April 06, 2006

Calling Club Libby Lu

I'm the kind of teacher who always gets to my class ten minutes early, taking possession of the room as soon as I can. And I love that ten minutes before class begins. As students trickle into the room, we talk about all kinds of things – current events, speakers who come to campus, field research, weekend plans. I used to bring the newspaper with me, but nowadays, more often than not, I come to class saying, "Hey, check out what I just read on a blog."

Last week, after reading posts by Phantom and Angry Pregnant Lawyer about Club Libby Lu, a place that puts on expensive birthday parties that include make-up, nail polish, hair spray, and sexy clothing for little girls, I couldn’t wait to find out what my students thought about the place. After all, they are a whole generation younger than me so I cannot always predict their reaction. Maybe they would not be disgusted at the ways that these places encourage little girls to accept their roles as sex objects or princesses. Maybe they would not be horrified at the way these places feed consumerism. Perhaps they are so used to this kind of thing that they would be calm about the fact that such a place not only exists, but opens this month in Snowstorm City.

They were not calm.

Within minutes, almost every woman in the room was voicing her opinion, her disgust and horror. And they jumped to other topics too. “What about beauty pageants for little girls?” one woman said, “How horrible is that?”

Later we would be able to discuss the topic calmly, analyzing the ways in which rigid gender roles are taught to children, discussing the ways in which girls are especially targeted by corporations to be good little consumers. And a chemistry student would talk about the toxins involved with such things as cosmetics and nail polish, saying that it would be especially important for pregnant women and children to stay away from such a place. But for that first ten minutes, the women in the room were so filled with horror and disgust that we could not get much past ranting and raving.

The men in the room were mostly quiet, looking sort of surprised. "Yeah, I was disgusted by the concept," one man told me, "but it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I was just surprised at how emotional the women in the room got. Like this really, really bothers them."

And we keep returning to the topic. It keeps popping up in class discussions – well, we are reading poems about the body so the topic is applicable -- or during the chats we have during those ten minutes before class. Some of the students keep saying, no, no, this can’t be for real. No sane parents would let their kids go to birthday parties like that, no less pay money for them.

That I think, is when we entered the denial phase. Maybe what we'd read was exaggerated. Perhaps the reporter was just focusing on the princess costumes and hottie celebrity outfits. Perhaps other costumes were available: firefighter, pilot, scientist, doctor, all kinds of choices. Most of the students agreed that playing dress-up is a healthy thing for a child do, so long as she is offered a whole variety of costumes and choices. And we know that the media often does get things wrong. Maybe we were just all overreacting. So yesterday morning, my students decided to call the place to see if it was for real.

KayakMan volunteered to make the call – he was the only person in the room who thought he could make the call without reacting in any way. He used a speaker phone so that we could all hear.

The call was answered by a peppy female voice. KayakMan said that he had a five-year-old and was looking for birthday party options.

"Our parties involve makeovers," the cheery voice said. She went on to explain that the makeover included hair, make-up, fingernails, lips, and then something to do with goody bags that we didn’t quite catch. Lip gloss. Hair spray. Accessories. Lotion. Pretty Lotion, she called it. (KayakMan was starting to zone out.)

"What about costumes?" KayakMan asked, after being nudged by a classmate.

She said yes, they had costumes. There were five makeover choices: Rocker. Priceless Princess. Tween Idol. Super Star. Royal Heiress. The girls will just love it. And the counselors work with the girls, whatever that means.

Then KayakMan mentioned that his five-year-old was a boy.

There was a pause.

"I will have to check with the manager," the voice on the other end said. The cheery enthusiasm disappeared. And that became her stock reply for everything he asked after that. "I will have to check with the manager and get back to you." The manager, she said, would be in later in the day.

When KayakMan hung up, everyone in the room started screaming at once. Makeovers for a five-year-old?

And that was all before class even began.

37 comments:

ccw said...

I love your students!

Places like this scare me and the fact that enough parents are willing to spend money on this for their little girls is even scarier.

I'll take the Virginia Slims ads over this any day. Club Libby Lu sounds more like, "We've come a long way...my ass"

listmaker said...

oh.my.god. I feel like throwing up. Makeovers for little girls? What little girl needs to be "made over"? I hope this crazy place is very short lived.

Yankee T said...

I wish you taught at Older Daughter's College Of Choice. I hope there are some who are remotely like you.

Kristiface said...

Aside from the obvious disugust, what really stuck me was the end, when you said this all happened before class! I would LOVE to see that kind of energy in my classes before I got them "started."

Phantom Scribbler said...

You totally rock, jo(e). The reaction to hearing that the inquiry was for a five-year-old boy was priceless, just priceless. It just shows the extent to which homophobia goes along with sexism. Children! Proper gender roles, please!

A sixteen-year-old girl left a comment on my post saying how much she and her friends hate the place, too. Hope for the future!

Piss Poor Prof said...

Wonderful story. I too like to get there early. It sort of sets the tone and energy level. I used to project a weekly (TR class) political cartoon (usually "This Modern World") before my Classics class. It seemed to open up discussion on contemporary politics that we would then transfer to Classic politics.

I love the student's wit of turning the child into a boy. Priceless.

BTW, my five year old, although she might like it, will not be attending a make-over. I think I will have her play in the garden instead.

Tabitha Grimalkin said...

This place sounds very creepy! Ick!

jo(e) -- you sound like the most amazing prof. Your students sound pretty fantastic too.

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Having walked past our local CLL many a time in the mall, I could've told you that the Post piece was no exaggeration--but I have to say I'm glad you and your students did the sleuthing on your own! And I'm glad you stunned the woman there by saying the child in question was a boy.

Mona Buonanotte said...

That gives me hope, in that your students are actually THINKING about gender and children and how feckless consumerism of this sort is.

Girl-child has princess dress-up clothes, but she also is a cowpoke, a race car driver, and a knight....

Chris said...

My daughter (age 12) is horrified by this place in the mall. I am not quite sure that it comes from (her) feminist perspective, or is at a much more visceral level. Mind you she loved to play with dress up clothes and makeup at that age (5-10), but not prance around a store with her friends in the (wholly inappropriate) clothes that we have seen there.

Jessica said...

Sounds like a great group of kids you have there....and an excellent post - I had never heard of this place before reading other blogs recently.

jess said...

While I adored dressing up in skirts and shawls and hats as a kid, the idea of a place like that disgusts me. That the choice is between a princess and a celebrity? Ew. We were all about homesteaders and events that required dancing. And I love that your student called. Heh.

BeachMama said...

Oh my word! As much as I loved dressing up as a little girl, there were days I was a princess and days I was a fireman. I really can't believe this place is for real and that parents actually bring their little girls there! Sounds like your students did a good job discussing it and of course getting a little research done.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

So good of them to distinguish "Priceless Princess" and "Royal Heiress."

I like the empiricism of your class: lets call them up and see what's real.

zelda1 said...

You rock!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

"and then he mentioned that his 5-year-old was a boy"

I fell over laughing! This is great. Maybe we should all call about parties for our sons. Maybe that can make a difference.

Friday Mom said...

Just scared the guy sitting next to me laughing at "and then he mentioned that his 5-year-old was a boy".

Wonderful!

Bitty said...

I'll bet people don't DARE show up late for your class! They'd miss too much.

Connie said...

I LOVE you jo(e). Will you please clone yourself and teach at every school in the country? You probably think I'm kidding.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

This story made my day.

peripateticpolarbear said...

excellent.

Doctor Free-Ride, Ph.D. said...

My kids are fascinated by body mod (via magic marker -- or occasionally the almost-5-year-old has trimmed her own hair), but the push to enforce conformity to gendered roles would go over with them about as well as a proclamation that Fart Jokes Are Not Funny. They might well lay waste to such a place if I thought we had the money to pay the inevitable legal settlement afterwards.

I'm relieved to see your students horrified, though -- so many students at my U. seem to regard the status quo as fixed for all time. (Where's teen rebellion, or its adult analog, when you need it?)

jo(e) said...

Doctor Free-ride: Sadly, my students are probably not a reflection of college students in general. For the most part, these are students from a blue state in the northeast who are choosing to study environmental issues in college and who are choosing to take an elective course in contemporary nature literature.

I am curious to see how college student elsewhere might react to Club Libby Lu. Perhaps this could become a meme ....

Lisa V said...

I was telling my girls about this the other night at dinner, and Rory said "Oh that's just like Monkey Dooz." And sure enough, it's a chain that does the same spa thing for girls. And it's here in my town. Shudder. Luckily my kids have never been invited of inclined to go. My daughter read the sign in front of it one day while I was having a picture framed in the shop next door.

Piece of Work said...

I'm just as horrified as your students--and I shouldn't be, as I am a 36 year old woman living in L.A. There's probably a club libby lu on every corner here, or, if not that, at least a cosmetic surgery for kids! store. I can't imagine ever allowing my daughter to attend a party there, but I guess I'm probably living in denial, too. Sigh.

andrea from the fishbowl said...

Wow. I find that Club LL/makeover idea totally gross. The lack of compelling costume choices is just as bad.

Things like this make me wonder where our society is going.

You, jo(e) are a great teacher. It was a wonderful idea to have your students make the call. I think it's so important to teach young people to be critical thinkers. Because in this life, if they don't have that they don't have much.

Bad Alice said...

Ah yes, Club Libby Lu. My daughter went to a princess party at which Libby Lu products figured heavily. I had never heard of them before and was astounded to find a party where one of the crafts was making lip gloss (she was 4 at the time). My daughter loved it, but I was relieve that the next few parties were at an inflatable bouncy place. What strikes me beyond the fact that prissy stuff is marketed non-stop to girls is how bloody pricey it is. You have to be damn well off to afford Club Libby Lu. I was well aware of that while I hung around that party full of perfectly turned out upscale moms who talked to each other but not to me. But I'm not surprised by them at all. Princess parties are very popular where I live. The dance school where my daughter takes drama has them. You can't get much more stereotyped than a princess ballet party.

Beanie Baby said...

Awesome. I wish I could have been there to eavesdrop on that conversation!

halloweenlover said...

I can't even discuss this topic, it makes me so sick. I'm anxious to email this to one of my good friends living in LA. She is quick to defend all plastic surgery as "perfectly fine and normal" so perhaps she will view this as such also. I'll let you know. : )

Laura said...

As I read this post and all the comments that followed, I kept wondering about my seventh graders. How would they react to this place? They who do wear skimpy little clothes with sexy slogans on them. They who are fascinated with appearances and trying so hard to figure out their identities. I'm wondering how I could work the question into a lesson.

Anonymous said...

I personally think "Club Libby Lu" should be closed down permanently. What kind of example are we setting for these young girls? They are turning all of the girls into big sluts. Why isn't some activist group should be out there picketing. I can't believe that Disneyland, who are such an uptight group of corporate executives would allow such a store in their Downtown Disney area. The management at Club Libby Lu are a bunch of losers!! Nothing like seeing some 45+ Manager walk around with her pink "Princess" t-shirt, all glittered up, with a Tiara, and god knows what else. Losers!!! Close the store down!!! Fire the management, they treat their employees like crap.

Anonymous said...

And now, for a dissenting opinion. My nearly 5 y/o attended a party at Libby Lu today. She and the other 4 girls had a great time. They loved having their hair done, and the hair extensions are just like the pony tail dealies you can buy at Target. Glitter on the face, no overblown makeup... it was quite age appropriate actually. Nothing my daughter hasn't done during dress-up play at home.

The party was a far cry from what was described in the Post article. I suppose older girls might have a more suggestive tone, and that might bother me.

As soon as we returned home, my tomboy yanked the stuff out of her hair, and began to play in the dirt as usual.

I'm no more troubled by a Libby Lu party than by any other fantasy party she or her sister have ever attended... ranging from the animal trainer with snakes and ferrets, to the gymnastics at Gymboree.

I am honestly astounded that anyone would be so horrified at the concept. Boomers like myself, with disposable income, are able to offer a more scaled-up version of the princess tea parties I remember from my own childhood in the 60's and 70's.

I grew up to be a successful businesswoman, having earned a college degree, and still love a bit of glitter and fluff.

Feminist rants aside, it's all about fun, and that's what kids love.

jo(e) said...

I find it’s all about fun a curious defense of any practice. I know people who think that torturing animals is fun, and that does not make the practice any less abhorrent to me.

The other defense I often hear when I analyze rigid gender roles is it’s what I grew up with. I think people have a hard time stepping back and analyzing the sort of messages they got as a child – it’s too close to home. Analyzing the rigid gender roles that you grew up with means analyzing yourself, and that of course is often painful and difficult. For many of us parents, we have the habit of falling back onto the ways we were raised because it’s comfortable and familiar.

A male blogger defended Club Libby Lu on his blog by saying that he didn’t like the idea when his daughter was invited to a party, but felt he should keep his mouth shut because his wife thought it was a great idea. So that is something else I see: men who don’t feel they can speak out against the way rigid gender roles are being taught to their daughters because it’s something their wives have bought into.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe... thanks for the response to my dissenting opinion.

I appreciate your points. It's all about fun may be an arguable point to you, but likening a princess party to torturing animals? That's pretty tortured logic, don't you think?

Your point about comfort level with what we grew up with is a good one. I agree with you on that one. My father didn't help around the house, didn't do much in the way of interacting with his kids... had I incorporated that into my life, my kids would be the poorer for it.

However, nowhere in my post did I defend "rigid gender roles." I would defend my girlfriends' sons having a Libby Lu party as vehemently as I would defend my daughters having a fireman party. My eldest daughter had a dinosaur party, which her grandmother thought was too *boy*.

So, of course, I understand the issues of gender stereotyping. My point perhaps could have been better stated.

Fluff and glitter does not equate to a statement of inferiority. Fluff and glitter, when approached in the right way, can be an empowerment.

Boys can play with Barbie dolls, put fluff and glitter on... so can girls. It makes neither of them weak. To suggest that Libby Lu is harming our girls is to miss the point. The damage is in how it is viewed by the adults. You view it as a dangerous thing, and for your children, that's what it will be. I view it as fluff and fun, and for my children, that's what it will be.

jo(e) said...

I was not comparing a Libby Lu party to torturing animals. I was merely explaining why I don’t think “it was fun” is a valid defense for anything.

I also have no objection to fluff or glitter. If you read my blog, you know that I belly dance, and belly dancing includes all kinds of costuming.

At the Libby Lu parties the girls are given only five choices for costumes: Rocker. Priceless Princess. Tween Idol. Super Star. Royal Heiress. I don’t see any of these as healthy or empowering choices. I don’t think the idea of a "make-over" is compatible with teaching young girls that they are beautiful just they way they are. I think it promotes consumerism and helps fuel the multi-million dollar cosmetics industry.

I think Club Libby Lu parties represent something in this culture that is incredibly damaging to young women. I do think it’s valuable for parents to discuss this kind of thing – and to think hard about what they want to expose their children to. I see college students – young beautiful women with poor self-esteem, negative body images, eating disorders, etc. and it worries me. We live in a culture filled with body hate.

bizgal said...

I think anyone can make a negative or positive out of any situation they choose to. I saw the Libby Lu at Downtown Disney and what I observed was a group of about 20 young girls having the time of their lives! I did not observe any 'slutty' behavior, nor dress. I saw children laughing, talking, dreaming and enjoying every aspect of the event. Actually one of the gals working there was in a conversation with one of the kids about what do you want to be when you grow up and they were discussing the little girl becoming a pilot! Not your normal fluff and glitz type of female job IMHO

I also did not see any 45+ yo women in Pink glitter T's. I saw caucasian, hispanic, asian & black young ladies, working there who were dressed in black capes & very attentive to the children at the party. I saw Fun and Laughter and I for one enjoyed watching the kids having a blast. Oh and BTW there were two boys in the group who were having a blast with all the glitter... although they did pass on the nail polish for whatever reasons. These children were from 8-11 My niece (an adult) noted that a group of the girls were discussing business .. ie: couldn't wait to get home and open their lemonade stand as the shine of the sparkle would get people to notice their stand.

It's all make believe and I for one encouraged my kids to have fun no matter what they were doing .. it appeared to me to be healthier than sitting around a screen pushing buttons on a video game or shooting paint balls at everyone. So lighten up.. it's just pretend for an hour.

OH and the gal that said they treat their employees like crap. Who can't say that about any job at some point in time?

jo(e) said...

I think anyone can make a negative or positive out of any situation they choose to.

Uh, that is a peculiar defense. I suppose I could write a post about slavery and point out all the positives about it ....

Why is that whenever feminists analyze gender roles, someone tells them to "lighten up"? The implication is that it is better to just going through life having fun, with your brain turned off.