Extreme makeover for little girls

My daughter just showed me something pretty awful: a game on an online game site for children. It’s called ‘Extreme Makeover’, and yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. You have an avatar – a virtual doll – and you give her a makeover. You start with the nose – a nose job of course (you cut with a scalpel along a dotted line). Because all little girls need to think about having a presentable nose, any old nose (with character) will certainly not do. After that, it’s the cheeks: collagen cheek injections for plumper cheeks, and then the same of course – collagen injections again – for plumper lips. After that you use a hammer and a chisel to sculpt the jawbone (I don’t even know what the correct term for that is), and then finish with hair implants for thicker and fuller hair. Now the doll/avatar/virtual self is ready for the spa. But before that she needs to lose weight of course because that’s what you have to do if you’re a girl and you want to be pretty. Unfortunately I was so aghast that I can’t remember exactly how much weight this virtual doll managed to lose, but I think it must have been about 30 pounds or almost 14 kilos.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

Can someone explain to me how anyone in their right mind can think that it’s ok to develop a game like this for little girls? For anyone? Girls have enough to deal with as it is with the over-sexualization of girlhood and pressures to be thin, pretty, desired, and demure. We have cultural ideals that send them the most mixed and ambiguous messages, and now we’re not only teaching little girls that it’s what you look like on the outside that counts, we’re also normalizing going to any lengths to achieve that perfect look. It’s drastic plastic or nothing girls! It’s insane, it’s shocking, and, frankly, it’s disgusting.

Help me out here. How do we get this game taken off the internet?

Time for reinvention!

A friend dropped by the other day. Let’s call him Bob. Bob was wondering what I was up to, and I told him I was preparing for a course in HRM (human resource management), which I’m teaching this semester. And his reaction was, “HRM?!” And I said, “Human resource management, you should know that! (Bob is a corporate executive in a company which most certainly has an HR department so he definitely knows what HRM is.)” And he said, “No no, what I meant was why on Earth are you teaching HRM of all things??” And I said, “Well, they needed someone to teach the course just like last fall when I taught the organizational behavior course.” And his response was, “Well yes, organizational behavior is interesting, but human resource management, really? Why would you want to teach that?”

Well, I don’t know if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, but I’m thinking that this really says a lot about HRM! Or at least about how people see HRM. I mean here we have a corporate executive who I would guess has been in the work force for about 20 years or so, and in a managerial position for at least half that time. Granted, not in human resources, but he has most certainly known and worked with his fair share of HR managers, and yet his reaction is what it is. Not very positive I may add, in case you didn’t get it. And I assure you; Bob isn’t alone.

In my experience, HR departments are among the most misunderstood and least appreciated departments in the history of the organization. And that must certainly take its toll. They are a support function and not a part of the core business, and therefore not considered as strategic as other departments and functions. At the same time, employees are often considered to be a company’s most important resource. Ironic isn’t it, because that sounds pretty strategic to me. And HR departments are important. However, it seems their greatest challenge is the associations the letter combination ‘HR’ triggers in people like Bob.

This is often the biggest problem when trying to create change. The language we use to talk about things, effectively keeps us locked in our old ways. Our words mean something specific to us, which makes it very difficult so see things differently. We need to create new words in order to really be able to change the way we think, or in this case see something in a new light. And let’s face it; HR professionals really need a new word.

So I suggest we scrap the term human resources. If you think about it, it is actually rather production oriented anyway, and doesn’t really embrace individuality or diversity. Nor does it recognize employees as the people they are with their individual wants and needs, which is what we’re trying to do more of, right? We need something new to call HR professionals, so that they can do what it is that they are trained to do. So let’s do that, let’s reinvent HR! Let’s create a new word that doesn’t make people go, ‘yes, but why?!’ like Bob did.

A new year and no resolutions

It’s a new year and I’ve been reading everywhere all about fresh starts and being better, healthier, and happier. I really don’t feel the novelty everyone always talks about after the New Year. Except for a digit in my calendar having changed from a five to a six, I feel the same; I’m struggling with the same challenges and working on the same projects as in December.

No, I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions and I never make any. A friend posted a picture on Facebook that said, “I can’t believe it’s been a year since I didn’t become a better person”, and somehow, although it was supposed to be funny and I did get a good laugh, it really summed it up for me. On many levels.

Fresh starts are good, but for them to actually happen they need to be the result not only of a real need, but also of an epiphany and an understanding that change is absolutely essential. It takes planning and commitment and you have to be systematic. No wonder very few spontaneously made New Year’s resolutions actually make it past January. In my research, I’ve seen that no matter how much people want to do things differently in life, they don’t unless they experience something that provides them with a sense of urgency. And that can and should happen any time during the year, not just on January 1st.

But maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe that’s not what New Year’s resolutions are about. Maybe they’re about dreaming, about imagining a better you, and that even though you’re not actually prepared to do anything to get there, they sort of give you energy, inspiration, and why not hope? Because dreaming is important, where there are no dreams, there is no hope.

Writing this, I’m actually starting to feel a bit like the Grinch of New Years. Maybe the whole point is not to be so sensible all the time. Maybe our musings don’t always have to lead to action, progress, or success. Maybe they can just be for the sake of being.

Having said that, there are a couple of things I would like for 2016:

First, I need to learn how to chill. Although much of what I’ve been doing during the past year has been new and exciting, it has also been pretty exhausting. This is one of the side effects of opting out and in, you find yourself outside your comfort zone, doing many things for the first time without being able to fall back on previous experience. I need to remember to breathe, to trust myself and my abilities, and to give myself a break every now and then. And also literally take a break so I can spend more time with family, my parents in particular. Because that’s what’s important in life: the people you spend it with.

The other thing is to figure out what my next step is going to be. I find myself, at least mentally, with one foot in the academic world and one in the business world. I actually really like it that way, because there is so much in both worlds that really does and doesn’t work and they complement each other in many ways. I’ll save the details for another post, but until then I can say that it is becoming all the more clear to me that my opting out and in journey is exactly that – a journey – and I’m nowhere near the finish line. So during 2016 I will focus on figuring out what that next step is, and on taking it. I have to remember to stay in the driver’s seat though. After all, that was the whole point of opting out to begin with!