By Jodi Bondi Norgaard – Every year, just in time for holiday shopping, the media serves up guides to help grown-ups buy the most sought-after toys for the kids in their lives. And every year I read these lists and wonder who we’re trusting to spark the imaginations of our children and shape their sense of self.

Here we are at the end of 2019, and I’ve never felt better about the way society is embracing girl empowerment. The world’s women and girls are climbing out of the pits of sexism and stereotypes, and fighting back on issues of pay equity, representation, and sexual harassment. But then I read “Hot Toys 2019” in The Washington Post and see MGA Entertainment’s new O.M.G. fashion dolls on the list. MGA founder Isaac Larian claims the O.M.G. dolls “represent what has been lacking in the market today—real fashion dolls that are on-trend and relatable to kids.” O.M.G. is right!

I have told the story countless times when I first encountered “Lovely Lola” while shopping with my then 9-year-old daughter. This doll was sitting on a shelf in a crop top, high heels and make up. The juxtaposition between my daughter—pigtails askew, still sweaty and flushed from her soccer game—made me angry, and still does.

But “toy experts” say such dolls “are on-trend and relatable to kids.” How again are sexualized dolls relatable to kids? When I imagine a young girl left to engage in creative play with a sexy-looking doll (most likely marketed and sold by a company led by men), I wonder if that could very well be her first #MeToo moment. The assault is in the message: “Your value is in your appearance, and by the way, this is your standard.”

We need to stop sexualizing girls. This is not good for our girls, boys, or culture.

I’ll be blunt. My motivation to start my doll company was to provide an alternative to dolls that look like hookers. As the founder of the Go! Go! Sports Girl, I have been trying to create change and shatter stereotypes in the toy industry for over a decade. Industry leaders told me repeatedly, “I love your product, but it’ll never sell because it’s not mainstream. It’s not a fashion doll and girls like fashion.”

When I imagine a young girl left to engage in creative play with a sexy-looking doll (most likely marketed and sold by a company led by men), I wonder if that could very well be her first #MeToo moment. The assault is in the message…

I currently speak throughout the country on the importance of empowering women and girls. At two recent conferences, I did an informal survey and asked participants to list their favorite activities and interests. Not one woman or girl out of 200 listed fashion, shopping, makeup, doing their hair or anything related to appearance. They listed exercise, sports, reading, being with their pet, being outside and many more, but zero mentioned fashion. I’m not saying those girls aren’t out there, but there is a giant chasm between the lives and aspirations of children and what the toy industry pushes on them.

Research shows that children’s interests, ambitions, and skills can be shaped early on by the media they consume and the toys around them—potentially influencing everything from the subjects they choose to study, to the careers they ultimately pursue. By exposing children to toys, media and role models beyond gender stereotypes, we offer them the opportunity to authentically develop their talents and pursue their passions. Girls need encouragement to embrace their strength and assertiveness, as much as boys need validation to be vulnerable and nurturing. Tired, even damaging, stereotypes cannot be the only option.

Just because a large toy company launches a new product doesn’t make it a good product. Just because “toy experts” want you to believe their product is on-trend doesn’t make it a good choice. We don’t have to be passive buyers. As parents and consumers, we have a lot of power. You can send a strong message to retailers and manufacturers with your buying habits. If you are looking for a positive imaged doll for your child, check out Wonder Crew, Lottie Dolls, Ikuzi Dolls and Creatable World. And for the best toy experts, check out Oppenheim Toy Portfolio.

The saying, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is true.  We need to give our children more to see and we need to hold the toy industry to a higher standard to better represent and inspire our children.

Jodi Bondi Norgaard is the founder of the Go! Go! Sports Girls dolls and books, Keynote Speaker, and Consultant. Her book, More Than a Doll, is forthcoming in 2020.

All photos credit to Jodi Bondi Norgaard and published here with her express permission.