Balancing Act

Tooth Fairy doesn't need a website or magic letters

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Lost a tooth or two

Lost a tooth or two (Mieke Dalle / Getty Images)

The Real Tooth Fairies are a girlie lot. They wear eye shadow and have names like Twinkle and Triana.

Their virtual world (therealtoothfairies.com) invites little girls to log in, take a royal quiz, create an avatar and meet their Real Tooth Fairy, who sends magic letters when they lose their teeth. She also sells them dolls, costumes and pink glittery treasure chests to celebrate their new friendship.

It's a horrible, reductive, stunningly materialistic idea. My first thought upon discovering it was, "Hey, what about my son?"

A tiny "click here for boys site" link sits in the corner of the home page, taking you to an ancillary page for the "Time Travel Elffs," coming soon. There's no mention of products or narratives or names for the six chiseled One Direction-meets-U.S.-men's-gymnastics-team dudes.

I can't decide whether to be more offended for my daughter or my son, so I'll go ahead and hate the whole idea on behalf of them both. Here's why:

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which responded to the product launch with a "Save the Tooth Fairy" campaign, says it uncovered an investor video made by the toy industry executives who dreamed up the Real Tooth Fairies. (Read the transcript at commercialfreechildhood.org.)

According to the transcript, a voice-over says, "Can you believe that a childhood character known by millions worldwide has not yet been licensed? With a target audience of 10 million U.S. girls ages 6 to 10 who lose 20 teeth, that translates to 200 million tooth-fairy moments."

Boys lose teeth too. Wouldn't that translate to 400 million tooth fairy moments?

Not that I want these people monetizing my son. Or my daughter, for that matter. But I resent having a childhood icon turned into yet another chance to bond with my daughter in a shopping mall (albeit a virtual one) and yet another thing my son and I don't have in common.

"The entire losing-a-tooth rite of passage is being product-ized and packaged into a pink/blue sphere to hawk stuff," says Amy Jussel, executive director of Shaping Youth (shapingyouth.org), an organization that monitors media and marketing for kids. "Rather than playing alongside each other, we have this senseless gender coding that constantly separates boys and girls."

I'm as guilty as anyone. Even when my kids do play alongside each other, I gender code my neuroses.

When my daughter plays with Barbie, I worry she's going to grow up hating her thighs. When my son plays with Ken, I figure he'll toss him aside with nary a glance toward his pecs.

When my daughter watches London Tipton play stupid for laughs on "Suite Life on Deck," I worry she'll equate ditsy with lovable. When my son watches Special Agent Oso bumble a job, I figure he'll learn from Oso's errors.

Am I giving my daughter enough credit? Am I giving my son enough thought?

I once attended an event for author Peggy Orenstein when she was on tour for "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" (Harper). A woman stood up during the Q-and-A and announced that her daughter dressed up as a princess for career day at kindergarten.

"I told her to go change," the woman announced. "Princess isn't a career."

The room cheered.

Would she do the same for a boy who dressed as Buzz Lightyear? Would I?

Jussel resents the Real Tooth Fairies for stepping all over a family tradition and giving the boot to imagination. Instead of waking to a heartfelt note and some cash, your daughter waits for the "real" fairy to deliver a prefabricated magic letter.

And your son … well, whatever about him.

"Upending family narratives and inserting a canned script spoils the mystical imagery — regardless of what the (fairies) look like," Jussel says. "They could be fairy clones of Beyonce or Lena Dunham or Oprah or Gloria Steinem.

"It's the entire concept of preset appearances with preset personalities to be assigned and matched that negates the ability to project imaginative creations."

Especially when you're only matching half the population.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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