June 07, 2006

Report from Club Libby Lu

After I wrote a post about Club Libby Lu last April, many readers chimed in with horrified stories about the place, but several people emailed me saying that I was too harsh, that what I had described was not the Club Libby Lu they had heard about and I shouldn't criticize a place if I had never been to it. Several of my students did actually walk through the place and came back to report that it looked like an attempt to indoctrinate girls early with the idea that they needed to spend all kinds of money on cosmetics. After all, how can the multi-million-dollar cosmetic industry survive unless we convince girls at a very early age that they need make-overs to look pretty?

Then last month, Kindergarten Friend offered her services as a spy when her young daughter was invited to a party at Club Libby Lu. Here is her report:

We walked in and were instantly ushered into the back of the store. There the girls were given a 'menu' of looks they could turn into. [The five choices were: Rocker, Priceless Princess, Tween Idol, Super Star, and Royal Heiress. ]

Three of the girls wanted to be rock stars, and two wanted to be princesses. The other mothers were oohing and aahing over the pictures and couldn't wait to see the results. The children were taken into a back room and emerged with their costumes on. The princesses were adorable. They wore rainbow colored dresses with wings on the back. Then my daughter, one of the "rock stars," came out of the room. She was wearing black silk pants with silver sequins around the waist. The top was worn diagonally, over one shoulder and bare on the other, edged in silver sequins. I realized quickly what a mistake I had made, and then decided to make this a learning experience.

What surprised me the most was how the other mothers were excited at seeing their sweet young ones dressed as whores. After pasting a semi-smile on my face, I excused myself while the girls got their make-overs.

I wandered around the mall, trying to be interested in all the merchandise I was seeing. I wandered downstairs. I wandered upstairs. When I looked over the railing at the LIBBY LU place, my mouth opened in disbelief.

There, in the window of the "club" were the girls. Even from my high perch, I could see the make-up on the little whor-; whoops, I mean girls. I immediately rushed down for a little damage control.

When I got to the club, I was just in time to see the girls dance to a rap song. There they were; glitter on their faces and hair, fake hair with curls and pink strands clipped in their hair. Their faces were covered in make-up. They had eye shadow, mascara, lipstick and blush with a sheen of glitter to finish off the look. They were carefully following the steps that the teenage girl pimps were doing.

[How old were the girls at this party? Six. That’s right, these were girls just finishing kindergarten.]

In summary, your students were right on the mark. I will not allow my daughter to attend any more Libby Lu parties. I thought you might be interested in how the place works, so you can despise it more than you had already.


Sarah said...

I am not familiar with Libby Lu, but I am not surprised by this story. I have a good friend who is horrified by the way her six-year-old daughter behaves in the presense of her friends. All of them want to dress like teenagers and dance provocatively and sing songs with inappropriate lyrics. This is the norm.
I was shocked when I rented Chicken Little to watch with my 2yo, and the characters sang the Spic Girls' "If You Want to Be My Lover"--LOVER???? Are you kidding me?
Look at the girls clothes they sell at Target! And the Bratz cartoon and dolls! For that matter, have you seen what cheerleaders do lately? Girls dance teams?
Girls are sexualized at a very young age and are taught that their value is in their bodies and how sexy they can be.
All this time I've been worried about the negative influences of Cinderella--little did I know...

reverendmother said...

My 3.5 year old loves to play Cinderella, don old lace curtains as a "wedding dress," and is fascinated by her Aunt A's makeup (I don't wear it personally).

How is this different than Club Libby Lu? I totally think it is, but I'm having trouble figuring out exactly how and why. Is it a difference of degree? Or is it that my daughter's play is self-directed? Is it that people *pay* for this experience? Or is it there an element of innocence to my daughter's play that seems absent here?

Or all of the above, or other options?

I'm just as disgusted by CLL as the next person, and my child won't be attending parties there. At the same time, while I cringe sometimes at the imaginative play she comes up with, it seems different to me.

Lisa V said...

I think the difference between children(boys or girls) playing dress up at home and places like Libby Lu is who is doing the dress up. At home my child or one of her friends figure out what they are going to wear and the character they are going to assume, if any. Those places not only have preconcieved characters, but a very narrow list of them. These are your options for fantasy-that's it- this is who a girl should want to be.

My kids have never played with make-up at my house. They have done it at others. But I didn't want them to start buying into the idea that it transformed them. So far it works. I recently gave my high school daughter permission to wear whatever make-up she wants. She asked why she would want to. I didn't have an answer.

Libby Lu is all part of grooming these girls to be corporate icons who buy, buy, buy- because who you are isn't good enough.

negativecapability said...

I had to go to their website to check it out...

I agree that it's the pre-selected categories ("royal heiress"? WTF? - it looks like Paris Hilton - do they get their own sex tape, too?) that make the whole thing so sinister. Not just "here's some makeup and go for it" but "here is a preselected set of cheap plastic accessories that will turn you into your 'choice' of preselected plastic person."

And the really creepy thing for me is that all the girls on the website look about 12-14. NOT six. Of course the six-year-olds want to do what the hip "tweens" are doing.

Grr... at that tweeny age I was going to swim practice twice a day and had just discovered Jane's Addiction and the Cure. I would have loved for someone to invite me to a cheesy party where they dressed me as a "rockstar"...but what if they got me when I was six? It's just so sad and hilarious at the same time.

Friday Mom said...

This just makes me sad on so many levels. So it's a one-time thing that a little girl goes to one of the parties or maybe a few times, and in the end no real damage is done by going there, but the reality that these places exist because it's still possible to convince women and girls that they have to buy make up and the right clothes to be considered beautiful and fun makes me really, really sad.

jo(e) said...

I agree with what LisaV said. I am completely in favor of kids, both boys and girls, playing dressup and experiementing with all kinds of costumes and roles. But Club Libby Lu prescribes two options: you can be the pretty princess (and a princess by definition is someone who is born into power and wealth, not an empowered woman who chooses her path) or you can be the sex object rock star who dresses slutty for an audience. Girls at Club Libby Lu parties aren't given the option of scientist, or pilot, or mathematician, or firefighter.

One current trend that drives me crazy (and I think it comes from Disney) is that kids who want to wear long flowing skirts that are pretty colours are told they are "princesses." I have a friend who loves long colorful skirts and she is a scientist. Can't girls be given the idea that women in all kinds of careers can choose to wear fabrics and colours that they find appealing?

I'm also appalled at the way how kids' clothing is sexualized. When sexuality is forced on kids before they are ready, it is artificial, and not at all empowering. The kids look like sex objects because the sexualtiy is not anything emerging from their feeling comfortable with their bodies -- it is something forced on them from the outside.

Claire said...

This is disheartening. And discouraging. And disgusting. I Blame The Patriarchy.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Besides the pre-determined pathways for dress-up, what really distinguishes Club Libby Lu from at-home imaginary play is that window. The idea of sending a six-year-old out in sexualized clothing for the express purpose of attracting the gaze of passing adults really disturbs me.

Mona Buonanotte said...

We don't have any of those places and I hope we never get them.

And I refuse to let my kindergarten girl have a Bratz doll. No. Way.

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Just wanted to let you know you weren't the only one to hear from Libby Lu supporters. A few weeks after my post on the matter, several (anonymous) LL supporters commented on my post, attempting to point out how wrong I was in my unfavorable assessment of that store. They didn't succeed.

Sarah Sometimes said...

I was thinking about your post about Club Libby Lu when I read the article in the Times today about what teenage girls do to get ready for their proms--and the amount of money their families spend--compared to what the boys do, which is, rent a tux, maybe get a haircut, and brush their teeth. The message, of course, is that men are fine as they are, but women have to spend a month working on erasing the tiniest "imperfections" in their bodies, trying different hairstyles, makeup etc., to emerge into the world in what one sociologist quoted in the article calls a "backwards-forwards" rite of passage. Here is the article:


Jody said...

I was going to write what Phantom writes: it's not just that the little girls are dressing up in styles not quite age-appropriate, under the explicit guidance of older girls/supposed "role models." (It would be interesting to hear from the women who work in those stores, some of whom probably don't buy into the store's message.)

What bothers me is that the girls at these parties (and I have to believe that if 6-year olds are attending, then the actual tweens in those communities consider the place "too babyish") are dressing in hyper-sexualized styles and then posed in a window for other people to see. Because it's never too soon to teach little girls that their play should be directed toward the visual (sexualized) approval of others.

The whole thing Freaks Me The Hell Out.