Too Fat to Fit In?

I recently learned of a brand of clothing that achieves exclusivity not through price, but through size. Brandy Melville offers almost all of its clothing in either size “small” or “one-size-fits-most” (as long as “most people” are small). The brand is one of the hottest lines of clothing for teens, according to research firm Piper Jaffray.

It is not new for teens to try to build their identity and gain acceptance and a sense of belonging through their clothing choices. It is simply the brands and the looks that change. But while previous generations of teens were barred from the most exclusive looks by price (or were forced to spend far more than they could afford on designer labels or celebrity endorsed merchandise), Brandy Melville is relatively inexpensive. Instead, the brand has set the price of entry into its club at being very, very skinny. Now, instead of a teen blowing all her savings on a purse she really can’t afford, she is pressured to go to unhealthy measures in order to fit the same size pants as everyone else.

The immature part of my brain remembers being poor and skinny as a teen and thinks “Where was this when I was 16?!” But the mature part, the wiser woman in me, has learned that in life, the target for superficial popularity is always moving. Basing one’s identity on a look or a brand will never really satisfy the human need for security and belonging. But how do parents teach that to their children?

It was one thing for parents to refuse to purchase expensive clothing when the family couldn’t afford it. At least teens could blame their parents for being too poor or frugal. My fear is that teen girls will blame themselves for not fitting into Brandy Melville — and that their disappointment or anger will turn towards their bodies (even more so than it already does for young adults). Parents, especially those of girls who are too normal-sized to fit into the skinny brand, must help their children understand the dark side of marketing and branding. Companies like Brandy Melville prey on insecurities — they need us as consumers to feel inadequate without their product. But clothing is not our identity, and it can never create acceptance. Clothing is at its most basic level a tool to keep us protected from the environment. Yes, it can be used for self-expression, but if you are dissatisfied without the clothing, you will be dissatisfied with it.

Are your teens victims of marketing who strive to purchase only the “cool” brands? Consider:

  • Banning Brandy Melville on principle, even for your children who could fit into the clothing. Refuse to buy into the unhealthy standard that all girls should be shaped a particular way.
  • Check your own attitude about clothing and identity. Do you model an attitude that clothing does not define an individual?
  • Challenge your teen to develop his or her own style. For example, challenge them to only buy clothing from resale shops for the next 6 months.
  • Purge magazines from your home. Magazines are often glorified catalogues that feed the desire for particular looks and brands.
  • Encourage your teen to develop a more global awareness of what life is like for others who cannot afford to be obsessed with their looks. The popular Hunger Games movies and books are easy conversation starters: ask questions about the parallels between the image-obsessed residents of the Capitol and our culture’s obsession with brands like Brandy Melville.

Have more ideas? Share them in the comments section!

I want this PSA in my state!

I was driving down a major road in our town this weekend when I pulled up next to a car in which the driver was holding her pink smartphone with the same hand as she held the steering wheel, right up at dashboard level. She was actively staring at the screen, scrolling and typing. Feeling guilty myself anytime I take a call without a hands-free headset, I was appalled at this blatant disregard for common sense, safety, and Illinois’ new ban on all texting and handheld phone use while driving. Okay, I reasoned, we’re at a stoplight. And I suppose she could be looking at a GPS map.

But no, as the light turned green, the scrolling and taping motion told me she was not looking at a map, nor did she have any intention of putting the phone down. We stayed pretty level with each other and stopped at two more lights together before she eventually sped away, and any time I glanced over, her posture and the scrolling and tapping hadn’t changed.

Yes, I admit, I am judging her. I would love to be wrong, but I have a very hard time not seeing her as a danger to myself, my children, and everyone else on the road. Because for any of us, it is only a matter of time before our distraction behind the wheel hurts someone.

Which leads me to the PSA I just saw, shared by the website Upworthy. (The PSA is from Volkswagen and was posted by MadOverAds.)

Please, parents, set the example for your children and define a standard of zero tolerance for phone use while driving. Not only is it the law in Illinois, it is unquestionably a matter of safety for your children and for others. I get the temptation — I have to discipline myself frequently to ignore the buzzes and pings coming from my phone while driving. And I have been the passenger with friends, my husband, even my father as the driver started using the phone to look up a restaurant or answer a text (at which point I grab the phone and do it for them). The point is, none of us are good enough drivers to get away with it forever. We simply cannot allow ourselves or those we love to fall to the temptation to use the phone while driving, even “just this once.”

Talk About Real Beauty with Your Children

In recent years, Dove has tried to create a niche for itself by promoting real beauty and self-esteem. Granted, it still sells beauty products, and what I am sharing in this post is still an ad, but it provides a helpful reminder, nonetheless. Warning — if you try to avoid images of scantily clad women, this video is not for you.

(Video from link here.)

We are all impacted by advertising, and now part of parenting is helping your children sift through advertising’s messages. It’s a tough job, but it is necessary. Here are some activities and conversations to try with your kids (boys and girls):

– Pick a time to do an “ad purge” of your house. Make a competition to see how many ads or examples of marketing your kids can find throughout the house. (If you want to de-clutter at the same time, throw away or recycle as much as you can.) Examples of what you might find: magazines, catalogs, political mailings, all forms of product packaging, coupons, in-app ads on mobile devices, TV, radio, the backs of books, and the list goes on.

– Collect several examples of health and beauty products in your house. Read the packaging, front and back, with your kids. How does it sound? Do you believe it? Is it scientific sounding or fanciful? For younger kids, ask them to write packaging for a beauty product that they invent and talk about it. For older teens, ask them how they select which products they will use.

– Pick a day to go without make-up as a family. I’ve known whole schools to make a no-make-up day, encouraging teachers and students alike to show their bare face to world. Talk about whether make-up is easy or difficult to give up.

What other ideas can you think of for encouraging your kids to see real beauty?

Wallowing in Cultural Sewage

“Sewage.” That was the word that came to mind after I spent the morning reading about and watching clips of the MTV Music Video awards, which was rated PG-14 but should have been R.  It was American culture at it’s worst, from Lady Gaga exposing her nude rear end, to Miley Cyrus’ lewd “twerking” (a word I had to look up) that even caused Will Smith and his children’s mouths to gape open.  Oh, there was one word MTV bleeped out, “Molly,” referring to a form of ecstasy.  But Miley’s simulated sexual act (I wouldn’t call that “dancing”) with the foam finger prop and up against Robin Thicke was beyond lewd and SHOULD have been censored. The New York Times described Cyrus as “molesting” Thicke.  Comedian Kevin Hart joked, “Miley better get a … pregnancy test after all of that grinding.”

With two tunes currently in ITunes’ Top 5, “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop,” Miley is a powerful pop idol, selling a powerful message to YOUR teens.  These lines from Miley’s hit song, “We Can’t Stop” display the values being sold to our kids at every turn, and are worth discussing: 

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can sing what we want

Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere
Hands in the air like we don’t care
‘Cause we came to have so much fun now
Bet somebody here might get some now

Another one to discuss (sung that night by Robin Thicke while Miley licked his chest and rubbed his crotch, etc.) is “Blurred Lines” which many say seems to give the message that when a woman says “No,” a guy can think (in it’s catchy repeated line) “I know you want it.”

By the way, I blocked MTV in my home.  Yes, there is a place for censorship…when it involves my money, my kids, my values and my home.

When Showing Less is More

What an interesting concept:  Power in modesty!  Former Power Ranger actress, Jessica Rey, has a YouTube video discussing a variety of things that have to do with modesty, such as
the history of what we consider showing “too much” and (the most interesting part) research on the impact on the male brain of seeing scantily clad women.


A CNN report on the research revealing what happens when too much is revealed, shows that a part of a man’s brain lights up that has to do with “handling tools and the intention to perform actions,” rather than the part of the brain “associated with analyzing another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions.”  It seems that women who show too much can become, in the male brain (not consciously, mind you), an object, rather than a person.  Given that women can be, in fact, objectified when they dress immodestly, and are not valued for who they are (or even seen as a person), doesn’t it make sense that women would have MORE power if dressed modestly?  Jessica believes so, and even includes a few slides of her modest, yet fashionable, swimsuit line in her quest to bring vibrant, healthy modesty back into our culture.  This video is entertaining, and would prompt a great family conversation about our society, how standards of modesty have changed, and if it matters.

Forming Savvy Consumers: Talking Over Ads With Your Teens

The other day, my husband was on a website that caters to those who like to keep up with NASA and the space program (yes, he’s a bit of a space geek).  There, flanking the content, on both sides, were two Hooters babes.  He made sure I knew that he was innocently looking at the space stuff, not the curvy young ladies!  I’ve also noticed how–amazingly–my computer search engine knows what I’m interested in, and gives me targeted ads based on what I’ve recently looked at.

Our children are bombarded with messages all day long, and need to be taught to be critical thinkers and saavy consumers.  I  found some great questions to talk through WITH our teens when we see an ad on TV, or in a magazine, or on the internet.  Even just a few sessions of doing this can train our kids not to accept every message that comes across their field of vision!  The following is adapted from youth expert Walt Mueller’s CPYU website:

1. What product is this ad selling?
2. What, besides the product, does this ad sell? (ideas, lifestyle, worldview, behaviors, etc.)
3. What’s the bait, hook, and promise?
4. Complete this sentence: “This ad tells me, use________ (the name of the product) and ___________ (the result the ad promises).
5. Does the ad tell the truth? What? How?
6. Does the ad tell a lie(s)? What? How?
7. How does the ad and its messages agree or disagree with my (or our family’s) values and what does that mean for me?

Having a BETTER ‘Don’t Drink’ Talk with your Teen

I read an article today that had great tips for parents on how to talk to their kids about the positive aspects of avoiding alcohol.  This was a new twist that I found refreshing, since we usually use scare tactics when warning about drinking (you could kill somebody, you might do something stupid, you have the alcoholism gene in your family tree, etc.).

What I found really valuable, is that it had step-by-step instructions for how to actually have that conversation.  Take a look HERE, and plan to set aside some time to have that conversation with each of your children.

Mixed Messages

Trying to protect our kids is always a main concern for a parent. We want to keep them safe in all aspects of their lives. So when it comes to the media, this can be tough. Our kids are exposed to all kinds of messages: billboards, music, TV, movies…..the list can go on and on.

With the recent release of the “Twilight” sequel, I want parents to have  a heads up to what their child may be watching. To be equipped with the right tools for the job. Now without seeing the movie I don’t have an opinion on it, but I have heard there is some confusing messages in it. This is always a great opportunity to talk with your child about what he or she thinks and feels. These are a few good sites to visit and receive info and reviews on the stuff our kids are into. If you are not watching what they are, you can get the facts about it. Check it out!


Identity With a Price Tag

This is an excerpt from an article I found on I enjoyed it so much I’m posting it here for you to read. What do you think?

The over-riding narrative of consumerism is: “You are what you consume.” Identity is based on what a teen can purchase and put on display. The result is that adolescent identity tends to be formed externally rather than generated internally.One strategy marketers use is “identity branding.” This is an explicit effort to get teens to identify themselves with a particular product or corporate brand. The craze around Apple’s iPod is an example of this identity branding.  The iPod has changed the face of the music industry.  As a part of iPod’s early, and vastly successful ad campaign, the website’s homepage contained a neon-colored image screaming for your attention. The image was the now-familiar dark silhouette of a trendy young person passionately dancing to the music playing on the white iPod linked by earphones to his ear. The caption read, “Which iPod are you?” Notice the question wasn’t “Which iPod do you prefer?” or “Which iPod suits your lifestyle?” It was an overt attempt to blend product and identity in hopes that teens would fuse their own identity with their product. With millions of consumers gobbling up iPod and iTunes products every year, the strategy of mixing identity and brand must be working.But consumerism doesn’t stop there. It also engages in a marketing strategy we could call “caricaturing.” In an effort to sell their products more efficiently, corporate advertisers go so far as to design a form of adolescent identity for teens to readily adopt.Extensive research and vast of marketing dollars have generated teen-targeted, media-created caricatures. One example is the “Mook.” He is the crude, loud, obnoxious, in-your-face male: a teen frozen in permanent adolescence. Mooks can be found everywhere. They’re the daredevils on “Jackass.” They star in MTV’s Spring Break specials.  Mooks continue to be spun out as key characters in new television shows every season. You don’t have to look very hard.But there’s no real Mook. It’s a market creation designed to take advantage of the testosterone-driven craziness of male adolescence. Teenage males identify with it and “buy into” it. All that needs to be done is associate merchandise with the Mook caricature and you have Mooks gobbling up those products.Along with the Mook, the media machine has also produced a female caricature. The “Midriff”-no more true to life than the Mook-is the sexually empowered, prematurely adult female. The Mook doesn’t care what people think of him, but the Midriff is consumed by appearances. The Midriff is a repackaged collection of sexual clichés, but marketed as a form of empowerment. Your body is your best asset. Flaunt your sexuality even if you don’t understand it.2 Celebutantes Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears seem to embody the essence of the Midriff. The marketing strategy is similar to that of the Mook: project the caricature to teens and they will embrace and begin to personify them. All you need to do is infuse a brand or product into a pre-designed teen market.”