The Evil Empire of Libby LuEssays — By Rachel Pater on October 1, 2007 at 12:00 am
The sheer sound of the place sends me into a cold sweat, and the barrage of products from every angle is enough to make me want to find a suitable burlap bag, fashion into a one-size-fits-all moo-moo, and just be done with it.
But one place in our local mall doesn’t just make me pine for solitude in the nearest black hole, but to stage interventions and form support groups for those caught by the evil empire that is: Libby Lu.
Touting girl power and individuality as their main prerogatives, Libby Lu is a cross between a store and a day spa where girls are dressed up, given makeovers, strutted down a runway, and taught a dance they are to perform in front of a group of beaming mothers.
The company describes Libby Lu as: “A special secret club where super fabulous girls can get makeovers parties, play games, get advice, and find really cool princess paraphernalia…”
I think I just threw up some sparkles.
If you find yourself in one of the malls in the U.S. that is lucky enough to have a Libby Lu (there are 90 or so nestled in select Younkers and Saks across the country), follow the pixie dust and the pounding sounds of Mambo #5 (or some other misogynistic song), and get ready for a lesson in being a V.I.P (Very Important Princess).
If you are age 4-12, tug on your mom’s Kate Spade purse and beg her to fork over $35 (and sign over her soul), and you’ll be given a full makeover (heavy on the eye makeup!), a new hair-do (I’ll take the Hanna Montana hair extensions!), and a music video dance lesson (b/c what’s the use of looking like a little tramp if you can’t shake your booty?!). Before you go, make sure to purchase a spa kit or some accessories to go with your tiny stuffed dog.
The company admits to being more than a store, calling themselves a “special secret club”. And though they’d like to project a carefree atmosphere of individuality and creativity, there is as strict a code of conformity and social norms taught here as there were in any 19th century school of etiquette.
Had one of these girls been born 100 years ago to a well-to-do family in the U.S. or Britain, it was likely that she would have been sent to some such school to learn expectations of social behavior. But the social mores taught in these schools of yore were not all frivolous inventions of snobbery (i.e. finding just the right angle to hold your pinky out whilst sipping your tea); they focused also on teaching girls worthwhile traits like hospitality, comforting the bereaved, and contributing to conversations in a non-dominating way.
Welcome to Libby Lu, the 21st century’s version of a school of etiquette. But instead of hospitality and generosity, we’ll teach you consumerism and self-indulgence, replace lessons of “How to create a comfortable house” with “How to shake it like a Polaroid picture, ” and make sure you don’t graduate without the firm notion that you are only as good as you look.
You may say: “it’s not that big of a deal. What damage can a some makeup and a day of pampering do on a little girl?”
Honestly, isolated, not that much.
If we lived in a society that constantly reinforced girls’ confidence, told them they were good enough without any product, and didn’t need to act in any way not true to themselves, we’d be fine. If every girl knew she was valued apart from what she looked like or what small box of gender constrictions she could fit into, no amount of Libby Lu or any other such foolishness could touch her.
We obviously do not. Walk out of Libby Lu and you’ll run into Victoria’s Secret, where you’ll find mostly naked women in hyper-sexualized poses with the tag line “The beauty candy store for grown-up girls.” I dunno, captain, but I think there might be a connection here.
From Libby Lu to Victoria’s Secret, we indoctrinate girls to think that their value is based on their appearance and men’s response to it. You’re young? You should be trying to looklike you’re older! You’re old? You should be trying to look younger! Don’t try on any form of femininity that might challenge men or make someone uncomfortable! Be sexual and submissive. Be the girl on “The Man Show” or in a rap video who cannot show her intelligence or personality, only her body. Be that girl at the bar or the one who laughs at all his jokes even though he’s a jerk.
When do these girls get a break? From the time they’re just out of diapers until the time they die, they are taught, both subtlety and not, that their inner qualities play second fiddle to their outer appearance, and that products can offer solutions to all imperfections.
I’m not naïve enough to want to go back to the good ole days of Emily Post. I realize that along with those mild-mannered women come another set of social constraints. But let’s not pretend that we are empowering our girls when we let them “express themselves” in places like Libby Lu. We have replaced corsets with tube tops and being overly submissive to “having it your way.”
By the time I have children, I hope that places like Libby Lu will be a thing of the past. Then again, I’m not sure if I’ll ever snag a man with this itchy moo-moo on.