parents

Bindi vs Bratz

“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.

I keep changing my mind 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? And I’m not the only one.

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.

“A bit too much Bindi at the moment for me,” says one critic. “Why does she look so happy all the time? Is she on Zoloft or something? There’s plenty of time to get all her messages across, shouldn’t she be mourning the loss of her father instead of being on TV? And who’s that manager with the scary hair? Careful Bindi, it could all backfire.”

“I think she seems like a lovely girl,” concedes a father of three “but as a role model, I think Australians are merely trying to make up for the fact that we practically ignored her father. Now that Steve’s gone we’re trying to make ourselves feel better by worshipping his daughter as a  tween pin-up. She’ll be spat out by the media machine in the usual 15 minutes.”

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.

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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?

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.

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