By Meg Finney, Endangered Bodies member
Is the Katniss action figure from The Hunger Games the Malibu Barbie for the next generation of girls? We sure hope so, and thanks to Inês Almeida’s launch of Toward the Stars, this might be the case. Toward the Stars is an online global marketplace selling a wide range of merchandise free from the constraints of gender stereotypes that currently saturate the youth market. As Almeida states on the site’s blog, its aim is to bring “together independent producers, businesses, arts and not-for-profits to create.” They create products to empower girls to shoot for the stars and set their dreams in whatever direction they choose.
Inês Almeida left the corporate world and her position as “part of the Global Executive team of a large IT consulting firm" to pour her life savings into creating Toward the Stars. She launched the site on October 11, 2012, the International Day of the Girl.
Almeida drew inspiration from her “teacher,” a two-and-a-half-year-old girl named Ally who came into her life about six years ago. Ally and Almeida would spend the weekends together, and Almeida was quickly drawn into Ally’s world with fresh eyes – a world of Barbies, princesses, dress-up, and glitter. Initially entrancing, it quickly became troubling. In an interview with Melinda Tankard Reist, Almeida explains,
“Ally was surrounded by toys, books and media that were telling her everyday that her value came from her eternal appearance. She dreamed of being Snow White, a voiceless passive princess waiting to marry her prince; she wanted to look like Barbie, a doll with impossible proportions. I started noticing that science kits, sports gear and building blocks were placed in the ‘boys’ section of toy stores with boys pictured on the packaging. I came across the horribly sexualized Bratz Dolls and started noticing the sexualized media surrounding Ally.”
Almeida decided to take action for Ally and for all girls. She created a free iPad app called 7Wonderlicious, which contained empowering stories. Her online community grew to 100,000 people, inspiring her to quit her job and launch Toward the Stars.
Almeida is on the cutting edge of a new trend toward losing the boundaries between the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ toy aisles. While highlighting the importance of toys may at first seem childish, it has been proven through several studies that a child develops a sense of self from a young age due to the messages they receive. If the majority of girls’ toys are makeup, fake-nails, and dress-up, the importance of one’s appearance is made quite clear to girls at an early age.
Progress was recently made when 13-year-old girl Mckenna Pope addressed Hasbro, the makers of Easy Bake Oven. Pope presented a petition of over 18,000 signatures and a video asking Hasbro to put boys in their Easy Bake Oven commercials. Pope states, “I want my brother to know that it’s not “wrong” for him to want to be a chef, that it’s okay.” Hasbro responded and is currently launching a new line of gender-neutral ovens. They promise more boys will be in the advertisements.
The qualifications of being a ‘girls’ toy are not inherent but the product of packaging and tradition. These traditions are so entrenched in society that it seems odd for a child to want to go to the ‘other’ aisle. If a little girl wants to purchase a science kit she should not have to go to the ‘boys’ aisle to do so. The same goes for a little boy who wants to purchase an Easy Bake Oven. If you haven’t visited Toward the Stars, here’s the site: www.towardthestars.com. Endangered Bodies applauds Almeida’s outstanding work in helping to reduce gender boundaries for future generations.