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Grappling over how best to teach your 8-year old daughter environmental stewardship? Wonder no more! Walmart has announced a new line of “green” cosmetics targeted to tween girls. It’s called “GeoGirls” and the megastore is gearing up to line its shelves with the product in mere days.

I say: just in time, Wal-Mart. I’m so tired of watching my little girl smear on nasty chemical-laden lipstick and toxic mascara, to prep for third-grade. Now, as a mother, I can feel secure in the knowledge that my girl is safely wearing her love and concern for the earth all over her face – literally!

According to the Ms. Magazine blog,

“Besides coming in recyclable packaging, geoGirl’s products are free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, synthetic colors and fragrances. Considering most kids have no idea what parabens and phthalates even are, Walmart’s marketing strategy is clearly based on winning over their parents.”

Though the super-store is hoping to reach parents with it’s marketing, the real long-term goal is to create lifetime consumers in these 8-to-12-year old girls. Wal-Mart representatives frame the line as “teaching this generation about beauty care in a responsible way,” according to Carme Bauza, Walmart Stores Inc.’s vice president and divisional merchandise manager of beauty and personal care, but it’s clearly a vehicle for capturing this demographic,

“This [line] is a great learning experience for us to determine how to communicate with this generation.”

Pacific World, owner of the brand, agrees. Joel Carden, executive vice president, marketing and sales says,

“These are real cosmetics with natural ingredients that will create return purchases and create a true beauty consumer.'' [emphasis mine]

The mega-store currently carries cosmetics for tweens -  from the Mary Kate and Ashley Olson line. Because sales are slipping, though, the corporation is looking for another way to grab onto those consumers-in-training. It’s nothing that most other corporate chains don’t do but it’s disturbing for another reason.

The sexualization of girls in this country, in everything from magazine ads, billboards and video games to television and film, has proven disastrous on girls’ health and well-being. From Bratz dolls to toddler beauty pageants, we’re pushing girls to not only grow up more quickly, but to take on a more sexualized persona as the most important part of their identity. I’ll stop here to note that sexuality is an important part of human nature. We are sexual beings from the time we are born. This is very different, however, than sexualizing girls for the purpose of selling consumer goods; and teaching girls that their self-worth should be first and foremost predicated on the way that they look.

The American Psychological Association (APA) task force published research on the effects of everything from music lyrics to magazines to video games, unearthing startling consequences from the overwhelming portrayals of women and girls as solely sexualized beings.

Those startling consequences include everything from interfering with girls’ emotional development, undermining comfort and confidence in her body, leading to things like shame and anxiety; to eating disorders, depression and the ability of girls’ to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

The APA task force encourages parents, schools and health officials, to be on the “look-out” for the proliferation of sexualization of girls, in the media, and the chair of the task force, Dr. Eileen Zurbriggen, notes,

"As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings--ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls," states Dr. Zurbriggen. "The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents--boys and girls--that lead to healthy sexual development."

I’m not saying that Wal-Mart doesn’t have a right to sell these cosmetics to tween girls (also known as a group with “2 billion dollars buying power”). Nor am I naïve enough to think that some girls do not become interested in make-up at a young age. What I am saying is that this has nothing to do with creating environmentally conscious consumers in our girls. It’s about implanting, at an ever-decreasing age, the notion that to be female is to be looked at, and thought of as an object to be dressed up and decorated, first and foremost. Marketing lipstick, exfoliator and eyeshadow to 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade girls is part of a larger and growing problem in our society which teaches girls that their value is dependent upon their sexuality and their perceived outer beauty.  Our girls, and our boys, need to be valued for who they are, first, as smart, compassionate, creative, loving human beings.

In the meantime, I teach my 8-year-old girl how to be a committed steward of the earth by recycling, composting, digging in the dirt and reading National Geographic. If she wants to play with my organic makeup, she’s more than welcome to. But I’m going to pass, thank you very much, on Walmart’s green-curriculum.


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