A girl who acts like a girl.

Bindi Irwin

There is so much genuine hand-wringing about role models for young girls.  Hell, some days my hands feel like they’ve wrung off.

And this is important. If we just accept the way women are depicted in music videos and little girls are encouraged to wear Playboy logos and be air-brushed and buy make-up then it quickly becomes normal.
I believe we must kick and scream about what we don’t like to prevent kids from growing up in a world dominated by the Bratz Doll paradigm.

But it’s also important to highlight what’s good. What’s positive. An alternative to the mass culture of SEXY BITCH that feels like it’s infiltrating the lives of kids in 2011.

So today I wanted to write about two things that makes me smile. Two things that are beacons of sanity in a pop culture world that often feels INSANE (well, to me anyway).

For Real GiRLS

The first thing is the launch of a new magazine called FOR REAL GIRLS, produced by independent publisher Otter Press and going on sale nationally in newsagents, Coles supermarkets and select retail outlets on Dec 7th. It’s a refreshing little mag, full of puzzles and games and stories aimed at girls aged about 5-10.

The photos of the girls look like girls – children – and they’re lovely. There’s no airbrushing that I can see and no emphasis on boys or buying stuff. Seek it out. If you want to buy a magazine for your daughter, support one that sends a positive message to them. Not an air-brushed one. (contact [email protected] if you can’t find the mag or have any equiries).

The second thing is Bindi. About a year ago, I happened to flick the TV to ABC Kids one Monday morning and stumbled upon Bindi Irwin’s TV show. I’d never seen it before and neither had my kids and we were instantly captivated. This particular episode was about lizards – big and small – and there was Bindi, aged about 9 at the time, talking about conservation and animals and nature. Her mum was by her side and she looked like a kid. Pigtails, shorts and a t-shirt, no make-up (I can’t believe I even have to mention that but this alone tells you a lot about what we’ve become conditioned to when we see little girls in the media).

She was engaging, appropriate and delightful. Yes, a little precocious but so are many kids. Some of them just like to perform and are naturally extroverted.

Here’s a different episode but you get the idea:

I skipped over the bit about her Dad having died because it wasn’t actually necessary. He was integrated into the show very tastefully and appropriately. It was no big deal and I knew we could talk about it later if the subject came up.

Instead, we focussed on the lizards. My kids were transfixed and I was delighted – it can be a struggle to pry their attention away from Toy Story, Mickey Mouse Club, Dora, Fireman Sam and various Disney and Barbie videos.

My daughter loves princesses and fairies and anyone who is animated with a handspan waist and an American accent. So naturally, I was thrilled that someone age-appropriate and Australian had penetrated her pop cultural awareness.

“Mum, is Bindi real?” she asked me? “Well, yes she is.”

“Where does she live?”

“At a zoo. Except in a house not a cage” I added helpfully.

“Can we go and see her in real life?”

“Maybe one day.  We might go visit her zoo and see the animals and she might be there with her mum and her brother.”

At the time, I vowed to do everything I can to encourage this new found interest. I immediately tried to buy some episodes of her TV shows on itunes but found none so I went to the Australia Zoo website and ordered a couple of DVDs (you can buy them here). I’ve since bought them as gifts for everyone I know with young kids – they’re always a big hit.

I remember a few years ago, there was a big kerfuffle about Bindi….whether she was being exploited after the death of her father…whether it was appropriate that she had her own TV show…..

Here’s a reminder of what started it all……

At the time, I also remember feeling the same way I do now. That Bindi is an excellent and refreshing role model for young girls – and boys – in a sea of plastic and often American pop culture influences.

Back in 2007, I wrote:

“Thank God my daughter finally has a role model who isn’t a princess or a prostitute!” This was the sentiment expressed to me this week in a playground conversation about Bindi Irwin.

Barbeques are stopping around the country as we all move predictably through the Steve Irwin news cycle from shock to sadness to bitching. Bitching about Bindi.

Is she being exploited? Is she under too much pressure? Should she be out in public so soon? Could she be an extraordinary talent? Is she coping with the attention? Wise beyond her years or precocious? Has she had too much media training? Is she a performing seal? Why can’t she just live the life of a normal eight year old?

But as the experts, the critics and the naysayers line up to express their outrage, can we take a moment to acknowledge some of the positives that are coming with Bindi’s sudden propulsion into our lounge-rooms?

At one friend’s house, Bindi has opened up some interesting conversations about grief. “Why does she look so happy if her dad just died?” came the question from my friend’s seven-year-old son who was genuinely puzzled.
We had a similar conversation at our place a few years ago when a child at my son’s school lost a parent and many of the other kids didn’t understand how their classmate could play and laugh and not be constantly crying.

My friend explained to her son that even when a devastating thing happens, you can’t be sad every minute of the day. And just because Bindi looks happy when we see her on TV, it doesn’t mean she’s not crying her little heart out in private and it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t miss her Daddy like crazy.

Some adults might like to remember this when they’re criticising Bindi’s public appearances. Can we really look at her beaming face at the Kids’ Choice awards and begrudge Bindi those few hours of fun in the context of the punishing grief she’s living every day since her Dad’s death?

You can’t be prescriptive about grief. Whatever gets you through. Let’s leave Teri and Bindi and little Robert to muddle through the wreckage of their extraordinary lives with our love and hope and goodwill. As tempting as it is to look at our own children and make comparisons in that backseat parenting way we all do, it’s irrelevant here. Bindi’s life has always been calibrated on a whole different scale to any other child in the world. From birth. Who are we to say what is “normal life” for the Irwin family?

Personally? I’m just stoked that the extent of Bindi’s new fame means a generation of little girls now have a role model who doesn’t dress like a trollop. As one mother of a six year old points out: “the only nod to fashion you ever see Bindi make is crimping which is what girls her age should be doing with their hair. Appropriate.“

Another mother of a ten-year-old daughter agrees: “Bindi has a positive message, she’s fully clothed and she has a mother. Present and standing there with her. Not hiding in the wings spending her money. “

And this from a friend with two little girls: “There’s no one else between Barbie and Britney except for Dora the Explorer and she’s a cartoon. I am personally clutching onto Bindi. She is full of life and good values just like her father. She has a passion and a cause and goodness and she’s not a prissy princess. She’s prepared to get dirty. I want my girls to grow up believing they can do anything and Bindi is the only junior celebrity role model I can think of who walks that talk.”

I totally agree. So Bindi? If filling your beloved father’s Blundstones isn’t taking up enough of your time, can I please make one more request?
Please can you save the souls and wardrobes of all the little girls in the world who want to be Paris and Hilary and Britney and Nicole Ritchie and the Olsen twins? All of them. Show these misguided little girls how it can be cool to chase animals instead of boys and how it’s important to take care of the environment. And that khaki is the new midriff.

My view has not changed a bit. I am going to encourage my daughter’s interest in the little girl who doesn’t wear make-up and has a message about conserving the environment and protecting animals.

Who do you think is the best role model for girls?