It's this simple.
If you have a daughter, you should read Beauty Queens. Libba Bray's new YA book is the rare find that manages to float nicely along on the froth of popular culture while being simultaneously subversive.
The premise is an airplane full of Beauty Queens crash land on an (almost) deserted island. There are the familiar survivoresque moments made humorous by the girl's forced reliance on beauty queen paraphenalia that has washed up on the beach.
That's the frothy part.
Underneath the fun and froth is an in-depth exploration of the toxic culture that surrounds our daughters. In a series of 'commercial breaks' the author pokes fun at ways corporate America attempts to manipulate girls. It would be funnier if it wasn't so true.
Be pretty, but don't be too proud of it. Be strong, but don't be intimidating. Strive to be smart because being smart is a means to a really good paying job that will allow you to buy lots of cool stuff.
Most important of all, make sure you look really, really sexy while slathering on your cleverly packaged and cutely named sunscreen with the hand that proudly sports a chastity ring proclaiming your intent to save your virginity for your husband because good girls shouldn't experiment with sex although they should strive to look supermodel hot in size 0 low-cut super skinny jeans.
Those statements hit home but the portrayal that hit hardest was the one of the teenage girl. Brain not yet fully developed, at the mercy of hundreds of different conflicting messages and courted by every kind of media.
In three years my daughter will be a teenager. After reading this book I have the sudden urge to hide out with her on our own deserted island. I could write, she could continue on her path to strong amazingness. Girl, uninterrupted.
Maybe, instead, I'll just tuck this book away and hand it to her in a couple of years. After all, even if we lived on an island, she'd have to face the real world at some point. I guess I'll take comfort in the knowledge that, if you look hard enough, there are other messages out there too. Beauty Queens encourages young girls to figure out who they are on their own terms. And really, there's no better message than that.