Debate Magazine

Observations in Target: Mass Marketing and Young Females

Posted on the 12 September 2011 by Juliez

“Mom, look! That’s Rocky and CeCe, from ‘Shake it Up‘! Can I pleeeeease get one of their clothes?” She stands on her tiptoes to reach the highest shelf and points to a t-shirt with an attached pinstriped vest that is almost identical to the one CeCe is wearing in the poster above the rack of clothes. “I like that one!”

My post-elementary school years have contained very little Disney Channel, which I consumed vigorously as a child. But after spending a week with a seven-year-old, I was fully informed on how Disney is functioning today. I know every person says this about the shows they watched when they were kids, but I truly believe that the shows were much better then, especially for girls. Or maybe it’s just that now I’m more aware of the messages the media sends.

After reading about the marketing system Disney uses in Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter (not intended toward my demographic, but I still found it quite interesting), I’ve been genuinely frightened. On the Disney Channel they really shove their products down their viewers’ throats. They don’t just air an episode of a show. They have to then follow the show up with an interview with the show’s co-stars, then a music video of their newest song, all within a half an hour. It’s no wonder this young girl’s eyes was drawn to the ad immediately.

As I stood in the same aisle as this girl in Target, I muttered to her like a batty old woman, “Don’t you realize what you’re doing? You’re buying the clothes that she is wearing! You are not thinking! The advertisers have infiltrated your brain already!” Of course, within a minute, the vest-shirt combination was in her mother’s cart.

A few minutes later, two girls and their mother passed by with a cart. One girl, about seven, sat in the cart’s bottom, and the other, maybe ten years old, walked next to it. The younger girl was rooting through a small pile of clothes next to her crossed legs in the cart. “Sophia’s shirt is an EXTRA-large!” she said loudly, giggling. “Mommy! Why’s Sophia’s shirt an EXTRA-large?” she asked, smirking at her sister. Sophia sped up walking, blushing. Sophia looked to be at a completely healthy weight, similarly in body type to both her mother and sister. What struck me, though, was how such a young girl already thought that the size “extra-large” was something to mocked, and mentioned, and giggled at. She knew that it was fodder to embarrass her older sister. I gather that looks have been a source of sister feuds for centuries, but I had a feeling the media threw something in here, too.

Disney usually plays it safe in terms of political and social correctness, so I was shocked that another Disney show, “Good Luck Charlie,” mentions weight quite frequently. On the show, which features a family of four children and their parents, the two sons frequently mock their dad for being overweight. When I saw this, I was completely shocked. Many TV shows have featured overweight fathers, but I’ve never actually heard it mentioned, let alone mocked, on a show targeted towards young children.

These experiences, although tiny in the scheme of my life, these girls’ lives and feminism itself, gave me personal proof of the influence of the media on the young girls of today. The girl who wanted the Disney shirt proves that Orenstein’s claims, as well as those made by many feminists, aren’t alarmist. Sophia’s little sister, as well as Sophia’s own apparent humiliation, prove that the associations with weight begin at a very young age.

It makes me so sad that by the age of seven, girls might already think that their appearance ties to their worth as a person. It makes me sad that people think that at all, but now it’s happening even younger. I saw it happen in Target, of all places. It’s easy to blame the media in situations like this, but it also can’t be denied: we need to do something about this, and Disney isn’t a bad place to start.

Alexa also writes for her own blog, Blossoming Badass

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