TMF: White-washing Doc McStuffins right out of the underwear aisle

It’s been a while since I wrote a Tired Marketing Fail, but I think this may be my most outraged. The other day I was shopping for underwear for my four-year-old, a self-identified girl. My kid likes superheroes (which we’ve already parsed here), princesses, ponies, and yes, Doc McStuffins. And here is where we met with disappointment.

Perhaps because she already unconsciously benefits from white privilege or because of her developmental age, the draw for my kid these days is gender. She’s a girl and she likes to identify with other girls. She likes to hear stories about girls in book, TV, and movies — which is not always easy to find as cisgender male outnumber cisgender female characters three to one in family films while just 31 percent of central characters in children’s books are female. She likes to pretend to be different kinds of girls, whether they are princesses, firefighters, doctors, or Bat Girl Princess (Bat Girl mask and super powers with a princess dress, obviously).

So there we were in the children’s underwear aisle at Target and my kid spots the multi-pack featuring Doc McStuffins. But unlike the Frozen, Barbie, or Hello Kitty-themed packs, outside of the toddler section, poor Doc gets stuffed in with Sophia the First (is there a princess franchise more vacuous?) and Minnie Mouse. That’s right, in a sea of merchandising with white faces, the singularly female and black Doc McStuffins can’t even get her own package of panties — despite the fact that the character has mass cross-over appeal among different genders and races.

Copyright: The Tired Feminist

Is it just me or does it look like Doc McStuffins barely exists in this pack of girls’ underwear?

But as “DrMamaEsq” wrote on BlogHer last month:

People want to believe that young children do not see color. It seemingly provides us with the opportunity to intervene on young minds before racial stereotypes take hold. If young children do not see color, then we can provide multi-cultural materials to promote diversity, even when our personal lives—where we live, the conversations in which we participate, with whom we educate our kids—fail to reflect the racial equality and diversity we say we value.

What is true is that kids do “see” color because it is embedded into the very fabric of who we are as a nation. But kids, especially white children, are taught to ignore what they see, which is very different than not seeing color at all.

Indeed, I found myself in an unexpected teachable moment standing there in the underwear aisle. I could buy the multi-pack, which only had a couple of pairs of Doc panties mixed in with other non-Doc characters, or I could show my white child why this was messed up. Tired as I was — because when are we not tired, feminists? — I chose the latter. Because the fact that I can weigh this as an elective conversation is a manifestation of my own privilege. Let’s face it, parents of children of color are confronted with situations like these and worse (hello, Ferguson) on a daily basis. If I want to be something more than a suburban progressive with white-guilt, I need to be a part of the solution and that includes educating my kid about inequity and racism in our society. (Something parents of white kids need to be taking more seriously, because Ferguson.)

While I probably won’t be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for my explanation of the inherent inequality represented in that particular underwear aisle, I succeeded in pointing out that it wasn’t fair that Doc McStuffins did not get her own package, complete with multiple characters from the show, just like Frozen, My Little Ponies, Hello Kitty, Spiderman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Barbie. I told her it wasn’t right that Doc McStuffins wasn’t treated the same as the other popular characters and I tried to help her explore why it was that she might be treated differently. I’m not sure she completely understood the idea of race, but she very clearly could see that Doc McStuffins was not treated fairly in the world of the characters she loved. My kid was visibly saddened by this and she talked about it the rest of the night. She still points it out every time we see packs of undies, asking, “When will they make more Doc McStuffins panties?”

When, indeed, kid.

Copyright: The Tired Feminist

It doesn’t look like the Frozen characters are having any trouble getting their due.

Part of the blame must rest with children’s underwear manufacturer Handcraft, which has obviously chosen to offer mixed-character packs for older kids, while offering all-Doc packs for toddler sizes. So the designs exist. The market is there. And they are just willfully choosing to NOT give customers — KIDS — what they want.

Another portion of the blame has to land with the big-box retailers — Target, Walmart, and others — who do not push for more diversity from products offered by vendors. I guarantee that a company as large as Target or Walmart has the capitalistic muscle to nudge a vendor to offer whatever products customers are pining for. So once again, we the customers, have to put the pressure on retailers to give us what we actually want. (Something that’s been a trend of late, see: Target’s girls’ sizing problem.)

I’m so sick of having to do this!

But, as the Once-ler says in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

So if you agree that Doc McStuffins is getting the short end of the stick — that the character and the diversity it stands for is being marginalized in the marketplace despite product demand — then I encourage you to share those thoughts with underwear manufacturer Handcraft, and the two largest retailers selling Handcraft products Target and Walmart!

To make things easy, here are some sample tweets and messages you can send RIGHT NOW!

@Target Give girls an entire pack of Doc McStuffins panties! Tell Handcraft to give Doc her due! #docmcstuffins cc @Disney

@Target Stop white-washing the girls’ panty aisle! #DocMcStuffins should not have to share pack with Sophia and Minnie! cc @Disney

@Target Frozen, Barbie, Hello Kitty … all the white characters get a whole pack of undies, why not #DocMcstuffins ? #fem2

@Walmart Give girls an entire pack of Doc McStuffins panties! Tell Handcraft to give Doc her due! #docmcstuffins cc @Disney

@Walmart Stop white-washing the girls’ panty aisle! #DocMcStuffins should not have to share pack with Sophia and Minnie! cc @Disney

@Walmart Frozen, Barbie, Hello Kitty … all the white characters get a whole pack of undies, why not #DocMcstuffins ? #fem2

Handcraft does not appear to be on twitter but they do have a contact form on their website. Here’s a suggested message:

Despite the popularity of Disney’s Doc McStuffins’ characters across genders and races, parents are still left hunting for a full package of Doc McStuffins character underwear outside of the toddler aisle. Please start manufacturing girls’ and boys’ sized underwear in packages that are entirely Doc McStuffins — just as you do for Frozen, Barbie, and Hello Kitty. Kids like mine can’t wait to get them!

You can also leave messages on Facebook for Target and Walmart:

Despite the popularity of Disney’s Doc McStuffins’ characters across genders and races, parents are still left hunting for a full package of Doc McStuffins character underwear outside of the toddler aisle. Please ask Handcraft Manufacturing to start manufacturing girls’ and boys’ sized underwear in packages that are entirely Doc McStuffins — just as they do (and you offer) for Frozen, Barbie, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty. Kids like mine can’t wait to get them!

As always, I’ll be tweeting from @TheSinCitySiren and you can catch me on Facebook at The Tired Feminist!

TMF: Name that sexism

Quick! Check out this t-shirt I spotted in the girl’s side of the toddler section and tell me why I just had to call it out for the first TMF: Tired Marketing FAIL! of the year. And… go!

Feminist social media wins against a real TMF!

Score one for the social-media savvy feminists! JC Penney removed a sexist shirt for girls that read “I’m too pretty for homework so my brother has to do it for me” within hours of posting it for sale on its website, thanks to the efforts of feminists circulating a Change.org petition, including Shelby Knox (who works for Change.org). Click here to see a photo of the shirt.

Penney’s issued a statement:

“We agree that the “Too pretty” t-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale. Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them. We would like to apologize to our customers and are taking action to ensure that we continue to uphold the integrity of our merchandise that they have come to expect.”

Thank you feminists, parents and everyone in our shared communities for working so quickly and so effectively to send a message to corporate America and the fashion world that what little girls (and little boys) need are fun and functional clothes, not shirts that perpetuate gender-based stereotypes and reinforce low self-worth. Rock on!

Cross-posted on The Sin City Siren. And for more posts on sexism in marketing and products, check out the TMF: Tired Marketing FAIL! feature, like this one, and this one!

TMF: When onesies attack!

I spotted these while shopping at Babies R Us this weekend and immediately had to snap pics for another edition of TMF: Tired Marketing FAIL!*:

These were at the front of the store in a FAO Schwarz section. The soldier was on one rack, with clothing that was all boy-oriented (according to mass-marketed gender stereotypes). The pink princess onesie was on a different rack, right next to the soldier rack, and all the items on the princess rack were pink and “girly.”

I admit, these are not as bad as some other more egregious TMF offenders in the past. Indeed, my husband asked me, “Are princesses bad?” And I will tell you what I told him. Princesses are not good or bad. Pink is not good or bad. But telling little girls that the only thing that is good about them is that they are pretty and that they need to be rescued is bad. Telling little girls that they should like pink above all others because it is the appropriate color for their gender, is bad. And he said what I often say in these TMF posts, “Then the soldier one is just as bad for boys.” Agreed! Because strictly enforced gender roles work against boys just as much as they work against girls! Telling little boys that they must be macho and they must be ready to fight — or that they should not like pink or princesses — is just as bad.

Have you seen a despicable ad campaign or product? Send them to me and I might feature them in a future TMF!

(*Program note: I have altered the name of TMF, changing “Toy” to “Tired” because the recurring theme in many of these posts is about the failure in gender-coded marketing of a variety of children’s products and services, not just toys. Everything else about the feature will remain the same.)

Shedding layers

From reluctantly going vegan to my ever-changing ratio of working/stay-at-home-momness, things have been changing  a lot in my personal life lately. Another area in my life that has had a lot of changes — my waistline! But before you roll your eyes (too late!) and get annoyed, this is not going to be that kind of post. Trust me.

In fact, this post is all about perceptions. How we perceive ourselves. How others perceive us. And how we move in the world based on all those perceptions, both internal and external.

So, as I’ve already shared, I’ve lost a lot of weight over the past year. Well, I did have a baby! I’ve lost about 90 pounds from my peak pregnancy weight, or roughly 20 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. But this process of shedding pounds has had the interesting side-effect of causing me to confront some ideas about who I think I am — how I perceive myself. And there’s been some happy and not-so-happy discoveries there.

Let me explain what I mean…

Size matters:

I have never been one of those people who feel like they have to fit into a certain size. I have always felt that what was most important was fit. If your clothes fit, are comfortable, and are functional for your life, that’s the key. For me, clothing choices have always had more to do with what I think a piece of clothing is saying about me more than what department I shop in. For the better part of the past decade, I’ve been wearing plus-size clothing. It bothered me a little in the beginning but over time the only thing that bothered me was that it was so hard to find things that I liked because most plus-size clothing is aimed at middle-aged and senior-aged women. (Thank God for the internet!)

Even when during pregnancy, my weight gain did not bother me. I accepted it as a natural part of the journey I was on. Indeed, I kind of relished a respite from having to worry about “looking fat.” Who cares if you look fat when you’re pregnant? (Well, I guess some people do. But I think those people are a little delusional.)

So, it came as more than a surprise to me a couple months ago when a size large fit. Perfectly. I had taken a handful of XLs into the fitting room with me and they were all huge! But rather than do a little happy dance, I had a weird feeling about this development. (And yes, I recognize that this is evidence that I am really neurotic.)

I know I should have been feeling really happy that my weight loss had resulted in going down so many sizes. And in some ways I was happy.  But I also had this weird panicky feeling. It was almost a sense of loss. I’m not plus-size anymore? Where do I shop now?  I almost had the inverse of the size attachment that so many women struggle with. But instead of stubbornly insisting that I was a size 4, I couldn’t quite let go of the mental image of myself that I was plus sized. Even if the image reflected back in the mirror gave me instant proof otherwise!

You can’t just give it away:

I know some of you may be getting annoyed that it sounds like I’m complaining about weight loss. But, stick with me on this.

So, all this size changing necessitated shopping for new clothes. And that led me to a lot of stores I had never been to before (not for myself anyway): H&M, Banana Republic, The Loft, J. Crew, et al. It felt like a scavenger hunt. Where can I find clothes that feel like me? This new me? Who is the new me, anyway? A mom…but not an old, preppy mom. A career woman…who works at home. Someone who wants to be appropriately covered up but not a nun. A former punk rocker who feels silly wearing punk rock clothes now that I’m in my mid-30s (rocking out to Social D in the car, however, totally still viable). All these stores were foreign to me. And on top of that, considering I had been wearing maternity clothes for about a year, I have no idea what is current. But, I admit, these aren’t horrible problems to have.

What came next was a little more intense — donating my old clothes. The mantra around my house is that if something has no more usefulness to you but is still perfectly good, you give it to charity. And I live by a philosophy of donating in balance to what I buy. I don’t count it out item-for-item, but if I bring in a bag of new clothes, a bag of old clothes has to go. This is not just good karma, but good for the earth, too.

But at first, I really had a hard time letting go of the old clothes. Some of those pieces I had for years! Some of those things were well-loved favorites, things I turned to time and time again when I needed a sartorial pick-me-up. These clothes had been the proverbial needles in haystacks of so many plus-size stores. They represented hours of painful hunting and gathering. And, deep down, I felt that these clothes represented me. I felt a kind of grief as I looked at the pile on my bedroom floor. And, I felt like The Jerk. I don’t need [any of these things]! Except this pen… Because I kept wanting to pick up those two or three pieces that I really loved and save them from the donate pile!

But, I did donate them! And I did it for a few reasons: (1) What good are they doing in a box in my closet? (2) Someone out there who is plus-sized is going to be really, really happy to find these things (because larger sizes are so hard to come by in thrift stores and donations to shelters). And (3) …

Out with the old, to make way for the new:

I can’t move forward if I keep one foot anchored in the past. And it’s the same with these weight/body image/identity issues.

One of my best friends was at my house when I went through my clothes. Like me, she had gained 70 pounds while pregnant. And, like me, she has had tremendous weight loss. She knows how hard it has been to lose all that weight. She knows how hard it is to get used to your body after having a baby. (Because I may have lost a lot of weight, but my body composition is TOTALLY different now.)

At one point, while emptying my closet, she looked at me and said, “If you don’t get rid of it, it’s like saying you know you’re going to gain the weight right back.” And that was the kick in the ass I needed.

I believe in back-up plans. But holding on to old clothes that don’t fit is just a self-fulfilling prophecy in waiting.

From past to present:

Perhaps the biggest piece of this is that living in the present is not as easy as it sounds. It’s easier to hang back and remain with what is comfortable and known. But even something as simple as cleaning out your closet can be a cathartic release of the old memories or old personal identity that you are hanging on to. Isn’t that what the mid-life crisis is all about — the disconnect between who you were and where you are now in life?

And the weight loss, which has come from really hard work and has happened so much slower than it might seem (sorry, no short-cuts here: eat right, exercise), comes with an emotional price, too. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I have lost the weight! But it has challenged me to think about some old issues from my past.

For a long time, I kept weight on to make myself feel safe. I was a really skinny kid and adolescent. As the survivor of sexual violence, being fat was a way for me to avoid thinking about certain things. Putting weight on my bones made me feel like I was less sexually desirable to predators. And I was just bigger. I felt less like a frail, little girl. And that made me feel less afraid. Unfortunately, I think it also contributed to a lot of my bad health issues (which have improved dramatically with the weight loss). So, not only was the weight a crutch in my emotional healing, but it was a liability in terms of my overall health.

The “wrap it up” sign is blinking:

I’m not going to lie. It has been rewarding to lose all this weight — and all this baggage! It has come with surprises and unforeseen challenges, too. But now that I have shed so many layers, I can finally see myself, again. I was buried for a long time — under so much emotional baggage and then so much physical weight and then so much sickness. And I think the journey to undo all that has kept me looking backwards — looking into my past — for a long time. It’s good to finally turn to face the present. And the future. I’m really grateful for that.

And it’s about time! After all, I have things to do! For instance, I need to get it together and start modeling healthy habits and healthy body-accepting behavior for my smart, happy little daughter. So she can stay happy, healthy and loving herself and give her the tools to deal with all the crap that is going to come her way, trying to dismantle her self-esteem and body confidence.