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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kiki Kannibal and growing up female in America

Two things happened this week - I read this article in Rolling Stone magazine, and I heard Peggy Orenstein talk as part of her book tour for Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

Kiki Kannibal is the nom de internet of Kristen Ostrenga, who started out as just another dissaffected young teen, but then discovered MySpace and, later, Stickam.com, where she created this sex kitten, "Lolita-ish" persona that lead her and her family down the road to ruination. 

At 17, Kiki has 27,000 Twitter followers, but absolutely no real friends. "How do you connect with people?" she asks in the article (without any irony of course).

Her parents think her hyper-sexy live feeds and videos, posted since she was 13 years old, are "adorable" and all part of healthy creativity and self expression.  Apparently her dad snapped some of the photos: 

Both Kiki and her parents seem quite shocked that her online persona attracted the attention of a certain kind of man (pedophiles, lots of them) and a really aggressive backlash of hostility (too bad she can't monetize the word "slut"). Parents tend to be pretty naive about the internet, though these folks seem even more clueless than average - once your daughter is being stalked and your house is being vandalized, maybe you rethink the way your teen is using the internet.

Probably the most discouraging thing about the story, besides how her parents didn't see the danger, is that Kiki, as she was creating this image of herself, had no idea how she was affecting her audience.  She's internalized this requirement to be hot and sexy, but she's young and has no context for it, and so she presents it without the slightest understanding of the consequences. And this scenario is just rampart in the U.S.  Maybe just as sad it that, even now, when the downside has been so clearly demonstrated, she just can't stop - she's completely addicted to the "validation" that her fans and followers provide.

After reading this article and having it bounce around in my head for several days, I went to hear Peggy Orenstein, who is basically backing up just a few years, and examining how the Kikis of this world are created.

She said it starts with the princess craze at age 3 and very quickly morphs into Bratz and other images of "hotness" that get crammed down even very young girls' throats (pun intended).  She talks about "girlz" culture and how "sassy" and similar adjectives are just "sexy" with training wheels.  She talks about the way toys have changed, even perenial favorites like Strawberry Shortcake and My Litte Pony.  (To be fair, toy companies produce what sells - there's clearly demand for these sexualized products.)  She talks about how celebrity role models (often backed by Disney) like Miley Cyrus, morph rather abruptly from hyper-innocent into hyper-sexy.

She said a bunch of great stuff, much of it covered in her NY Times magazine article from 2007, which I read about a year ago and just loved (wherein she talks about the marketing of princess culture and the crazy values this is communicating to our daughters).  One of the most memorable was her lament about having to say "no" to her daughter all the time, and how she doesn't want this life, that seems like one endless "teaching moment."  I can relate!

I am very, very grateful that Alana is obsessed with animals, and never really had a princess phase, and has shown no interest in Hannah Montana or other shows/personalities that are marketed so heavily to her age cohort.  (To my delight, she's completely internalized my prohibition on Bratz dolls.) I have no delusion that we will escape completely unscathed, but at least the last few years has not been an ongoing battle for her soul.



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