The other night I watched the first episode of the latest series of Child of our Time on TV one. It was looking primarily at the 'Gender Divide'. It considered things like marketing to children, body image, values and how these differed between the 8 year old boys and girls.
Like all of this series, it was very interesting to see the children's perspectives on things. It was heartening to see the girls choose health and kindness as the most important values - and amusing to see the boys choose being rich.
However, I was very disturbed by the negative self image many of the girls already had. Shown 8 different body types in increasing size, all the children selected a smaller body size than their own as ideal, and most chose a much larger one to illustrate their perceptions of their own bodies. Remember, these were 8 year olds. (I do have to mention that the 8 year old boys were choosing things randomly, like the 'fat' one because then they could bash people, there was total disinterest in this exercise).
One child in particular was in tears at least twice in the programme at the idea of being fat - fat people are unliked, mean and not good friends apparently.
It was interesting that the Bratz dolls one child played with was behind some of the feelings - although the little girl would love to wear the clothes her doll does, she couldn't because she is too fat. I have long had a dislike of these dolls and others like it as I have believed that they encourage that sort of feeling. It was good to see proof that I was right with my instincts, though I would prefer to be proven wrong when it means one little girl has obvious self image issues because of it.
In the series there is one little boy whose parents have gone out of their way to raise their children without obvious gender stereotypes. The toys are shared, the parents share roles and there is obvious equality. It was so pleasing to see that it does work - the little boy chose the same values as the girls and throughout his time on screen seemed well balanced and sensitive to others, very different to his peers.
This programme raised many issues for me, as the parent to a girl. I want my daughter to grow up believing that she can do pretty much whatever she wants in the world, while remaining compassionate towards others. I want her to love herself, no matter which genes she has inherited for her physical makeup. Most of all, I want her to be happy.
For me, this programme reassured me that my instincts in parenting in some areas are spot on. There will be no Bratz dolls or similar here (though I might be OK with Barbie type dolls, after all, I had them!) and I will attempt to minimise exposure to music videos (another big issue for the children in the show). Most of all, I will continue to do my best to develop my daughters self belief, so that she can be the best her that she can be.