Powerpuff Gone Bad

The kids and I have been watching The Powerpuff Girls on Retro Teletoon on Saturdays. I loved that show when I was just out of university. Mojo Jojo is HI-larious. When the movie came out, my friend Ruth and I even went to see it in the theatre, without an Excuse Child in tow. The Powepuff Girls are EPIC.

The kids like the show too, but I’m getting kind of worried letting them watch it. It’s not the show itself, it’s the commercials.

Now, I admit that our kids watch a fair bit of TV. But through happy accident, they’ve mostly been sheltered from the world of advertising. They’ve been happy up until now to watch naturally commercial-free stuff, stuff on Treehouse and CBC and Disney Junior and Family. When they do see commercials, it’s usually on sporting events that they’re watching with Sir Monkeypants, so they see ads for cars, soft drinks, and cellular phones. Sometimes I’ll put on a game show while I’m cooking and there will be ads for a zillion different drugs, Medicare-covered electric wheelchairs, and incontinence products. Lately the Captain has started watching the odd episode of The Clone Wars, which has kid-targeted ads for things like Hot Wheels and Beyblades, and that has led to some good conversations about marketing and money management and goal setting.

But the Powerpuff Girls. Ugh. The programmers there really know their audience. All of the ads are targeted squarely at aging women. I guess their research showed that I’m not the only 40-something mom who is sharing the show with their kids.

So what do marketers want to sell to moms? Sure, there was the odd ad for hair dye and wrinkle cream. But 90% of the advertising is for one thing: weight loss. It’s long, two-minute segments from Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Dr. Bernstein, over and over.

I didn’t think too much of it at first. I’m at a healthy weight and I don’t fuss too much about my diet. My kids are all super duper skinny. It’s not unhealthy, it’s just genetics – both Sir Monkeypants are I were short, scrawny kids, always in the front right corner of every class photo at school. The Captain is 9, and still isn’t close to breaking 50 pounds. Gal Smiley will be 8 in a couple of months, and only hit the weight level to move to a booster seat six months ago. They definitely, definitely do not need to worry about having too much fat.

But the message of the commercials got through, and now they are worried about it. They ask all kinds of questions about what it means to be fat, whether their food has any fat in it, if they themselves are fat. And no amount of reassurance from us will erase all the doubt that they need to be watching their weight, or else they will end up unhappy and ugly.

And of couse, it’s the girls who have taken it most to heart. Is it because the people in the commercials are women? Or because they just worry more about their appearance? I don’t know, but they’re thinking about it. A lot. It’s a little scary.

It’s a struggle for every parent to give their child good self-esteem. To find way to make them really believe that they are beautiful, smart, special, loved. The last thing I need is to be working against direct messages coming from the television, which always seems to speak The Truth to the kids.

So maybe we will invest in some Powerpuff Girls DVDs, but I think that’s the end of our Retro Teletoon adventures. It’s funny, the show itself is kind of about girl empowerment, but the ads are working in direct opposition to that message. I feel like I’ve got enough work on my hands as it is to sort out this mess, too.

4 thoughts on “Powerpuff Gone Bad

  1. It is scary. I have super skinny kids as well, and my husband and I are thin. But I made the mistake of saying that I wanted to “stay skinny so I could look good at the beach”. I said this after Christmas gorging, to my husband, but little pitchers, you know? Mark started talking about it. “We need to be skinny for the beach, right, Mom?” Well, I could have slapped myself. So stupid. What a stupid thing to say. It took months before he stopped saying things about being skinny.

  2. I found this post at once shocking and fascinating and sad and aggravating. I imagine the mix of emotions it stirs could explain why there are so few posts. It stuns. What we know exists and have developed the skills to ignore, we learn here how those without the ability to understand marketing are very much victims.

    It shocks me not because the kids are effected by the ads but because they are so body aware at such a young age.

    It aggravates me that Retro Teletoon isn’t sensitive to the possibly that children are watching.

    It saddens me that other parents out there won’t likely do damage control like your doing, and the harmful effects could last a lifetime for their kids.

    It fascinates me that marketing can be *that* effective. Is it just these commercials, or did the commercials bring together a barrage of other influences on body images that these kids are exposed to everywhere, all the time? What can we do about it?

    I read a fantastic article in Psychology Today that debunks the self-esteem myth in favour of focusing on teaching self-control and self-discipline. A topic for another time, but it has me thinking about this particular instance and what is the best remedy for the ailment.

    Something tells me a nasty letter to Retro Teletoon and the weight loss programs of the world just won’t work.

  3. Sara

    Ugh that’s awful! We just solved potential access to commercials by cancelling cable 😉 A little extreme maybe.

Comments are closed.