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Turn Lego's Mistake Into a Girl Power Win

Let me be the first to admit that I actually really like the Lego Friends building sets. While the accompanying animated series available on Netflix leaves a bit to be desired, my daughter genuinely enjoys the girls with "actual girl hair," and she gets lost in the play with tiny animals that are now repurposed as forest animals (we tend to stray from the directions around here.)

There are times when I wonder if the step-by-step nature of building sets will hinder creativity, but my kids always build them once then tear them apart and turn them into other things. And if little tiny animals and a bakery-turned-restaurant-turned-summer cabin makes my little girl happy, who am I to worry about the color of the blocks? Kids need the freedom to play what they want to play, and that includes with pink and purple bricks.

But sometimes toy companies make big mistakes.

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Lego came under fire this week when they published an "advice" column full of "beauty tips" for girls in the April issue of Lego Magazine. "Emma's Beauty Tips" come courtesy of the Heartlake Beauty Salon, which is part of the Lego Friends series. Emma teaches her target audience, ages 4 to 12, such gems as, "match your haircut to the shape of your face" and the best ways to blow-dry and brush your hair.

Ages 4 to 12 is very young to be worried about whether or not a haircut "matches" the shape of one's face.

Spend some time reading the American Girl Library books about friendships and you'll find that young children do respond to advice that feels relatable. Particularly in the 8 to 12 years range, kids like to hear what other kids have been through and what helped. Publishing an advice column isn't such a bad idea, but the content of the advice is important.

If Lego published advice about making and keeping friends (a logical theme for a "friends" series), how to help a friend or even how to cope with school stress, they could have helped kids in some small way. Instead they chose to focus on physical appearance.

Bad call.

While I certainly won't argue with outraged parents on this one, I do think we need to consider the larger issue. Our daughters are surrounded by these messages. In movies, in the toy aisle and even in books, girls constantly confront mixed messages. "Be a scientist. You can do it! But just be sure to wear a form-fitting shirt to the lab." And, "You can be anything you want to be. Just be sure to smile 24/7 because that shows that you're a nice girl."

I would love to say that fighting back against every mixed message in the toy aisle will change everything for our girls, but the truth is that empowering girls is more of a grassroots effort. Sure, we can lend our voices to the cause to make Disney heroes look more like real girls and to stop Lego from dispensing terrible advice, but the best way to empower our girls is from the ground up.

We need to engage our girls in honest conversations about the mixed messages they hear. We need to ask them how they feel, encourage them to consider alternatives and help them figure out who they want to be. While I certainly don't want my daughter to worry about the shape of her face, I do believe that talking about the absurdity of that kind of advice will help her learn to stop and question what she sees. Kids are constantly told to sit still and listen to authority when they are in school, but outside of school we have the opportunity to empower our girls to question things that don't feel right and assert their thoughts and opinions.

Am I disappointed in Lego? Yes. But I will take their mistake as my parenting opportunity. I will poke holes in their errors and encourage my daughter to consider what kind of advice might actually be useful for an 8-year-old girl, just as we discussed the importance of a loose fitting lab coat with plenty of large pockets to hold things that a scientist might need at work.

My daughter doesn't know the shape of her face, but she does know that she's strong, capable and kind. That knowledge didn't come from Lego magazine, it came from her own inner strength.

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Don't fear the negative messages in this world—talk about them, tear them apart and find positive solutions. That's how we empower our girls.

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