are things worth fighting for. There are things that are worth making our days longer and our hearts stronger. So I am asking all of you to be active for the kids in your lives. Whether you are talking to them about selfies and snapchat or fighting to make their rights as students better, show them that you are with them. Show them that you know what is happening in their world and that you are there for them. They are listening more than you think and learning more from your actions than you may ever know. Make them good actions. Make them actions that you would be proud to see if they were to do them. You have more influence over the kids in your life than the media does. Use it well.

#Friendship is Magic, Equestria Girls is NOT

It is difficult to find a show that the whole family can watch and enjoy. I admit it, I am annoyed by much of what the mainstream cartoon world has to offer. I grew up in a time of Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, and Captain Planet. Like the generations before me, I felt like they didn’t make cartoons like they used to. When my nieces and nephews were growing up, I wanted to throw myself out the window every time I heard the SpongeBob Square Pants theme song and yet I wanted to be able to connect with them by watching a show that they loved. A show that I have come to know over the years that the whole family can enjoy is Hasbro’s My Little Pony Friendship is Magic.

Maybe you are thinking, my little ponies, aren’t those from the 80s? Yes, they are, but the newest generation is a far cry from the ponies you likely grew up with. The story lines are more fun, creative and cover issues that people can apply to their everyday lives. In general when you follow the main six characters, Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash and Apple Jack, you may learn many lessons and most of them go back to treating other people well, knowing when to ask for help, and to rely on friends and family.

The show centers around being both mentally and physically healthy and very rarely (if ever) do the story lines center around appearance, fashion, and love interests. However, with a switch of some of the main background players within production (like the show’s original creator Lauren Faust who many think left because of creative difficulties with Hasbro) we may see more corporate takeover into extreme girliness, but the first three seasons are really good at balancing action, fun, and heart. Let’s just put this way, when there is a ball to go to, none of the six are fretting about who to go with.

Maybe you are thinking, little ponies, my husband and son will never be on board. Maybe that is true, however, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic has become a cultural phenomena for men and boys all over the country. It has been such a phenomena that a documentary was released called Bronies which highlights why men have become so involved with the show. A brony is a male fan of my little ponies. Bronies ages range from youngsters to adults. Surprisingly, young adult and adult males enjoy My Little Pony Friendship is Magic not only because of the clever narratives, but also because of the great tech work that has gone into the series. The website Equestria Daily (the main fansite for MLP fans) is owned and operated by bronies. There are also countless brony blogs and Youtube uploads from boys and men all over the country.

Maybe you are thinking, didn’t I just see a movie called Equestria Girls that showed a lot of typical teen girl stereotypes. Yes, you likely did, but don’t let that movie make you shy away from the online show (for now). The movie falls back on a pretty standard Disneyesque storyline where the girl gets in trouble and the boy saves her in the end and then they end up dancing the night away at a formal. This is something that you will not likely find happening on My Little Pony Friendship is Magic. Not saying that we cannot have a little of this here or there, but the show has been founded on these ponies getting through tough spots together and without having to have a boy save them weekly.

Although many fans saw pieces that they enjoyed within the movie and congratulated DHX the animation studio on their fantastic animation, there were certainly a lot of things that viewers did not like. Fans were so vocal about their dislike of the film that there has been some turnover in production. Pony fans were upset with the content and the images of the ponies turning into “real” girls (something that was pushed by Hasbro). The issue is that the Monster High/Sailor Moon type sexualized girls is not something that pony community wanted to see. Not only because they are not ponies but because they are thin, sexualized teens wearing short skirts, tight clothes and thigh-high boots. This was not the foundation of the show’s beginning four years ago.

My little pony Friendship is Magic isn’t perfect. Like all shows it has flaws. For example, in the show and the new line of merchandise, the ponies don’t look like ponies at all. They are thin and petite unlike ponies in real life that are short and chubby or the ponies distributed by Hasbro years ago. It’s true that if they were real horses, that they wouldn’t be able to breathe because their features on their face would be too small and that if you compared these ponies sizes to people they would uphold similar beauty standards as most girls feel they have to live up to in everyday life.

Left to Right from my personal collection
80s, early 90s, late 90s, early 2000 and today.

 The overall basis of the show has heart and tells kids of all ages to like who they are and be who they are. The show often breaks gendered stereotypes by highlighting characters with all different personalities and they do not all align with what is commonly considered feminine. You can be extremely feminine like the pony Rarity or be a tomboy like Rainbow Dash and whichever you choose or anything inbetween is OK so long as you be yourself. That is not a message we are seeing very often within the media today.

So, pop a little popcorn, log in to Netflix where you can see the first three seasons of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic and find out if it is right for you and your family. What could it hurt? Nothing could be worse than another season of SpongeBob SquarePants, am I right?

Fan made Friendship is Magic Trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=us_rY141vic

Hasbro’s Equestria Girls Trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ta9i3YQAzM

#Fat

F-A-T. That three letter word that strikes fear into the hearts of most girls and women across the globe. In this day and age we have an obsession with fat, more specifically NOT being fat. This obsession does not start when we are adults, it is not like we wake up one day and say, “Ugh, I am so fat”. This is something that starts early and often, especially for girls. Unlike fat boys who are told to get out on the football field, fat girls are told they are ugly or that they don’t exist at all. So let’s have a conversation about body image, so that we can create critically saavy girls who love who they are and show them how they are meaningful members of society.

You don’t need to tell a girl they are fat. They already are hyperaware of their body. Some girls that feel fat, are not, but trying to live up to the difficult standards of what girls and women should look like today- which is white (but tan), thin, tall, long hair with an ample bosom. This is what we see in magazines today. This is what is walking down the runway or are the representatives within beauty commercials and advertisements. This is who girls are supposed to be and the images of this body type are everywhere and impossible for your tween not to see.

There are likely many places where these standards are set in place, but let’s take a look at the most popular magazine for tween girls which is the American Girl magazine. The 50 pages of the October 2013 issue is filled with photos and cartoon images of mostly white girls or girls who have white features like long flowing hair and small facial features. Throughout the issue, I found only one girl that may be considered overweight. This is not representative of what is happening in America today as the statistics show that 18% of children are overweight or obese according to the Center for Disease Control. And so begins the first step of fat women not being seen in the media.

You can’t be what you can’t see it. There are few female role models in television, films and magazines. It is hard to find someone that inspires you to hone in the qualities of that person or character. Finding a role model is even harder if you are a fat girl. Although some tweens may have not have seen these film series, their presence within the media cannot be denied. These films and the actors within are everywhere, but what you will not find in Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Hunger Games is fat girls. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in The Hunger Gameshas openly discussed that she is happy with her body even though she has struggled with being called fat in Hollywood. This is the kind of body positive experience that Tweens need to see, especially because Jennifer Lawrence is NOT fat.

Fat starlets are few and far between especially within the tween crowd. Recently women like Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect) and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, The Heat)have been breakout stars. And I agree they are amazing women and they are certainly being seen in many different venues in the media, however, these women’s roles in film are comedic and their job is to make you laugh. If you are a fat girl, your worth lies in being a good friend and being funny, not as the protagonist. Very rarely do we see fat girls or women in the media dating or as a love interest.

What can you do as parents to help girls see their bodies in a new light? Media is a complex and difficult thing to change, but you do have a voice when it comes to change in the media. Be active in letting media corporations know that you want to see more girls of different sizes, shapes and colors in magazines or on the screen.

The biggest thing I think you can do for yourselves and your girls is be happy with your own body. Realize that when you are looking at images in magazines or women on television, that these women have their hair, make-up and clothes professionally done. Also remember that most of what you see (and therefore your girls see) in magazines are photoshopped.

Even though you might not think this is true, your girls are looking to you for cues on how to understand and interact within society. A final way to make a change towards better body image is to decrease the amount of fat talk that you are doing at home. What is fat talk? Fat talk are phrases like, “Do I look fat in this?” and “I would be prettier if I lost 10 pounds”. This kind of talk is woven into women’s daily language and girls catch onto it quickly. You can be a part of changing her way of looking at herself and through the process you may find yourself more satisfied with your body.

Although this Tri-Delta (sorority) campaign is 5-years old, you can find useful information and explanation of what fat talk is and you may be surprised how often you are using this behavior.

Activist Laci Green discusses some of the impacts of fat talk.

TweenMen: A Need for a New Generation of Heroes

Growing up a boy in 2013 can be complicated. In a world where expectations of men are changing, it can be hard for boys to know how they should act and who they should be. It gets even more complicated as they may be told in some households, school, and religion to be one thing (be kind, generous, non-violent, respectful, and show emotions), while media images and pressure from other boys often portray the exact opposite. For boys deciding who their role models are from the media and especially from television shows and movies, many images that they see are straight forward. Most of the characters they see on the screen are the man, as in Spiderman, Superman, Ironman, and Batman. They are all are all huge, handsome, strong, straight, stoic, tough guys. Sure they have different back stories, villains, and ladies, but at the core they are all pretty similar. Be the hero, save the city, get the girl. So what is wrong when most of the images and portrayals of men all look the same? Even though the characters are fiction, such typified characters do not give boys the freedom to be who they are.

 

Every day boys are pushed into the ‘man box’. And the push to show they are real men starts early. This box is where boys are defined and anything outside of it, is not being a “real” man or rather being a sissy, gay or even worse, a girl. Inside the box is where real men are created. They don’t openly express emotions unless it is anger, they don’t express fear, they don’t act like a girl, they are tough, athletic, and show mighty strength and courage. This box is very real and if we continue to uphold the box and these ideals, it will be detrimental to boys and girls. If we tell boys this is the list of things that it takes to be a man, how can they continue to grow and create healthy friendships and relationships with one another? So let’s jump back into fiction.
One character in modern television that seems to live outside the lines of the ‘man box’ is from a British television show called Doctor Who. The Doctor isn’t the typical portrayal of a hero. He is not overly large, he shows emotion frequently, he uses his brain more than his muscles to get out of tight situations, he is very fashion-forward and above all, he respects and loves women. Over the years the doctor morphs and physically and mentally changes into a ‘new’ Doctor. The new Doctor keeps his memories from past Doctors, but also has new quirky personality traits. Since the show started in the 1960s there have been 11 Doctors. Recently the Doctor has been played by David Tennant and is currently played by Matt Smith.

Only a few months ago, the 12th Doctor was announced. Although there was a buzz that the 13th Doctor would be female, in the end actor Peter Capaldi was chosen. Arguments have been made by Doctor Who fans that the Doctor should at some point morph into a woman. Even Dame Helen Mirren has noted she would like to see the Doctor be female. But, many Doctor Who fans are happy to not see a gender swap. British blogger Dan Wilson goes more in-depth with why he is happy that, for now, the Doctor is still a man. He argues that we see a strong male character with feelings, emotions, and brains who legitimately respects women and the women in the show can predominately take care of themselves. Most of the time, the Doctor’s sidekicks (the main sidekick is always female) save him as much as he saves them. He does not see or use women as objects, but as whole women who can do for and be themselves. And there are many strong female characters that drive the show, like Dr. River Song, who drives her own storyline and is fierce, smart and competent first and the Doctor’s love interest second.

Doctor Who is by all means not perfect. At some point, it would seem that changing the gender or race of the Doctor would be a real breakthrough, but for now, isn’t it important that we see the Doctor breaking down what it means to be a man? To show that you can be cool and still be funny, smart and kind? I see it as one of the only shows that is helping to break down the ‘man box’ criteria. And it is important for us all to help break down the walls of that box instead of boxing each other in. It is important for us to not divide gender, but see it as a continuation of various identities that make us unique. If you are interested in learning more about the ‘man box’, I would recommend Tony Porters TedX talk, but know it is not for the faint of heart. There are some very real, very difficult stories that he talks about. It is a good place for parents and loved ones to start to think of how to discuss what it means to be a man to the boys in their lives. If you have any great shows or movies that are breaking down the barriers of the ‘man box’ share them in the comments section!

#Hallowtween

Halloween is that special time of the year that those young and old get excited about. I have seen Halloween merchandise up since the beginning of September. Just like in many walks of life, when it comes to Halloween, tweens are in-between. They are not really in the “trick or treating” stage, but they are also not quite at that classic Halloween scene in Mean Girls. Never-the-less young women and men are likely on the lookout for that perfect look. But, how do tweens choose what to be and what not to be? How do they get their swag on? Are they genetically predisposed to certain costumes over others or are social factors involved? Let’s take a look at what is happening on the web.

If you look up Tween costumes in Google you are going to notice a couple of things. First, most costumes in the tween costume category are for young women. In fact, if you click on just Google images you don’t see a traditional “boys” costume until you are 100+ images in. The second thing you will notice is that the costumes are highly gendered and often downright sexual…if you are a girl. Although there are some exceptions, girls can be anything boys can be, only (even in tween costumes) a skirt must be included. Most models that are in the advertisements are thin, white and have long, luxurious hair. If the costume itself isn’t sexualized the submissive or girly poses of the girls modeling the costumes are. Even the American flag can be sexy. Just check out old glory on the Spirit Halloween website.

Rubies

There are some costumes advertised to boys, however, there is more intense marketing of Halloween costumes to young women.Two things may be coming into play here. The first is that advertisers are marketing a ‘pretty’ image to young women. Which in general means more products to buy. The second is that if you are a boy, often you can be Spiderman, Batman, Superman and Ironman from toddler to adult. The images that we do see in young men’s costumes are also extremely gendered. Their poses are often tough, mean, aggressive and powerful. Unless you are counting the Fred Flintstone or clown costume on the Halloween Express website, which are more comical. Although young men are typically shown as fit and white, there is also no tight or revealing costumes and in general boys do not have to think about movement, running or even sometimes walking in their costumes. They are ready for action.

There is nothing new to these images. Kids have been seeing these gender differences in costumes for a long time. Even toddlers cannot just be Sully from Monsters University, they have to be gendered Sully. Meaning no alterations for boys, but girls are pointed towards costumes that have skirts and are more feminine. And boys who want to wear costumes with skirts, no way. As shown in the What Would You Do? television show last year, there is a big resistance for a boy dressing in traditionally feminine costumes, but not for girls dressing in traditionally masculine costumes. The nuts and bolts are that it is socially acceptable for girls to be more masculine, but not for boys to be more feminine. A phenomena we continue to see in adulthood.

So what does this all mean? Are boys biologically prone to pick more masculine costumes and girls feminine? Do media and social peers play a role or do kids choose for themselves whom they want to portray? There is not a clear cut answer, but, it is hard not to wonder what the world would look like if a girl could be just a regular old Crayon, instead of a sexy crayon. Or a boy could choose a more feminine costume without the fear of public ridicule. Conversations with tweens is important when it comes to why they are picking and following certain trends. That is where you as parents come in. How can you talk with your tween about the gendered expectations of Halloween and still have them happy with their costume choices. Share your Halloween thoughts, stories and pictures in the comment section.

Hashtags Are Cool

Media and Tweens. It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the two. This blog is a place where parents and other tween caregivers can come to discuss current events that are happening within the Tweensphere. It is a place where we can break down the messages behind the media. As a lecturer in higher academics, I love working with students to connect and apply academic concepts to everyday life and I hope to do the same for you as readers of #TweenSwag.

I am not a mom. I am an aunt, that aunt, you know that fun one that you can entrust with all your secrets and who will openly tell you the answers to the hard questions you can’t ask your parents. And tweens have a lot of questions, I know because I have three tween nieces and nephews to guide me through the tweensphere. Don’t worry if you don’t know the lingo, I will help you crack the code. You see I learned a lot this summer.

First, hashtags (#) are cool. For example, if you decide to hang out with your best friends at the lake, then your Twitter or Facebook status will look something like this: “At the lake with my besties#best.day.ever.” Second, tweens (children 10-12-years of age) have a lot on their minds and pose more questions then they may get answers. Finally, Swag is a word that can be used in a variety of ways; however, it typically means the way someone presents themselves. The word “cool” would most likely be its closest predecessor.

As the assistant director of women and gender studies at North Dakota State University and with a master’s in communication, I cannot help myself when it comes to critically thinking about gender, the way it is presented, and how it is supposed to fit in our lives. I’ve learned that everything means something, even the littlest things. I’ve been taught to question why and how certain decisions were made for the mass public. Within this blog I plan to address popular tween magazines like Girls Life and Sports Illustrated for Kids, television shows like My Little Pony Friendship is Magic and Dr. Who, and the up-coming holiday Halloween. Although media connects our lives in meaningful ways, it is also sending messages about who and what we should be.  As we get older and have life experience, we may be able to pull apart the messages; however, tweens may have a harder time understanding the world behind the content.