Several years ago when Melissa Atkins Wardy went shopping for her 3-month-old, she was hoping to find something that signified her daughter's namesake, Amelia Earhart. Perhaps, a onesie with an airplane on it.
Instead, she found a narrow selection for baby girls: mostly pink, sparkly apparel with the words "princess" or "diva."
"There's nothing wrong with those, but the message of what girlhood entails is limited," Wardy said in a phone interview this week.
That shopping trip and what she calls an overall "giant awakening" as a woman and a parent propelled Wardy to become an advocate for issues involving gender stereotypes and the sexualization of childhood.
And now Wardy, who lives in Janesville, has released her first book, "Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween." She will be speaking about her new book on Feb. 5 as part of the Women's Speaker Series at Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee.
"I never saw myself as an author, but it seemed like a natural next step," said Wardy, who is the mom of Amelia, now 8, and son Benny, 5.
"I'm raising Amelia and Benny free of binary, stereotyped gender roles and regressive or sexualized toys, apparel and media," she writes on her blog.
After a few blog posts went viral, Wardy started writing her book. Using a compliation of studies including research from the National Institute of Media and Family, Wardy argues that today's hypersexual culture is sending the wrong messages to both girls and boys about body image and gender roles.
The book also contains practical, specific parenting advice and strategies for not only helping children but also educating others.
"I’m posing a challenge: Maybe we don’t need to raise our daughters amid the pink and purple wave of stereotyped, sexed-up princesses and dolls that are spiraling toward us. Maybe we could raise them to be smart, independent, strong, and daring. Maybe we could incorporate every color of the rainbow into their worlds, and not limit them to pink. Together, let’s redefine what it means to be a little girl growing up in today’s sometimes crazy world."
Wardy, who is scheduled to appear on the TODAY Show on Feb. 21, said she has three starter tips for parents, including those who have boys:
1. Be aware of the media coming into your home; talk to your child about the images and message they see
2. Promote a positive, healthy body image; promote self love
3. Have your children create their own media, through writing and pictures
If you go
What: Milwaukee Reads and Bronze Optical Women's Speaker Series featuring Melissa Atkins Wardy, author of “Redefining Girly”
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5
Where: The Lynden Sculpture Garden, 2145 W. Brown Deer Rd., Milwaukee
More information: lyndensculpturegarden.org
Watch Wardy on TMJ4's The Morning Blend.
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