So much for the punk rock Lego movie message of not following the instructions: In a recent edition of the Lego Club mag, the company ran a spread featuring beauty tips for five year olds, establishing for girls who've not yet learned to read that the only good face shape is oval. Et tu, Brute?
Over at the New York Times' parenting blog Motherlode, Sharon Holbrook recently wrote:
My 7-year-old wants to know if she has an oval face. Why? Because "oval faces can often have almost any style haircut because almost everything looks great on this face shape!" Her sudden concern with her hairstyle "looking great" comes courtesy of her new Lego Club Magazine, which included "Emma's Beauty Tips" in the March-April 2015 Lego Club Magazine.
She is 7. My little girl, the shape of her face, and whether her haircut is flattering are none of Lego's concern. It wasn't even her concern until a toy magazine told her to start worrying about it.
Here is the offending piece of literature:
Note that the advice given here is basically that if you have any face shape other than oval, you're a shit outta luck and need to do some damage control, stat—whether by "softening the edges" of your CHILD'S FACE or helping a long CHILD'S FACE "appear slightly shorter."
Why the long face, honey? Because you have a literally long face?
As for heart faces: Welp, hope you have nice eyes!
Another tip instructs girls to use heat serum before blow drying, which I have never even used and am now pretty sure is what is wrong with my hair. To be clear, yes, these are perfectly ubiquitous, standard haircut tips for anyone old enough to articulate a clear plan for their face and head. And also, yes, most of the women writing out against this spread (including myself) probably woke up this morning, looked in the mirror, and began covering up all signs of flaws and wrangling their hair into submission as if it were as natural as breathing.
But we're fucked already. We want something better for our daughters, dig? What we as women resign ourselves to, find pleasure in, work to reconcile no matter how problematic, does not resemble our best and highest hopes for our daughters. In other words, this is the best we do with our own experience in the saturated world of beauty advice and fix-yourself mainstays we grew up in. In a perfect world, dress up would stay fun and optional for as long as possible until girls already had a well-established confidence and autonomy. Young girls will fret soon enough about their bodies and faces, but should be spared the particulars of hyper-specific, looks-heavy grooming guidance at an age where some of them still need the brushing of their teeth to be supervised.
As some sites' coverage of this egregious act make clear, the bloom is already off the rose for Lego anyway, ever since the introduction of Lego Friends in the first place. Carylon Cox at The Mary Sue writes:
The LEGO Friends have always been a bummer considering LEGO's otherwise pretty decent track record of creating toys that offer representation without gendering (at least compared to the low bar set by competitors like Hasbro or Marvel), but this latest development is truly disappointing.
And I will chime in here: Our daughter has some traditional Legos and also Lego Friends. I didn't grow up playing with Legos in the trailer park, but my husband played with them extensively throughout childhood, and he now plays with my daughter a lot in epic hours-long building sessions, and constantly remarks at how frustrating it is to use Lego Friends. I asked him the main differences between old-school Legos and these, and he told me:
The whole point of Legos is they can all connect to each other—they're all standardized sizes. Lego Friends have more interesting clothes and body shapes, so those little Lego girls can't actually do anything. They can't sit; they can't ride the horse; they can't actually function. The hands don't rotate, so they can't use the backpacks or any of the stuff you already have in your Lego world. Even how the Lego girls fit within their own world is annoying. The pizza set, for instance, came with little seats to eat your little pizza. The Lego friends girls can't even sit in those seats, they fall right off. It's ridiculous. They only bend over. They can't hold things in different ways. From a kid's perspective, if you want to grab onto a bicycle handle, you just rotate the hand and you're done. But with the Lego Friends ice cream bike, she can sit on it, but she can't actually put her hands on the handle. So it's like they removed almost all the functionality and versatility of the people. You can build the whole world but you can't do anything with it.
And don't get me started on the mermaid.
Of course, as Holbrook points out in the original NYT blog post about the beauty tips, in spite of her own hesitation about the Lego Friends line, her daughter loves it, especially as compared to her lack of interest in her brother's Legos:
She loved the stories and characters. She loved the pretend-play possibilities of having a Lego ice cream parlor or a Lego house. As much as I prefer the whole image in the gender-neutral 1981 Lego ad, I was glad she was building, and I was glad she was stretching her imagination, even when she was snapping together Lego pieces that were overwhelmingly pink and purple. I gave Lego credit. Perhaps the company believed it had to go sparkly to compete with today's gender-specific toys and get girls interested in building. For my daughter, it worked.
(P.S. I actually think the colors of the Lego Friends kit are pretty cool—the turquoise and gold are awesome. Nothing wrong with the color scheme here. The question is, why can't all the kits have a mix of lots of colors?)
But let's get to the bottom of these beauty tips: Why would Lego do something like this, something that seems so obviously out of step with the age group, if not sexist? Well, because readers asked them to, in a sense.
Mashable reports that the senior director at brand relations at Lego Systems, Inc., Michael McNally, gave them a statement explaining the genesis of the spread:
We appreciate the reader comments on the latest LEGO Club Magazine. Our Club team is always striving for new ways to engage with LEGO fans based on insights we gather from our Club audience. One particular thing that readers asked us to include was an 'Advice Column.' In the most recent magazine, we attempted to deliver against this request by elaborating on a current LEGO Friends story line. We sincerely regret any disappointment it may have caused. We value this feedback and have already shared with the LEGO Club team in order to positively impact future stories.
In their minds, perhaps, there is little distinction between offering a beauty salon Lego Friends building kit and then throwing in a little ad copy to prompt the conversations they envision little girls might be having at the salon anyway—you know, the place where you go to get your haircut and talk about things like what cut looks best on your face.
Worth noting, regarding the fact that Holbrook mentions her daughter had no sense of her face shape being good or bad, right or wrong, worst or best, before this exposure: It could've just as easily come from any other number of places. Little girls get messages like this from everywhere, from a very young age. In a couple of pictures of my daughter at her preschool she brought home one week, she looked very tired, and at home we joked that they only seem to take pictures of her when she's bombed out. "You look so tired!" my husband said lightly a few times after looking over these pictures.
For approximately one month after this, every morning as we got ready for school, my daughter looked in the mirror and asked me, "Mommy do I look tired today?"
It took multiple explanations to tell her that she just looked sleepy in a few pictures, not all the time, and a follow-up with my husband to explain that any focus on her looks to that extreme was going to unnecessarily create hyperawareness about said looks way too soon.
She also won't wear this one puffy pink jacket because, she insists, "It doesn't make me look pretty." She's 4. She has a remarkably stubborn, inalterable idea of what pretty is already, from simply being in the world.
As a counter to "Emma's Beauty Tips" that highlights it absurdity, Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing ran a similar bit of beauty advice for male Lego execs created by Elbe Spurling. It includes getting plastic surgery for wrinkles, swallowing your pride and joining the Hair Club for Men and using facial hair to disguise unattractiveness:
All I can think about now is how good I bet they sitting in those chairs.
Truth is, I'm constantly torn about these issues. On the one hand, I obviously think routing children hard on gender early on is a really bad thing. I think kids should identify as people before gender, because the world will interject and require a gendered identity soon enough. But I also know on some level it's unavoidable.
I also know that part of identifying as a woman for me is the fun of costume and dress up, and my daughter already notices and asks me things all the time about the grooming I do. Mommy, why are you putting on makeup? Mommy, what are you putting on that spot? Why did you cover it up? Can I wear eyeshadow?
We also notice cool clothes on other people and talk about what makes them cool and get dressed every morning with some sense of her aesthetics versus appropriateness. We also build robots, play with bugs, and talk about how engines work.
I think isolated from the context in which we live, the Lego beauty advice is just one more dumb thing telling girls how to look better that hardly merits an eyebrow raise. At the same time, it is super depressing proof that, in the journey that is raising a daughter in 2015, this stuff is virtually inescapable.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo via Getty.