“Can I Have Another Snack?” The Trials and Tribulations of Parents and Food | The Feminist Wire

“Can I Have Another Snack?” The Trials and Tribulations of Parents and Food

November 12, 2012

By David J. Leonard


Food is always a challenge on the parental grind. Whether competing with commercials that highlight the nutritional value of the latest sugary cereal (food coloring, sugar, corn syrup, and FIBER) or the newest cross marketing promotion that requires a burger to secure “that thing,” I often find myself fighting an uphill battle. If only fast food “restaurants” and tween characters were in the business of selling apples and broccoli, I might find the challenge a little less taxing.

While the challenges of competing with hyper-marketed, colorful, and processed sugar delivered in various shapes and sizes is nothing new, I have found the struggle to be especially difficult with my oldest daughter (almost 9) over the last year. Partially reflecting her increased independence – the ability to get her own food from the pantry – and her growing appetite that has not resulted in an expanded menu, I have really had to look inward to evaluate my own reactions. Is my concern about her intake a normal response to children’s insatiable desire for unhealthy yet appealing foods? Is this about my failures as a parent, as someone running around, pulled in different directions, and thus unable or unwilling to have the conversations and the battles over the difference between fresh fruit and packaged fruit snacks? Or is it a gendered reaction particular to my buying into society’s demands about female beauty and skinniness? In other words, is this specific to my daughter, whereupon my level of awareness when it comes to my son will be different? I don’t know the answer to these questions, which is telling in itself.

I have found myself in dialogue with myself, asking often if my reaction is wrapped up in the gendered policing of girls’ and women’s bodies? For example, is it two cookies is too much or two cookies for her is too much? In this regard, am I giving voice to the daily lessons widely disseminated in the media and countless other institutions? Am I serving as a conduit of these destructive and hurtful lessons? Whether I am subconsciously buying into these societal beauty standards, merely trying to “protect” her from a sexist society (or harmful foods), or simply just trying to get her to eat in healthy ways, these moments have forced introspection as a parent. They have forced me to think about my own capitulation, wondering if the lessons learned from media, from schools, from everyday interactions, those grounded in misogyny and sexism, are impacting my parental choices.

While the efforts to empower our children with food knowledge (yes, fruit snacks are not fruit; 100% fruit juice doesn’t mean right squeezed into the bottle) and to provide knowledge so that kids can make good choices about what they put in their bodies through their own lives, I also find myself worrying about how my parenting, how the arguments about food, how the struggles about soda or snacks, may have a deleterious impact on her in the long term. That is, is making food into a source of conflict a problem in itself? Anthony T. DeBenedet, explores the larger issues at work here:

Sure, promoting healthy eating, regardless of one’s weight or age, seems like a positive thing on the surface. But here’s the potential downside: We know kids and teens react differently than adults to external pressures like persistent messaging. Sometimes these pressures can translate into incredible waves of anxiety and fear. At the extreme, a healthy-weight youth could be pushed to monitor his weight more frequently or even begin an unsupervised diet — behaviors that might represent an impending eating disorder.

continue reading at “Can I Have Another Snack?” The Trials and Tribulations of Parents and Food | The Feminist Wire.

NewBlackMan: The Tweening of America: The Disappearance of Age-Appropriate Television

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Tweening of America: The Disappearance of Age-Appropriate Television



The Tweening of America: The Disappearance of Age-Appropriate Television

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

What started as an ordinary conversation about marriage between my partner and our 7 ½ year old daughter (Rea) concretized our ongoing frustrations and precarious relationship with popular culture. Following a role-playing game that ended in a pretend marriage between Rea and Sam (our son, who will be four next month), my partner asked Sam if he knew what marriage meant. Unsure, Rea intervened with a very elaborate description that went something like this: it is when two people meet and then start to date. If they like each other, they continue to date for a while until they are ready to get married. At the wedding, the promise to follow the rules for married people. While her description actually encompassed a few more details, it was clear that she not only understands dating, relationships, and courting rituals, but the institution of marriage and the associated vows. At the age of 7 ½ , she is well versed in both the fairy-tale and happily-ever-after narratives of marriage.

Over the last year, my partner and I have struggled to help Rea find age-appropriate, and most importantly, empowering television shows. In her mind, she is too mature and grown-up for those preschool/kindergarten shows. You know that ones that emphasize language skills, inter-personal skill development, symbolic reason, and cultural literacy: Sesame Street, Arthur, Sid the Science Kid, Word Girl, and Martha Speaks. In her estimation, these shows are neither cool nor sophisticated enough for her; her brother yes, but definitely not for a 2nd grader. Simply put, those shows are boring and, worse, beneath her. Instead, she would much rather watch shows like ICarly, Victorious, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, Good Luck Charlie, or countless other tween shows.

According to Gary Marsh, a top executive at Disney Channels Worldwide: “It’s always been presumed that animation is the gravy train. Nobody quite understood you could create lifestyle franchises out of live-action tween shows.” Similarly, Peter Larsen, in “TV’s Tween Scene,” describes this cultural shift as not only economically significant but culturally important as well: “What they discovered was that kids in that age range didn’t want to watch shows for little kids, and didn’t want to watch their parents’ shows. Instead, they wanted to see themselves and their stories on TV.”

While trying to attract the 9-14 age consumers (25 million in the United States, representing a 50 billion dollar industry), tween shows universally tell stories of TEENAGERS. ICarly chronicles the trials and tribulations of Carly Shay and friends, now in high school, who have their own webcast. One Nickelodeon executive identified the show as one about “relationships and humor” a fact that illustrated by a list of Carly’s “boyfriends, dates and crushes” on one website. Victorious similarly follows high school kids at a performing art school in Hollywood, CA. It, like just about every other show, explores the issues of relationships, getting-in-trouble, boyfriends and girlfriends. While focusing on the experiences and stories of 13-16 year olds, the dearth of shows dealing with the experiences of 6-10 year old kids, along with marketing efforts directed at these younger consumers, results in gravitation to shows that are more teen than tween.

Our discomfort with her watching shows that focus on dating, boys and materialism, looking beautiful and being cool isn’t simply about age appropriateness and our desire for her to define her identity and otherwise imagine her own childhood outside of teenager themes and issues. The focus on dating sends a message that coolness and acceptance comes for girls who have a boyfriend, who guys think are attractive, and who has been kissed. Likewise, too much of these shows chronicle the struggles of girls to be accepted, to feel good about themselves, and part of this comes from the struggles to get a boyfriend.

According to a 2009 study from True Child, school-age television shows lag significantly behind preschool shows in terms of offering representation of confident and self-aware girls. Compared to 94% of preschool shows, only 42% of shows geared toward school-age kids like my daughter exhibit characteristics like confidence, assertiveness, and high-self esteem. Similarly, the report found that “49% of shows feature at “82% of shows feature girls primarily with long hair”; “60% of the shows feature girls who are underweight with skinner than average waists.”

The questionable messages about consumerism, gendered-identity, and appearance-determined coolness run against the presented image of the Disney and Nickelodeon shows about girl power. As example, True Child celebrated several tween girl shows for “breaking through gender stereotypes.” Similarly, David Bushman argues the importance these shows in giving girls something to watch that indeed is about confident girls:

I think Nickelodeon has empowered kids in a lot of ways … but I think they’ve specifically empowered young girls, and that’s a really important thing that Nickelodeon deserves a lot of credit for. This whole idea that you could not make girl-centric shows because boys wouldn’t watch them, they disproved that theory (in Banet-Weiser).

Yet, visibility and even challenging stereotypes isn’t the only issue to consider when examining these shows. Visibility doe

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: The Tweening of America: The Disappearance of Age-Appropriate Television.

NewBlackMan: An Unmagical World: Challenging the Princess Paradigm

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Unmagical World: Challenging the Princess Paradigm

by David Leonard | NewBlackMan

When my daughter was about 3-years old, while on a vacation, we ventured into a Disney store where we purchased a set of princess figurines (I still feel compromise about our collective relationship with the world of princesses some 4+ years later). We quickly returned to my parents’ hotel so that she could play with them. When it was time to leave and return to where we were staying, I noticed that three of the princesses were missing. Pocahontas, Mulan, and Jasmine were all nowhere to be found while Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and Cinderella were in plain sight ready to go with us. Determined, I searched high and low for her newly purchased toys. After a few minutes, I realized that the three figurines of color were strategically placed under the bed. It was not as if she was playing with them and accidentally placed them under the bed; they were far back, to the point that they were almost out of reach. Not to worry, super-Dad rescued them, only to be told by my 3-year old that she didn’t want them. The horror. Overcoming my sense of failure and dismay, I asked her:

Why don’t you want them?

Her: I just don’t

Me: But why?

Her: Because they don’t have sparkly shoes

She was correct; whereas the 4 figurines of white characters had dresses and sparkly shoes (even though you couldn’t actually see the shoes on all of them), the 3 figurines of color lacked all of the traditional markers of princessdom.

However, much more was at work because in this instance, the daily lessons she had learned about beauty, race, gender, and desirability came into clear view. As a scholar of race, an anti-racist advocate, and someone committed to media literacy, I was immediately distraught, wondering how I had failed to convey these fallacies within contemporary culture. As a parent of a mixed-race daughter (I am white and my wife is Chinese), this moment also concretized the powerful messages being delivered about beauty and racial identity.  Notwithstanding the immense problems with the princess trope (and happiness coming from being saved by a prince), it was clear that my daughter was learning the incompatibility of beautiful glamorous princesses and girls of color.

Continue reading at NewBlackMan: An Unmagical World: Challenging the Princess Paradigm.