Lori Day, educational psychologist, parenting coach and author, still believes it takes a village to raise a child. Additional support is vital in today’s overly sexualized culture, which pressures girls to grow up too fast, according to the author. Around 15 years ago, Day put her beliefs into action.
Day and her daughter, Charlotte Kugler, spotted a post for mother-daughter book clubs in a local bookstore window, and instantly, the idea came to them. The two formed their first mother-daughter book club with four other mothers on board, and it lasted for six years.
They both feel the clubs are needed now more than ever to empower young girls. Forming mother-daughter book clubs are the focus of their recent book, Her Next Chapter—co-authored by Charlotte.
The book covers the fundamentals and offers book recommendations based on Day’s expertise as an educator.
“The formation of the book club was one of the happiest and most trans-formative experiences,” the author claimed in an interview. “I highly recommend other mothers looking to enrich parent-child bonds to start a book club.”
The clubs serve as an empowering haven for girls, similar to a support group. Most group sessions spark interesting discussions the girls can relate to. Topics are usually about issues surrounding the community such as negative body image, bullying, media sexualization, the pressure on girls to be sexy early on and etc.
“Growing up, things were a lot more gender neutral. Things changed and got a lot more hyper-feminine and sexy,” said Day. “There was no idea that little girls were sexy back then.”
Working in the field of education for over 25 years, Day sketches out a typical day for girls in school today. It’s a lot of self-conscious behavior from girls who are consistently surveying their appearance in the mirror and imagining how they look to boys.
“It’s causing girls to drop out of sports at twice the rate that boys do. The girls don’t want to look sweaty or mess up their makeup and hair,” she said. “We’re losing a lot of girls at high school age. They don’t want to play sports anymore.”
Most professionals like Day blame children’s distorted views on toxic messages from the media and marketing companies, which contribute to the sexualization of young girls. Manufacturers market sexy adult clothes directly to girls. Toy manufactures market overly sexualized toys to girls and things like science toys or police trucks to boys, causing a gender divide.
The book clubs allow moms to look at the messages from society that says beauty is more important than having smarts and talent, and it helps them understand the truth behind these messages.
“It helps them understand things like why do the corporations do this? Why do toy companies do this, why do clothing stores do this? It’s because they can make more money,” said Day. “And so if girls understand what’s going on behind the media, they are more skeptical and they should be. They should learn to be critical thinkers. Mother-daughter book clubs teach them these skills, which they will have for the rest of their lives.”
The author remembers a book club session Charlotte’s 7th grade year. The topic of bullying came up in a conversation after reading Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, a book about nonconformity. One girl was a victim of bullying and the moms were able to pitch in and help her.
“The kids start out by talking about what is happening to the characters in the book and about their own lives. They say ‘Oh yea that happened to me once or happened to my friend.’ They sort of forget that the mothers are in the room and moms get a window into what’s happening in their lives and at school.”
Another aim in the book club is to help the girls maintain a healthy self-esteem and feel amazing without having a perfect body, sexy clothes or other things that the media says makes them beautiful.
“The key is to help your child find something that they’re good at. The earlier you start, the more successful they’ll be.”
Day advises children to find something they’re talented in and feel proud of to avoid falling into these traps. It was obvious to her that around 6 or 7, Charlotte was talented. She encouraged her daughter to pursue her passions.
Charlotte, now a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island, wrote stories that were pages long and very complex in the kid’s column of the local newspaper. She once said, “Mom, you’re going to buy my book from a book store one day.” Her daughter’s ambitions kept her focused on her talents and skills rather than on her outer appearance.
“It also helps for parents to supervise kid’s media consumption and monitor what they watch when they’re young. Parents should set good examples by not making appearance their main focus. If you’re doing a lot of fat talk, that makes girls start dieting at an early age and feel self-conscience about their bodies.” These are also some of the topics she discusses in her book.
Day advocates healthier media and products for girls through her national non-for profit organization, The Brave Girls Alliance, with co-founder Melissa Wardy. They are also sponsoring the campaign called “Truth in Ads,” a congressional legislation to encourage magazines to stop photo shopping the bodies of young women, which alter girl’s perception of reality and encourage eating disorders.
“We take on issues like this and promote awareness. We consult with manufactures of toys and other items on how to make them healthier for girls,” said Day.
“The diva fashionista is overdone and boring. Families are looking for multi-layered, diverse, intelligent, and strong media characters to enrich their girl’s imaginations. If our girls can see it, they can be it,”~ The Brave Girls Alliance.