One recent morning as my daughter Hannah was eating her breakfast before school, a story came on NPR about Pakistan's faltering economy. The reporter described a textile mill that imprinted panels of cotton with pictures of Justin Bieber. The reporter explained that the panels are then made into duvet covers and shipped to the U.S.
"That's kind of creepy," Hannah said.
Because I was busy making her lunch I wasn't sure if she was commenting on the overall story, just a part of it, or something else altogether.
"What's creepy?" I asked.
"A Justin Bieber duvet cover."
This was music to my ears -- but that's not surprising, given that I've never suffered from even a mild case of Bieber Fever. But like many sixth graders, Hannah isn't above liking some of his songs. So I was curious about why she felt Justin Bieber bedding was so disquieting.
"Well, it just seems weird to have someone's face on your bedspread."
Out of the mouths of babes. If only we parents were this insightful.
Expanding on Hannah's take on the matter, I've got five more reasons why it's creepy to buy a young girl bedding featuring the likeness of the heartthrob du jour:
1. It sends girls mixed messages about safeguarding their personal space and boundaries. It's hard to think of something more personal and intimate than your bed. No matter how old you are, your bed ideally represents a safe and private place; it is the place where you will spend roughly one third of each day in a very vulnerable state -- sleep. For adults, that intimacy takes on another dimension when you share a bed with your significant other.
From the time our children are tiny, we caution them to be vigilant about "stranger danger." We coach them on how to avoid getting into unsafe situations. We instruct them to not let people touch them in inappropriate ways. As they get older we encourage them to think carefully before they act and to behave responsibly. To turn around and put your young daughter to bed each night with an almost life-sized image of a stranger contradicts all of those messages.
2. It pushes girls out of childhood prematurely. Like dressing girls in clothing made to mirror styles more appropriate for young women or dolling girls up in makeup and parading them around in beauty pageants, heartthrob bedding is yet another way of sexualizing young girls.
But in a sense it's even worse than inappropriate clothing or premature makeup. Many parents accept the idea that their daughters will reach an age when wearing makeup or bikinis or certain fashion styles is okay; but most parents do not accept the notion that one day their daughters will randomly bed down with strangers whom they idolize.
3. It conditions girls to accept imbalanced relationships when they are older.When girls are old enough to date, most parents hope they will have raised them to have the good sense to steer clear of dysfunctional situations and to instead seek out relationships that feature mutual affection and respect. Sending your daughter off to bed nightly with an effigy of a heartthrob who doesn't even know she exists normalizes the notion that clinging to someone who doesn't at all care about her isn't just okay, it's cool and fun, too.
I understand that kids will eventually have favorite actors and musicians. But being into a particular artist in a healthy way would include following his work and reading up on him, not figuratively going to bed with him. Heartthrob bedding serves as training wheels for becoming a groupie at best and stalker at worst.
Consider this: I love Bill Clinton. When he writes a book, I buy it. When he gives a televised speech, I'm glued to the tube. The joke used to be that you could get me to buy any magazine in the world -- even something like American Rider or Inked Magazine -- simply by putting Bill Clinton's face on the cover.
But as much as I love Bill Clinton (and boy, do I ever), it would be bizarre if I were to get a comforter with his likeness on it and sleep with it every night. No one would think that was anywhere close to normal. So why do we think that's okay for our young girls?
4. It's hideous. Walmart offers ten different Justin Bieber bedding items, ranging from sheets and comforters to pillows and throws -- and every last one of them is a migraine-inducing eye sore. I have plenty of unsightly items in my home. My goal is to round them up and then pay someone to haul them off. (Broken elliptical and cat-shredded dining room chairs, I'm coming after you.) Why anyone would pay good money for something that's unattractive and then go to the trouble of bringing it into her home is a mystery to me.
5. It doesn't help girls fall asleep. The marketing minds at Walmart aren't content to let the ugly speak for itself. The website beckons you to "set your little princess's heart racing with the Justin Bieber Heart Race Comforter set."
Am I alone in thinking that that's as creepy as it is counter-productive? What parent sets out to get their daughter's heart racing over a pop star ever -- but especially at bedtime? When it's time for Hannah to go to bed, my only objective is for her to go the [bleep] to sleep, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson. Getting her revved up about anything when it's time to hit the rack would undermine that goal.
Don't fall for any of Justin Bieber's nonsense. Take it from someone a lot more boring -- no, not me; I'm referring of course to Nancy Reagan. What I'm trying to say here is, just say no to Justin Bieber bedding. Not only will you be doing your daughter a favor by protecting her childhood, you'll be doing yourself one, too, since she'll go to sleep a heck of a lot faster.