Redefining Girly – One T-Shirt at a Time

Several months ago, while tooling around and making a pest of myself on Facebook, I came across Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly.

Pigtail Pals is a business. It sells clothes for girls (and boys) among other things.

But it is also much more than a business.  As it says on the ‘about’ page,

Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly wants to change the way people think about girls.

Not a little goal, then!  But such an important one.  For me, as an adult, ‘girly’ is an innocent word to describe fun and frivolous, enjoyable women’s stuff.  So, if I’m going out with a girlfriend to have a facial, or buy makeup or clothes, we might say we’re having ‘girly’ afternoon.  It’s harmless, for me.

But what effect does it have on a little girl, if ‘girly’  is all she is perceived to be – all she is ‘allowed’ to be? What if she absorbs the message that what, for me, is a frivolous and fun, but small, part of womanhood is ALL a girl is supposed to be or will be valued for?

This is the question Melissa Atkins Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals found herself asking, when her daughter was nine months old.  The following quote is from the ‘Mission‘ page on the Pigtail Pals website and I think it puts it very well.

…I was in the middle of a conversation about Disney Princesses when I had an epiphany…Why in the world is my generation, the most educated, most well-traveled, most worldly generation of women ever…why are my contemporaries still raising our girls to wish upon a star in hopes that her prince may someday come? Why aren’t we teaching our girls to get into her rocket ship and find that star all on her own?And then it hit me — Maybe I didn’t need to raise my daughter in the pink & purple wave of brainwashing princesses and sexed up dolls I saw spiraling towards us. Maybe I could raise her to be smart, independent, strong and daring. Maybe I could incorporate every color of the rainbow into her world, and not limit her to pink. I recall watching her that morning, before she could even walk, making a promise to myself I would never limit her dreaming nor desire for adventure. I would help her redefine what it was to be a little girl growing up in today’s sometimes crazy world.

Anyone who has been around me for any length of time knows that I am very concerned about the hyper-sexualised world that our kids are growing up in.  The message, especially for girls, is that their entire worth is embodied in their bodies and specifically in how well they fit an artificial definition of sexiness.

Some people say, about this, that the solution is easy: just don’t buy or watch the things that bother you.

But it isn’t that easy.  Even if you never buy a magazine, and sell the TV, the images are everywhere, in shop windows and on billboards and movies.

And the stereotyped gender roles prevail in the toy stores and clothes shops to a level that almost beggars belief.  Walk into a Toys R Us and check out the ‘pink’ aisles some time, if you don’t believe me.  Or try to buy pants for an 11yr old girl that aren’t skin-tight.  Or a shirt for a boy that isn’t black or doesn’t have skulls or other violent images on it.

I’m not kidding.  This is what parents face every day.  Many of us are worried.  Melissa decided to do something about it.  Quoting, again, from the Facebook page,

Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly offers empowering products for girls (and girls at heart) that encourage girls to be smart, daring, and adventurous. Created by a mom who believes our daughters need to SEE and GROW with images of girls in action and achievement.

Having products like these available is important.  We are visual and visceral beings.  Sure, we think about things, but an enormous amount of the way we experience the world comes through our senses.  What we see and hear is important.  What we wear is vital to our sense of self, and yet more so to the emerging sense of self of a child.  I, personally, don’t have anything against the Disney Princesses, but I would like to see more clothes options for little girls.  And I would really like never to see again a t-shirt in a child’s size 6 that says the wearer is ‘looking for a stud muffin’, or is ‘too expensive for you’ (both seen in KMart).

Having the conversation is also important.  To that end, Melissa has also set up a blog, which, in her words,

…aims to teach parents about the gender stereotypes and sexualization harming our children’s right to a childhood.

On the blog she is doing some excellent work in promoting positive body image and health messages for children and their families.  I know from personal experience how hurtful and damaging ignorant and judgmental attitudes can be for children who don’t fit the norm in any way and our current obsession with ‘the obesity epidemic’ is not helping.  In our increasingly secular world it seems that the horror and disgust people used to reserve for  the devil and sinners, they now apply to those who dare, for whatever reason to flout the new holiness – read, thinness.

I’m not suggesting that we go back to stoning sinners in the market place, but as a student of history, I can see some parallels with the public vilification of celebrities who dare to gain a pound or two.  Just sayin…

We desperately need to have a balanced, rational and caring discussion about how we can promote health in ourselves and our children without making them feel that they don’t measure up if they don’t fit some artificial ideal.  The work that Melissa is doing with Pigtail Pals is a wonderful contribution to that discussion and I think that for doing it, she is, to quote one of her t-shirts, ‘Full of Awesome’.

This weekend marks the third anniversary of Pigtail Pals and, in honour of the occasion, Melissa is hoping to make it to 10,000 ‘likes’ on the Facebook page by Sunday.  They’re nearly there, so if you feel like going over and clicking like, I’m sure it would be appreciated.  Tell ’em I sent you!  (If you want to click a like on my page while you’re there, I won’t complain ;))

And if you have any ideas or links to share on gender stereotypes and what we can do about them, or know of anyone else fighting the good fight who you would like me to cover here, please leave a comment!  I love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend


16 thoughts on “Redefining Girly – One T-Shirt at a Time

  1. Nicely said, Imelda. I enrolled my 10 yr old Princess in Karate this year. Best thing I ever did. There’s little you can do about some of the images that bombard them on tv and such like, cartoons are rife with it, but explaining to them the absurdity of such things can only help.

    • Ah yes, we love Karate! I have a soon-to-be blue belt in my house and I am going for my own yellow belt in May (oooooh). It’s wonderful for body confidence and strength and balance and all that and in our case, it also provides a wonderful role model in our 60-something, female, 3rd Dan Black Belt Sensei! (Lovely, grandmotherly type, who bakes and makes costumes for her grand-daughter’s dancing and simultaneously as kick-arse as they come. Fabulous!)

  2. well said! Everyday it is right there in our faces, “oh right of course you are a girl,” and the infamous “oh is it that time of the month?”. That kind of thing can’t help but shape us sometimes to find excuses in our gender. It is about time we stand up and be us. Right?

    • Yes! Absolutely! And for the kids, too, it’s so important. Sometimes I look around me and wonder was I the only person awake in the 70’s? I remember women fighting to have it all but somehow that has transformed into us having to BE it all, including some artificial fantasy, which isn’t even men’s, but created by advertisers to sell us stuff. Makes me so cross. Writing about what Melissa was doing was a way of talking about some of it without going off on a complete rant! The clothes thing, just to take one example, is fully out of control. In KMart the other day, I saw a skinny 11 year old disgustedly rejecting pants that were so tight she couldn’t even get them over her foot! And if they were too tight for this little girl, who was at the small end of 11 yrs, how is that going to affect the ones who are naturally bigger? Again, makes me very cross!

  3. Thank you so much for this incredible post and tribute to Pigtail Pals. I’m really touched, and it is the first thing I saw when I woke up this morning, on Pigtail Pals third birthday! Thank you, Imelda!

  4. Imelda, fantastic post! Sing it, sister! I got goosebumps, the good kind, reading this post! Kudos to Melissa and to you for keeping the conversation alive and evoking change. We live in an era where women are continuously objectified and sexualized and sadly this also includes younger girls. Girls should not have to feel like they’re being placed in a box or that they have to live up to society’s expectations. I hope that posts like yours can open our eyes to the importance of promoting that our girls be free to be what they want to be! 🙂

    • Thanks, Bella! There are a lot of people concerned and the internet is helping to bring us together and give us a voice. Our young people need us to speak up! And if we do it here, where they are, all the better! Thanks for coming by!

  5. Your comment about skinny jeans for 11 year olds stood out to me because it starts a lot younger than that, in fact I struggle to find ‘girls’ trousers to fit my 20 month old daughter! Theyre all super-slim with tiny waists. It doesn’t help that shes in cloth nappies but even in disposables I can barely pull them past her knees. Look to the boys section and I don’t have a problem – they’re much better proportioned with room for growth. So the message seems to be that even 1 year old girls should be skinnier than 1 year old boys when the reality is there is little difference in their size and shape based on gender at this age. Theres nothing petite about my little girl, just like me at her age she’s a lovely, cuddly toddler. However if like me she grows up to be literally ‘big boned’ (ie wide hips, wide shouldered and big-breasted but still relatively slim – pre children at least lol) I worry that the current trend for girls clothes being slim fitting will make her uncomfortable with her body shape. She may not care that shes wearing ‘boys’ trousers now but when shes pre-pubescent and she cant find girls clothes that fit her shape how will that make her feel about her body? Its not just trousers either – all girls T shirts even for tiny babies are skinny fitting whilst the boys are wide and roomy.

    • I know, isn’t it ridiculous? I used to have the same problem with my little one, especially with the cloth nappies. I have noticed boy’s clothes tend to be warmer and cheaper, too, even, as you say, in the tiny sizes. My girl recently went on camp and they were instructed to bring clothes they could get wet and dirty in (it’s nearly winter here). After hunting through the girls’ section and finding only skimpy and skin-tight pants, we went one aisle over and found roomy, comfortable, warm tracksuit pants in the boys’ section, at two thirds the price of the girls’ ones.

      The other thing that really bothered me was that the same size in the boys fit her with room to spare and would barely go over her bottom in the girls. Luckily, my girl is not worried about her shape, but I think of the girls who are like me at that age and my heart bleeds for them, having to buy sizes that make them feel like heifers, when it is not them, but the clothes that are wacky and wrong. And this is KMart we are talking about, not some high-fashion emporium.

      I haven’t written to KMart about this yet, but I will. Because it is getting worse and it makes me very cross.

      Thanks for coming by and sharing, Julie. As I said to Bella, it’s important that we share these concerns and raise our collective voice, because I am convinced there are more of us feeling like this than we know and together, we can effect change. It’s lovely to ‘meet’ you!

  6. Another great post. And I applaud Pigtail Pals’ stance. I teach high school students about these aspects of advertising, and our PE’s teach a lot about body image, health etc. I’ll refer them to this post, if that’s okay.

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