Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Something needs to change, and it's not little girls.

Self-tanning.  Eyebrow-shaping.  Bikini waxes.  Botox.  The prices women pay for beauty, right?

But, in the midst of a bizarre culture that fetishizes feminine youth to disturbing levels, women are getting these procedures younger, and younger.  And I'm not talking about those poor deluded sisters who are worried about wrinkles at 20.

They're at least adults.  I'm talking about 8-year-olds.

Or 6-year-olds, even.  That's how early some little girls are coming in for bikini waxes.

Because a first-grader should be concerned about the appearance of body hair in her most private areas.  These kids can't even ride a bike without training wheels, but they're already stressing about body hair and wrinkles, worrying about looking too old.

What's exacerbating the issue is that little girls are aging, at least physically, at an alarming rate.  Puberty is striking earlier and earlier.  It's very common now for girls to start menstruating before their 10th birthday.

But, instead of teaching these young women that the changes going through their body are normal and nothing to be ashamed of, pressuring mothers rush them to the salon for spa treatments.

"I don't want her to feel bad about her appearance.  All the other girls are doing it, and she'll be teased if she doesn't."  That's a load of crap.  Little girls are, by nature, mean as devils at that age, and they will just find something else to tease about.  I'm just imagining a preening 4th-grader in heels and make-up scoffing at a classmate.  "You haven't even had botox yet?  I'm getting my back scooped this weekend.  I guess your parents just don't love you enough.  Or they're poor."

How about, instead of succumbing to the twisted societal pressures that are sexualizing small children, you teach your daughter a little self-respect?  Let her know that she has a lot more value than what can be measured by her appearance, and that things like dieting, and fancy clothes, and cosmetic surgery are neither going to add to her intrinsic worth as a person, nor improve her happiness in life.

But, here's the hard part, moms:  You're gonna have to walk the walk.  It doesn't matter how many pep talks you give your daughter about self-esteem if she sees mommy needing a manicure and a fake tan every week.  Or if she hears you criticize your body when you put on a few holiday pounds.

I guess it's easy for me to be a little biased when it comes to this stuff.  Growing up, I was a tomboy who effortlessly eased into a feminist.  I've never plucked my eyebrows or set foot inside a tanning salon.  I've had three manicures:  one for each prom, and one for my wedding.  I have honestly no idea how exactly one uses a hair straightener.  And just typing the phrase "clothes shopping" makes me yawn.

My sisters are both on the girlier side, and through them I have two beautiful nieces.  In addition to my nieces, I have the little girls in my children's church class, who are gorgeous to the point of being cherubic.  (Well, in appearance, anyway.  Their behavioral angelicism is somewhat more conditional.)  But I look at these perfect, flawless little girls, and I can't imagine why anyone would want to change anything about them.

The kids I know are lucky, because they have amazing, loving parents who aren't going to raise them to focus on physical appearance.  It's just sad that these little girls you hear about in these news reports aren't getting that support where they need it most.

Somewhere in this country right now, a mother is looking at her 8-year-old daughter, and saying, "We really need to get your eyebrows done again."

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