Thursday, August 01, 2013

High Heels for Little Girls - what are we teaching our daughters?

While sitting down and watching Spongebob with my one year-old daughter, Clara, I saw 2 advertisements for Skechers shoes – one aimed at little girls, one aimed at little boys.

The advertisement for girls featured little girls pretending to be rock stars while wearing sneakers that hid a 2-inch wedge heel.  So these little girls could be taller and no one would know. The ad starts by saying: “Do you want to get taller?” and “have a secret wedge that only we girls know about?” Throughout we watch cartoon girls in short skirts sing on stage.  This is it: Skechers Wedge Commercial

In the next commercial block I watched a second Skechers ad for Air-Mazing Shoes.  It shows cartoon boys doing all kinds of stunts and sports.   It asks: “Are you a kid who runs fast, jumps high and plays hard?” At the end of the commercial two girls dressed as cheerleaders swoon over the boy in the cool, athletic sneakers.  This is it: Air-Mazing Commercial.  

This prompted me to visit the Skechers website to find out more about these shoes.  The Air-Mazing sneakers are only available in boys sizes – preschool through grade school.  The Secret Wedge Seakers are only available to girls – preschool through grade school which sport a 2-inch hidden heel.  There is also an adult woman version with a 3-inch heel.

Does anyone else have a problem with the fact that Skechers is marketing shoes to little girls by asking them if they want to be taller?  I know that as a parent I don’t consider teaching my daughter how to navigate in high heels as a toddler a priority or something that should be encouraged. Doesn’t this feed into the media obsession with super tall, size 0 models – an ideal that is almost impossible to imitate?

I was equally disturbed by the fact that Skechers is marketing an athletic sneaker solely to boys.  Aren’t there plenty of little girls who can run fast, jump high and play hard?  This commercial also sexualizes the boys by showing scantily clad cheerleaders swooning over the boy.  Clearly sending the message that if you have cool shoes, pretty girls will love you.

I would have less of a problem with the commercials if they were more inclusive.  I am sure as a teenage girl I would have liked the idea of a wedge sneaker but I also would have wanted a real sneaker to play basketball in.  And why isn’t there a male version of the wedge shoe for all the insecure boys out there that wish they were taller?  You might laugh at that marketing campaign but I would argue that we should be laughing just as hard at marketing a wedge sneaker to little girls.

In both commercials the girls are dressed in close-fitting outfits that show off incredibly healthy curves and busts for pre-pubescent girls.  Conversely the boys are depicted wearing comfortable clothes appropriate for playing sports.

As a woman who played sports as a little girl I am offended by this marginalization of young girls. I guess only little boys can be “amazing,” the little girls have to worry about learning how to walk in high heels.

In a discussion on this very subject it was pointed out to me that Skechers is only selling what the consumer will buy.  They wouldn’t be selling the shoes if people weren’t buying them.  True.  I think we as consumers have to consider what we are exposing our children too – especially our little girls.  If we didn’t buy the products they wouldn’t be made.  But I think these companies have to be more aware of the narrative they are telling with their product.

I remember that talking Barbie doll that said: “Math class is tough,” reinforcing the stereotype that girls have trouble doing math.  When consumers complained, Mattel removed the doll from the market.  We are all responsible for what we expose the malleable minds of children too. I would hope that Skechers might feel the same way.

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