Pop-Culture | Posted by Alexa S on 09/12/2011

Observations in Target: Mass Marketing and Young Females

“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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  • Mari @ at 5:15 pm, September 12th, 2011

    Another thing about Disney Channel is, that while the shows’ main audience would probably be 11 and under, almost all the current shows feature main characters that are in high school.Also they have a focus on romance,eg there is usually a love interest or crush involved in a lot of the plots. The omly show I can think of where the characters are in the same age group as the target audience is Phineas and Ferb.

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 7:06 pm, September 12th, 2011

    Great article. I’ve actually been drafting an analysis of every major show on Disney and Nick for a while. Since I don’t watch most of them, I don’t think I can really judge them properly, though – I construed Good Luck Charlie as generally positive, but from reading this article, I can see it’s not. Hmm. Must do more research.

    But yeah, I loved the Disney shows I grew up with, and my mother always encouraged it – Lizzie McGuire, Kim Possible, That’s So Raven, Phil of the Future…

  • Emma E @ at 3:55 pm, September 13th, 2011

    Poor Sophia! :( That’s awful. I’ve never really been someone who’s aware of people’s weight–I only really notice it if they bring it up. Maybe because I’m just naturally skinny, maybe I was just taught that it’s rude to mention it. I was stunned when I got to about grade five or six and realized that everyone else thought it was okay to make fun of other people for their weight. And we were twelve. That girl was much younger. And I agree that Disney is an offender–I can’t remember the last time I saw a girl who wasn’t skinny and gorgeous on their channel. Not that other channels are much better. Sigh…

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 10:39 pm, September 13th, 2011

    I also was never one to notice people’s weight. My mother lost about 110 pounds, so she was pretty big throughout my childhood, but I honest to God never thought she was fat. She thinks I’m totally insane, but I really just never viewed her as a fat person.

  • Ann @ at 4:45 pm, September 14th, 2011

    Man, this is a really observational piece! Great job! I’ve heard of that book, and was thinking of borrowing it from the library, but as you said, it’s not at all targeted towards my demographic.. lol. I may anyway though. It sounds very good.

  • Vanessa M @ at 4:14 am, September 15th, 2011

    Exactly. Disney needs to realize what they’re telling kids in their shows. Of course, they’ve been progressing a lot (no more damsels in distress!) But they still have ways to go before being the perfect movie and show-makers people think they are. I, admittedly, look forward to the day when Disney sends out wholly positive messages in their shows :)

  • Alexa @ at 8:19 pm, September 15th, 2011

    Thanks so much for the comments, guys!
    Ann- I definitely recommend the book :)
    Talia & Emma- same with me. Weight of others was never something I noticed either, and it always seemed so prominent in others’ lives.

  • Welcome to the TEENAGERS & FEMINISMS Issue! | @ at 12:52 pm, September 8th, 2012

    […] (For analysis of Disney channel and its problematic messages from a teenage feminist, check out Julie Zeilinger’s blog, thefbomb.) Merida, the protagonist of “Brave,” is athletic, smart, and driven, a […]

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