The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – BEAUTY QUEENS

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to the fourth discussion of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club!

Returning to this right now is just what my creative spirit needs. Let’s talk books! And what better book than this one, the uplifting tale of beauty queens surviving on a deserted island, left to fend for themselves and discover what they’re really made of.

Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

 

beauty queensBEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

Published by: Scholastic Press

Release Date: May 24, 2011

Genres: YA, Contemporary, LGBT

amazon

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Plot Summary:

Teen beauty queens. A desert island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to e-mail. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Libba Bray here.

Follow Libba on Twitter here.

Follow Libba on Tumblr here.

Follow Libba on Facebook here.

I love the voice of this book! Libba Bray is hilarious and so talented at taking the absurd and making it funny while at the same time forcing us to look at an issue closer, with discernment.

Let’s peek at the opening and first chapter:

(It starts with a disclaimer, er, a word from your sponsor):

     This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry about this. According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms to a strong tide are two to one. So, all in all, it’s safer to fly than to go to the beach. As we said, this book begins with a plane crash. But there are survivors. You see? Already it’s a happy tale. They are all beauty queen contestants. You do not need to know their names here. But you will get to know them. They are all such nice girls. Yes, they are nice, happy, shining, patriotic girls who happen to have interests in baton twirling, sign language, AIDS prevention in the animal population, the ancient preparation of popadam, feminine firearms, interpretive dance, and sequins. Such a happy story. And shiny, too.

     This story is brought to you by The Corporation: Because Your Life Can Always Be Better™. We at The Corporation would like you to enjoy this story, but please be vigilant while reading. If you should happen to notice anything suspicious in the coming pages, do alert the proper authorities. Remember, it could be anything at all – a subversive phrase, an improper thought or feeling let out of its genie bottle of repression, an idea that challenges the status quo, the suggestion that life may not be what it appears to be and that all you’ve taken for granted (malls, shopping, the relentless pursuit of an elusive happiness, prescription drug ads, those annoying perfume samples in magazines that make your eyes water, the way anchorman and women shift easily from the jovial laughter of a story about a dog that hula-hoops to a grave report on a bus crash that has left five teenagers dead) may be no more consequential than the tattered hem of a dream, leaving you with a bottomless, free-fall feeling.

     This is the sort of thing we are warning you about.

     But let’s not worry, shall we? There’s nothing to worry about. Though there is the threat of a war, it happens in the background, in snippets on the nightly news between ads for sinus medicines. It’s none of our concern. This is a happy story…

Chapter One

 “Are you all right?”

The voice was tinny in Adina’s ears. Her head ached, and she was wet. She remembered the plane pitching and falling, the smoke and screams, the panic, and then nothing.

“Am I dead?” she asked the face looming over hers. The face had apple cheeks and was framed by a halo of glossy black curls.

“No.”

“Are you dead?” Adina asked warily.

The face above her shook from side to side, and then burst into tears. Adina relaxed, reasoning that she had to be alive, unless the afterlife was a lot more bipolar than she’d been led to believe. She pulled herself to a sitting position and waited for the wooziness to subside. A gash on her knee was caked in dried blood. Another on her arm still seeped. Her dress was ripped and slightly scorched and she wore only one shoe. It was one half of her best pair, and in her state of shock, finding the other became important. “Can you help me find my shoe?”

“Sure. I saw some in the water. I hope they’re not leather,” the other girl said in an accent flat as a just-plowed field. She had huge, blue, anime-worthy eyes. “I’m Miss Nebraska, Mary Lou Novak.”

“Adina Greenburg. Miss New Hampshire.” Adina cupped her hands over her eyes, looking out toward the sea. “I don’t see it.”

“That’s a shame. It’s a real nice shoe.”

“Roland Me’sognie,” Adina said, and she honestly couldn’t figure out why. She didn’t care about the stupid brand. That was her mother’s influence. Shock. It had to be the shock.

“If I can find my suitcase, I’ve got an extra pair of sneakers in there. I’m a size eight.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. I like to be helpful. It’s sort of a Nebraska thing. My pageant sponsor says I’ve got a real good chance at Miss Congeniality this year.”

“Miss Congeniality represents the true heart of the pageant,” Adina found herself repeating from the Miss Teen Dream manual. She vaguely remembered that she used to make a gagging motion at that, but she was too dazed for snarkiness just now. Dazed because, yes, when she’d been looking for her shoe, she’d seen dead bodies in the water. Lifeless bodies.

This may appear to be your average story about a bunch of  beauty queens whose plane crashes leaving the survivors stranded on a deserted island with no plug-ins in sight, but as with all of Bray’s books, there is so much more depth and discovery underneath it all. A commentary on girl culture at its very core and a must-read for every young woman (and every young man! Insight is always wise to pursue. Besides, the male perspective is explored).

The Discussion:

The book is told from several points of view, each of the beauty queens gets to tell their tale, along with some interspersed commentary from The Corporation. When a new POV is introduced, we first get to review the character’s Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Page. It’s fascinating to watch how each young woman’s view of herself changes – or the way she thought she should present herself to the world changes – as the experience on the island changes each of them.

Take this example:

Name: Adina Greenburg

State: New Hampshire

Age: 17

Height: I resent this question

Weight: I really resent this question.

Hair: Brown. Obviously.

Eyes: Also brown. Also obviously.

Best Feature: My intellect

Fun Facts About Me:

*I hate high heels. Walking in high heels for eight hours a day should be forbidden by the Geneva Convention.

*I am applying to Brown, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia.

*I was voted Most Likely to Figure Out Who Really Killed JFK.

* My mom is married to Alan, aka, Stepfather #5. He is a complete tool. No, you have no idea.

* My favorite Corporation TV show is the news. If you can call it that.

*My platform is Identifying Misogyny in American Culture. It’s all about helping girls ID the objectification of women when they see it. You know, like when girls are asked to parade around in bathing suits and heels and get scored on that.

*The thing that scares me most is falling in love with some jerkwad and ending up without an identity at all, just like my mom.

*I intend to bring this pageant down.

*You will never see this.

Adina only entered the contest to bring it down, so when she finds herself stranded on the island with her fellow contestants, she’s living in a nightmare scenario. She is such a hardcore, girl-power feminist in the beginning, yet as she gets to know the other girls beyond their platforms, she comes to embrace her softer side, and realizes that this doesn’t make you weak.

What’s also fascinating is watching how the young women use their pageant talents to help them survive. Of course, in the beginning some of them still have their sights set on winning the contest…

“For as long as we’re here, we need to survive. You know, build some shelter, find reliable food and drinking water. We need to organize.”

Taylor’s hand shot up, “Taylor Rene Hawkins of the great state of Texas! Permission to speak!”

“What fresh hell is this?” Adina muttered. “Granted.”

Taylor took back the baton. “Miss New Hampshire is right.”

“You’re agreeing with me?” Adina blurted out. “What are the other signs of the apocalypse?”

“You’re out of order, Miss New Hampshire. I’ll issue a warning. Next time it’s a penalty.” Taylor stood and paced with the baton cradled in her arms like a winner’s bouquet. “You know what I’m thinkin’,  Miss Teen Dreamers?”

“What?” Mary Lou asked.

“That was rhetorical, Miss Nebraska. I’m thinkin’ that when we do finally get rescued, we want them to find us at our best. And what could be better and more in line with the Miss Teen Dream mission statement than having them find that we have tamed and beautified this island? It’s like extra credit. And you know how the judges love extra credit.”

The island soon shows itself to be hostile and not so easily tamed. The young women who’ve broken up into two groups – the Lost Girls and the Sparkle Ponies (no, YOU’RE seeing parallels to LORD OF THE FLIES) – fight for survival harder than ever, even holding contests for best personal arsenal design.

After a long day of working hard on their creative survival skills, the young women open up around the campfire.

Miss Montana stared into the fire. “Sometimes I just want to go in a room and break things and scream. Like, it’s so much pressure all the time and if you get upset or angry, people say, ‘Are you on the rag or something?’ And it’s like I want to say, ‘No, I’m pissed off right now. Can’t I just be pissed off? How come that’s not okay for me?’ Like my dad will say, ‘I can’t talk to you when you’re hysterical.’ And I’m totally not being hysterical! I’m just mad. And he’s the one losing it. But then I feel embarrassed anyway. So I slap on that smile and pretend everything’s okay even though it’s not. Anyway.” Miss Montana pasted on an embarrassed half smile. “Sorry for the rant.”

“Why do you have to be sorry?” Nicole asked.

“Well…I don’t know.”

“Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?” Nicole asked. “You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it’s longer than three sentences or she’s expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, “Sorry for the rant’ or ‘That may be dumb, but that’s what I think.'”

“I say sorry all the time. The other day, this lady bumped into me with her grocery cart, and I said I was sorry,” Mary Lou said, shaking her head.

Shanti raised her hand. “I move we officially ban the word sorry from our vocabularies while we’re here.”

“I second that, if that’s okay,” Petra said, grinning. “If not, sorry.”

“I third it. Sorry.”

“I just scratched my nose. Sorry.”

“I just scratched my ass. Sorry.

“I’m getting up to stretch my legs. Sorry.

“Sometimes I just want to burn down all the rules and start over,” Mary Lou said. Everyone waited for the punch line of “sorry,” but it never came.

The young women continue thrive while learning how to survive. They discover they are stronger than they thought.

The girls had lost track of how long they had been on the island. During the daylight hours, they dove into the surf with abandon, emerging tanned and sure-footed, as if they were selkies who had let their timidity float out on the tide like a false skin. Only Taylor remained vigilant in her pageant work, getting up every morning, rain or shine, to go through the paces of her routine, from first entrance to talent to final interview.

“When we get rescued, I guess I’m the only one who’ll be in fighting form,” she’d say while circle-turning and practicing a stiff wave.

“I’ve been thinking about the boys who crashed on the island,” Mary Lou said to Adina one afternoon as they rested on their elbows taking bites from the same papaya.

Lord of the Flies. What about it?”

“You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if  there had been girls?”

“Yeah?”

Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

Adina gazed out at the expanse of unknowable ocean. “Maybe.”

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.

They were becoming.

They were.

The girls are thrown a curveball when a boatful of reality TV teenaged pirates show up and test their newfound girl power. If you thought it was interesting before the guys showed up, whew! You ain’t seen nothing!

Such an entertaining way to delve into the complex issue of gender roles and society influences. This book really makes you think. And I love a book that makes me think. I looooove Libba Bray. Once you read any of her books, I’m sure you will, too.

So…what’s next?

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

saveyou_bgI WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Peña

Published by: Delacorte Press

Release Date: October 12, 2010

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

 

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amazonindiebound

 

Plot Summary:

Kidd is running from his past and his future. No mom, no dad, and there’s nothing for him at the group home but therapy. He doesn’t belong at the beach where he works either, unless he finds a reason to stay.

Olivia is blond hair, blue eyes, rich dad. The prettiest girl in Cardiff. She’s hiding something from Kidd—but could they ever be together anyway?

Devon is mean, mysterious, and driven by a death wish. A best friend and worst enemy. He followed Kidd all the way to the beach and he’s not leaving until he teaches him a few lessons about life. And Olivia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

This book wrecked me and, yet I’m coming back for seconds. If you’ve never read a book from this author, he’s one to get to know. Not only is he a fantastic guy in person, he does fantastic things for his readers. He’s not only heavily involved in the We Need Diverse Books project, his first picture book LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET won the 2016 Newbery Medal. Trust me, this is one author to follow.

The next meeting of this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs will be near the end of December. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional.)

Happy reading!

First Rule of Book Club

Unlike Fight Club, you actually CAN talk about Book Club…and the book, right?

That’s the whole point of joining a book club; to gather in a social setting and discuss all things literary to our hearts’ content. I recently joined an online book club started by YA author Colleen Houck after receiving an invitation through her Goodreads page. I’ve never been in a book club before and I thought it might be fun. I also thought it would help introduce me to books I wouldn’t normally find on my own and maybe we’d have some stimulating conversations about great stories.

For the month’s selection, we read, THE SHADOW PRINCE, by Bree Despain.

The Shadow PrinceHaden Lord, the disgraced prince of the Underrealm, has been sent to the mortal world to entice a girl into returning with him to the land of the dead. Posing as a student at Olympus Hills High—a haven for children of the rich and famous—Haden must single out the one girl rumored to be able to restore immortality to his race.

Daphne Raines has dreams much bigger than her tiny southern Utah town, so when her rock star dad suddenly reappears, offering her full tuition to Olympus Hills High’s prestigious music program, she sees an opportunity to catch the break she needs to make it as a singer. But upon moving into her estranged father’s mansion in California, and attending her glamorous new school, Daphne soon realizes she isn’t the only student in Olympus who doesn’t quite belong.

Haden and Daphne—destined for each other—know nothing of the true stakes their fated courtship entails.  As war between the gods brews, the teenagers’ lives collide. But Daphne won’t be wooed easily and when it seems their prophesied link could happen, Haden realizes something he never intended—he’s fallen in love. Now to save themselves, Haden and Daphne must rewrite their destinies. But as their destinies change, so do the fates of both their worlds.

A pulsating romance of epic proportions, Bree Despain’s The Shadow Prince will leave her fans breathless for the next book in the Into The Dark series. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

What this summary doesn’t tell you is how Despain took a new look at the Persephone Myth and explored the idea of her not being a victim where Hades merely kidnaps her against her will and drags her down to the Underworld, but rather where she sees an opportunity to take her own future in her hands a make a conscious choice about her destiny. Set in a modern day world with different characters and a few obvious twists, of course.

We discussed this and many other thoughts and insights about the book with Bree Despain in a live author chat as part of our book club. It was such a wonderfully dynamic discussion that made the experience of the story so much richer. I am now totally hooked on this book club. I may join even more and end up needing a support group for addicts of book clubs.

What about you?

Have you had any experience with book clubs, live and in person or online?

Learn more about Bree Despain here.

Follow Bree on Twitter here.

Follow Bree on Tumblr here.

 

Why You Should Support Laurie Halse Anderson and her #Speak4RAINN Campaign

April is a popular month for causes. Maybe it’s because spring time brings a sense of hope with it, a renewed sense of purpose for those of us who spend the dark days of winter hibernating in our pajamas, feeling empty of all inspiration and will to live, like a used tube of toothpaste squeezed dry. The warmer, sunny days of spring fuel our ambitious natures once again and we remember that life is good.

Or maybe it’s just me and I’m part bear.

bc-speakHere we are with another cause that is close to my heart. So close to me in fact that I wrote a book about the subject – my current YA manuscript that’s out with agents now, Institutionalized; I’m not Crazy – but I digress.

This month is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a fantastic book about it, too. Since hers has already been published and since she has put her voice and extraordinary talents behind a campaign to help survivors of abuse, we should talk about her. I first read her book, Speak, about five years ago. What an emotionally gut-wrenching little tome that was.

Here’s an introduction to the plot:

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

What the summary doesn’t tell you is that Melinda is unable to tell her friends why she called the cops. She cannot verbalize what happened to her. She then decides it’s safer to stop talking altogether to keep her world from completely falling apart. She instead begins to express herself through her art projects and diary entries. We as the readers can only watch her suffering from afar and wish that someone else knew her pain and was able to help her.

It’s a poignant and beautifully told story that every young woman (and dare I say it, even every young man) should read. And every parent should encourage a dialogue with their child about this subject so that they know that they don’t have to accept any unwanted violation of their own bodies and that they can report it and their parents will support them.

To learn more about RAINN (the Rape Abuse Incest National Network), visit their website here.

Laurie Halse Anderson is running a fund-raising campaign for this organization right now through April 29th, and her publisher Macmillan will match any donation up to a total of $10,000. You can’t beat that. I made a donation and you can, too. Even $10 will help someone through the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE. To support Laurie’s #Speak 4RAINN campaign, follow this link here. You can follow the discussion about the campaign on Twitter at the hashtag, #Speak4RAINN.

I hope you’ll join us and speak up for those who can’t find their voice.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Getting in Touch with my Austen Peeps – A Challenging Review

Some of you may have remembered that I’ve taken up a couple of challenges this year. (I first mentioned them in this post here and this one here.) Both involve reading and reviewing books with differing themes. Not such a tough thing for a lover of reading, I admit. In the end, not so much challenging as just fun and another excuse to share some great books with you. I have two reviews for you this week – one today and one this weekend.

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200For the Pride & Prejudice Bicentenniary Challenge, I wasn’t ready to tackle the original text just yet. Then I stumbled on some news about a children’s author I follow on Twitter. Then I read that she not only wrote something for adults, but that it had a Jane Austen theme. Not only that, the first book in this new series was just made into a movie. And it’s all about a woman who is totally obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and that fantastic Mr. Darcy, much to the detriment of her own love life.

Perfect!

The book?

Austenland by Shannon HaleAustenlandPB150

Here’s the plot summary:

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.

Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen—or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

And honestly, how many of us (participating in this challenge or not) can identify to some degree with a (slightly obsessive) preoccupation with Pride & Prejudice and hoping that there is a Mr. Darcy out there for us as well? Of course, I’m not saying that we would take it to Jane’s extreme, but still…

Jane is at first ecstatic to be immersed in the world of corsets and drawing rooms, but soon she finds the actors a little too spot on, feeling as if she is the fraud ruining this romantic utopia. She begins to think back on each of her failed relationships to see where they all fell short of the most perfect romance ever written. Is there really a Mr. Darcy out there for her or should she stick to her plan and get this nonsense out of her system once and for all?

Here’s a brief excerpt:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her. There was no husband, but those weren’t necessary anymore. There were boyfriends, and if they came and went in a regular stream of mutual dissatisfaction—well, that was the way of things, wasn’t it?

But Jane had a secret. By day, she bustled and luncheoned and emailed and over timed and just-in-timed, but sometimes, when she had the time to slip off her consignment store pumps and lounge on her hand-me-down sofa, she dimmed the lights, turned on her nine inch television, and acknowledged what was missing.

Sometimes, she watched Pride and Prejudice.

You know, the BBC double DVD version, starring Colin Firth as the delicious Mr. Darcy and that comely, busty English actress as the Elizabeth Bennet we had imagined all along. Jane watched and re-watched the part where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy look at each other over the piano, and there’s that zing, and her face softens, and he smiles, his chest heaving as though he’d breathe in the sight of her, and his eyes are glistening so that you’d almost think he’d cry…Ah!

Each time, Jane’s heart banged, her skin chilled, and she clamped down on the distracting ache in her gut with a bowl of something naughty, like Cocoa Pebbles. That night she would dream of gentlemen in Abraham Lincoln hats, and then in the morning laugh at herself and toy with the idea of hauling those DVDs and all her Austen books to the second hand store.

Of course, she never did.

That pesky movie version was the culprit. Sure, Jane had first read Pride and Prejudice when she was sixteen, read it a dozen times since, and read the other Austen novels at least twice, except Northanger Abbey (of course). But it wasn’t until the BBC put a face on the story that those gentlemen in tight breeches had stepped out of her reader’s imagination and into her non-fiction hopes. Stripped of Austen’s funny, insightful, biting narrator, the movie became a pure romance. And Pride and Prejudice was the most stunning, bite-your-hand romance ever, the kind that stared straight into Jane’s soul and made her shudder.

It was embarrassing. She didn’t really want to talk about it. So let’s move on.

Hale gives a charming, if at times uncomfortable, view of what it would feel like to actually be transported to one’s own Austenland. Be careful what you wish for, here. This book may make you question how much of your concepts of romance, what you expected to find out in the world when searching for someone to be your partner in life – the deep down ones that you never told anyone – were based on unrealistic expectations and fantasies not to be found in the real world. You may ask yourself, “Is this nagging sense of my life being incomplete that I sometimes get after reading/watching P & P from some lame lack of fulfillment or just the wistful longing that great literature can evoke?”

Of course, those stories never show the perfect romantic couples dealing with whose turn it is to take out the trash or feed the screaming baby at 2 AM either, do they?

This is a great, easy read for any hardcore Austen fan to enjoy.

Learn more about Shannon Hale and her books here.

Lipstick Isn’t Love – Teaching Our Daughters to Love Themselves

Am I kissable?

The recent uproar surrounding Ashley Judd and the ugly media speculation on her changing appearance and her thoughtful response really got me thinking about a conversation I had with a close relative (who wishes to remain anonymous). It started something like this:

“I need this new lip gloss.”

“What? Why? You have tons of makeup.”

“It will give me more confidence.”

“What!?!”

“That’s what it says.”

“You’re joking.”

She was not joking.

That was the beginning of the most disturbing conversation I’ve ever had with her. Voices were raised. Tears were shed. It was very uncomfortable for both of us. When we finally got down to the heart of  the matter, she revealed that she thought of herself as some disfigured troll that couldn’t go out among normal, flawless humans without a coat of protective camouflage hiding all of her most hideous deformities, and that she actually needed this new lip gloss to feel better about herself.  The Kissaholic Lip Gloss from Victoria’s Secret did not promise to boost one’s confidence as it turns out; it only promised to “increase lip volume for a fuller, sexier, more kissable pout”, apparently something my young anonymous female relative, who has very full lips to begin with, was in desperate need of acquiring. The advertising went on to say that it was “infused with an exotic blend of aphrodisiac ingredients designed to inspire desire.” How embarrassing to have to explain to me that she wanted, needed to feel desired by someone. And how embarrassing for me to have to explain that she had been duped by a marketing campaign aimed at her vulnerable heart.

I was in shock. Did she really think that beauty was all she had to offer anyone? Had I myself influenced this young woman in any way to be so dependent on her looks for her self-esteem?

I hoped not. I knew better. I had taken some enlightening college courses in the past and I was amazed at what I learned from a paper I read on toy advertising; how we as women are subjected to not only societal expectations, but blatant marketing strategies encouraging us even as young girls in toy commercials to find satisfaction and pride in our physical appearance and care-taking skills, unlike boys who are encouraged to take pride in skills like problem-solving and risk-taking.  One of my favorite passages came from another paper I read entitled Analysis of Gender Identity Through Doll & Action Figure Politics in Art Education by Anna Wagner-Ott, an associate professor at California State University at Sacramento:

“It is from popular culture that most people weave their identities and establish their relationships with others and the environment. Mass media images saturate our lives, structuring much of what we know beyond personal experience.” (Duncum, 1997, p.70)

She wanted her paper to help other art educators to “gain insight into how cultural forms, marketing, and aesthetic productions are generating gender identities” and to help them emancipate their students from these contemporary forms of domination. Heavy stuff.

After studying these subjects, I wanted to make sure my own daughter knew that she was more than just a pretty face. I made sure I told her often that she was smart, compassionate, a talented artist, and a tough soccer player among many other things. I couldn’t help it that she heard from other people that she was also beautiful.

Then puberty hit and that struggle to find her unique identity within the crowd and “Mom you couldn’t possibly understand what I’m going through” period came along with it.  Although I do know exactly what she’s going through, there is no way she’ll believe it and there’s no way I can make it any easier for her. My compliments hailing her many fine attributes now fall on deaf ears. She’ll have to survive her own battle of self-esteem.

So how do you fight against that overwhelming tide of societal norms and let your children know it’s okay to be exactly who they are and that they are more than a beautiful face? As with Ashley Judd’s comments, I am reminded just how much other young girls – other women – help perpetuate the obsession with YOUTH and BEAUTY and devalue those who stray from this path.  How quick are we to say something snarky about someone else gaining weight or a cosmetic surgery job gone wrong? How many women hold real positions of power? What do we say about them? Do we value each other as women for traits NOT tied to appearance? Do we cheer other women on for their accomplishments or tear them down? If we want our daughters to be valued and teach them to find value in themselves, we need to lead the way. Do you agree? How do you teach your daughter to love herself for all that she is?

I leave you with a fantastic performance by slam poet Katie Makkai that I am stealing from another awesome blog. (thank you, Cassie.)

Barbies on Fire

I was once like many young girls who worshipped at the alter of Barbie. I coveted the Malibu Dream House; I longed for the Pepto pink convertible to drive around my less attractive friends. I wanted to accessorize my troubles away. And then one day something in me just stopped believing the hype that my self-worth was tied into my appearance and I couldn’t be one of those girls anymore. I don’t know why it happened, but the glitz of Barbie’s world lost its charm; all that sparkly sequins seemed tacky and life started being about swimming against the current…and it has been ever since.

I blame my father.

He always treated me like I had a brain that was useful for more than organizing sock drawers. We would have long talks about everything where my very inexperienced opinion was just as important as anyone’s. He also made me do everything that my brothers had to do; mow the lawn, cut and stack firewood, and wash the dishes. There were no gender-specific chores at our house.

And reading was encouraged.

My dad was and still is a voracious reader. Not surprisingly, I became an unstoppable reader myself. One of my fondest memories as a child was the night my dad started reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to me. I was so captivated. Not only did I have my dad all to myself, but we were sharing this amazing adventure in Narnia together. If only I’d been patient enough to wait for him to read the rest of the story to me. When he couldn’t read to me the next night, I took off on my own and never looked back until I had devoured the entire series. I re-read those books more than any other throughout my childhood. I even saved up my own lawn-mowing money to buy A Companion to Narnia by Paul Ford printed in 1980 that I still have to this day.

I’m pretty sure that’s when the writing bug sunk its teeth deep into my skin and made itself at home in my soul.

Fast-forward thirty or so years later and it hasn’t let go. Now I’m deep in the process of writing my second book and enjoying (almost) every facet of it. This one may actually be worthy of publishing. We shall see. I’ve learned a few things along my continuing journey to be a children’s writer, mostly from making a slew of mistakes – but isn’t that the most memorable way to do it? This blog is my latest leap into the unknown, trying to push myself further and keep on swimming upstream. I hope you’ll join me.