Sunday, May 8, 2011

Why My Mom is a Super Hero: Barbie Dolls, Disney Princesses, and Mainstream Beauty Ideals

My mom is my hero.

To most people who know me, this might be a surprising statement. She often gets lumped into the generalized statement, "my conservative parents who I almost always disagree with." When ranting, I often over simplify, my mom is actually really awesome. Here's why:

My mom was really intentional in the way that she raised me. She put a lot of work into making sure that I grew up to be a confident, strong, passionate, and independent woman. I mean, she named me after Jo Marie Pounecheck on the TV sitcom The Facts of Life, a very independent ans strong woman. Was I supposed to grow up to be any different? I doubt it.

My mom was, and is, super supportive. She always encouraged me to experiment with new things and gave me the opportunity to do so. Whether it was paying for dance classes and attending every recital or letting me get finger paint everywhere (and I mean everywhere, there is still paint on our coffee table from it). Even into middle and high school, my mom (and dad) spent massive amounts of money to encourage me in my artistic endeavors. When I did Theater, she picked me up from my rehearsals, listened to me complain about the backstage drama, and sat through every performance, no matter how bad. And we had some really bad shows. They bought me my first and second camera, and paid for the materials I needed in my film photography classes. They helped me pay for my guitar, and payed for the guitar lessons.

This is all pretty no-brainer parenting, at least from my privileged perspective. Support your kid, be a good parent. Makes sense, right? But my mom did some other things that really shaped who I am today. Because, whether she'll admit it or not, my mom is a feminist.

Barbie Dolls:
When I was little, I was not allowed to have Barbie Dolls. Every time someone would give me a Barbie Doll for my birthday or Christmas, we would take it back and get something else. Something I usually thought was cooler anyways. It wasn't until I was given a Barbie Doll that had a tube of glitter for her hair at my sixth birthday party that I got to keep the doll. I really wanted the glitter, so I opened the doll to get at it. We couldn't return the doll, so I got my first Barbie. I honestly thought it was pretty lame until I was ten or eleven and my Barbie Dolls started experimenting with their sexuality, no Ken Doll needed.

The reason my mom was so against Barbie Dolls was because she didn't want me to grow up thinking that I had to look just like Barbie. After I was allowed to play with them, she talked to me about how I would be beautiful no matter what. And for a really long time, I believed her.

Disney Princesses:
My mom did not forbid me to watch Disney Princess movies, the way that many mothers who lived through second wave feminism did, but she did talk to me about them. We always had very constructive conversations about how I did not need to wait for "prince charming" to save me. She made it very clear that I was my own person and I never needed to be dependent on a man, which is a pretty prevalent theme in Disney movies, especially the older ones that I grew up with.

From Snow White to Sleeping Beauty, the princesses were always saved by a man. Even strong, brainy, and brave women, like Belle and Mulan, ended up with a man at the end of the movie. My mom always emphasized the other strengths of these women, and the other characters in the movies.

My mom also made sure that the Disney Princess movies were not the only representations of women I grew up with. My parents watched shows that portrayed their women characters as strong and independent leaders. We watched shows like Star Trek, and Xena: Warrior Princess. The series of Star Trek showing at the time was Star Trek: Voyager, with Captain Janeway, the first ever female commanding officer who did a damn good job. And, Xena, of course was a strong, intelligent, and passionate woman who kicked some serious ass, too bad my parents stopped watching it when I was about twelve, something about too many lesbian themes. Regardless, I got the point. Women are more than weak princesses waiting for a prince to save them. Brilliant!

As I grew up in a Christian home, the Bible was often used as a bedtime story book. My mom's favorite character in the Bible is Queen Esther. Queen Esther was an incredibly brave woman who stood up for what she believed in, even though doing so could have cost her her life. Regardless of the dangers, Esther stood up to her King, and saved her people. The story is not about Esther falling in love or being saved from a bad situation by a man. The story is about how she was strong and did what she had to do. This is what my mom made sure I grew up with. Esther was one of my main role models growing up.

Mainstream Beauty Ideals:
Once, when I was little, I asked my mom why she was fat. See, my mom isn't, and has never been a small person. She is totally cool with this. When I asked her, she replied "because God made me this way." This moment has stuck with me my whole life. I always remember this moment as defining in who I grew up to be. I grew up with a mom that did not conform to anyone else's idea of what she should look like, and my dad still thought she was sexy.

I took this a step further than body image, because my mom has never been afraid to be exactly who she is, regardless of what others would say. I followed suite as I grew up, refusing to be somebody I didn't want to be. Of course the bullshit the media and my peers shoved down my throat effected me, it effects everyone in one way or another. But I have always had a strong sense of self to stand on when it comes to this pressure, and I fully believe that my mom has had a huge impact on that.

This is the part where my mom is going to start to disagree with me. I think that my strong sense of self that my mom helped me build growing up had a huge impact on how I experienced and explored my sexual orientation.

I am not saying that the way my parents raised me made me mostly attracted to women. That was always there, I was born with it. I am saying that the way they raised me has had an impact on how I identify that attraction to women. It has an impact on how I identify as "Queer," and what I do with that identity. I grew up to be a queer feminist activist, and an outspoken one at that, because of how my parents raised me. I fight for what I believe is right, I fight for my people, because that is what I was raised to do.

With "Queer" sometimes being a political identity in ways that "Gay" or "Lesbian" are not, I think that the way I was raised has a lot to do with my identity. And a lot of that identity and the actions that follow come from the way that my parents raised me. I was raised to live out my beliefs through my actions. I was raised to always speak my mind. I was raised to always be who I am, and never who someone else tells me to be. I was raised by a super hero mom, and I grew up to be exactly who she raised me to be.

And, even though we disagree, I'm pretty sure my super hero mom is damn proud of me. And if I'm right, then that is the highest honor I could ever receive.


  1. This is really beautiful Jo! I've been really starting to understand the same about my mom, so this was a good read.

  2. 3 things:

    I love the green of your blog. Totally awesome.

    I am loving the topics you post on your blog.

    Would you ever consider doing a guest post on Feminist Truths?

  3. Thank you so much! I would be honored to do a guest post for feminist truths. Thanks so much for offering!