Once a week I volunteer at a local organization which provides after school daycare for girls. I currently am running a book group with eight girls who range in age from 7 to 9 years old. We are reading 'Pippi Longstocking' which is a favorite of mine. Pippi is a strong, independent female character who loves a good adventure.
Each week we read a chapter together and then do an activity revolving around the book. We keep a journal, we made cookies just like Pippi did and we have lively book discussions. A couple of weeks ago we started making paper dolls, one of Pippi and one of ourselves. I brought in orange yarn, lots of colorful fabric, glue, markers and crayons - all the necessary materials. The girls worked diligently on their dolls and were very involved.
One girl, Lisa, came over to show me her Pippi doll. "Look at this, Debbie. Pippi is 3-D." I am confused. I look at the doll. I look at Lisa. "I'm confused. What do you mean that Pippi is 3-D?" She sticks Pippi in my face. "Debbie, look closer. Pippi has a bra and boobs." What! I try to be quick on my feet since I have 16 eyeballs staring at me, waiting. "Hmm... gee... I have been reading this book with all of you and I know we read about Pippi's red hair, her mismatched clothing and her huge shoes and she is nine years old - do you think she has to be wearing a bra yet?" We then discussed Pippi and her breasts, or lack of, since the girls agreed that Pippi probably didn't need to be wearing a bra yet since the pictures in the book don't show her having developed breasts. This is the first time in all the years I've read Pippi that I had to discuss Pippi's anatomy. I took a deep breath and watched as the girls continued working.
What the heck is Maria drawing on her paper doll? Is that a black lace bra, panties and a garter belt? Oh, I am in over my head. I can feel a headache coming on. I sit down next to Maria and quietly ask her about her doll. "This is me," she proudly announces and holds the doll out for me to see, up close and personal. "Don't I look pretty," she asks me. Silence. This book group has taken a turn for the worse or maybe I should say that our society has truly taken more than a few bad turns.
I took Maria aside so we could talk privately. I explained to her that these dolls were going to be hung up on a bulletin board for all to see and that it would not be appropriate for her doll to be dressed only in underwear. She pouted, "I like this outfit." I knew I had to proceed carefully since I knew nothing of this child's home life. We discussed Britney Spears and Paris Hilton - and Maria knew lots about these 'superstars' ~too much. We discussed appropriate ways to dress and behave ~ and how TV isn't real too often. At the end Maria agreed to put clothes on her doll ~ and she happily colored and glued and designed a dress out of the penguin material I had brought with me. She giggled and laughed with the other girls and for a few moments she once again behaved as a nine year old should behave.
I changed the girls' names in this post so I could protect their identity but I am afraid that it might be too late. Pippi has lost her innocence. And so have they.