A more realistic doll and a digital entrepreneur are sending out a new, more wholesome message for pre-teen girls, writes Caroline Delaney
If you are financially responsible for a girl aged between five and ‘tween’, then you’ve probably contributed to Jojo Siwa’s bank balance.
Jojo is the 13-year-old vlogger, singer, and YouTube star who invented hair ribbons. Specifically, large, often brightly-coloured and even diamanté studded bows attached to a crocodile clip to grips onto a high pony tail. They are known as JoJo Bows, cost around €10 each, and are like, supercool and super popular with all the girls. Well, the pre-teens anyway. Not so much with some school teachers, who say they are distracting and have banned them from classrooms in Britain.
Maybe your morning jog or trip to work coincides with school time so you might have spotted these colourful, outsized ribbons on lots of the girls’ heads. A fair few style- conscious mums and bloggers have criticised them online as common or ugly. But really, what’s all this fuss about? Generations of girls have worn hair ribbons that would look daft on an adult.
You’ve got a young female entrepreneur who seems to have come up with a money tree of an idea. She’s bright and confident. Her product appeals to young girls and while the bows are pricy for a hair ribbon with a logo on a tag, they’re not anywhere near the price of an Xbox game or even an album of MatchAttax.
Could this be an adult version of schoolyard jealousy? Could these critics just be bitter that they didn’t come up with a tidal wave of a gimmick that they could surf all the way to the bank?
If that’s so, maybe JoJo, with her flouncy skirts and chirpy messages of girl power, is more mature.
Obviously, nobody wants young girls to think that their empowerment and sense of belonging is literally tied up with a fluttery, branded ribbon. But a young girl who reckons she looks just fab despite sporting what looks like a bird of paradise on her head while heading out the door to get a top-class education is doing grand in my book.
Joelle Joanie Siwa from Nebraska has songs and messages about standing up to bullies. ‘Boomerang’ has had nearly 200m views and is all about not caring what the ‘haters’ say. The video shows JoJo and a bunch of girls who look like her (candy-coloured clothes, fresh faces, and smiles) singing and dancing in a school corridor ignoring the mean kids (recognisable in their dark clothing and sneers).
A bit one-dimensional for my tastes, but I’m not her target market. And, boy, does she know her market. Her videos are well-produced to look informal and fun. In one, she gives a 10-minute tour of her huge closet and blathers on about her favourite bags and places to sit and thanks everyone for watching at the end.
Upon being told that some schools are banning the bows she notes that the JoJo bow is “more than just a hair accessory, it is a symbol of power, confidence, believing-ness”.
But she goes on to advise fans to “follow the rules, it’s very unfortunate if your school is banning them”.
I genuinely can’t tell if she’s a nice sweet girl or an over-hyped product of a consultancy team — but she’s bloody good. She celebrates being her own age — rather than pretending to be a young adult, it’s clear she’s still a child, lives at home, and regularly hugs her mum in her videos.
While we’re on the subject of age-appropriateness then it might be time to meet Lottie. Bright eyes, funky clothes, and a can-do attitude as well — but she’s only 18cm tall. She might be a doll but don’t dismiss her as just another Barbie clone. Rather than the wasp-waisted, silicone-enhanced, stork-legged bimbo hated by feminists, Lottie has the proportions of a regular nine-year-old girl and has a broad range of interests including surfing, astronomy, and martial arts. She can literally stand on her own two feet too — her feet aren’t permanently contorted into an invisible stiletto, so a child can stand her up on a flat surface.
Lottie comes in a range of hair colours and ethnicities, and has Irish roots. She was created in London by Lucie Follett and Ian Harkin but when they decided to upscale their company, Arklu, from their kitchen tables they set up business in Donegal, “an unemployment blackspot, where over 24% of the working population were unemployed”.
They got a government agency loan to set up and now Lottie is a firm favourite with many girls. ‘Be Bold, Be Brave, Be You’ is her tagline and she ticks a lot of boxes for parents too. Her website features games encouraging participation in Steam subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths); she promotes positive body image; she promotes reading and gender equality. Her accessories are more of the telescope and skateboard kind than a champagne glass and she’s doesn’t burble that “maths class is tough”.
Dismiss hair ribbons and dolls at your peril — they might seem frivolous but if little girls see a counterpart being confident and doing well, or play heroic, active games with their toys, then surely they’re on the right track.
Youtube: Its JoJo Siwa; twitter.com/itsjojosiwa, lottie.com
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved