Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Manis, Pedis and Pre-teens

I remember sitting with my grandmother when I was a little girl looking at faded old family photos of her generation. The thing that occurs to me about the ladies in those pictures now is that they were all pretty normal to "pleasantly plump" but none were overly skinny or obese. Though she was the baby of the family, her brothers and sisters grew up during the Depression, so I doubt they were concerned with body issues at a time when just being able to afford food was the main priority.

So much has changed in the last 100 years; many things for the better, but of course some things for the worse. Women and body perception is one of those changes for the worse. It used to be that girls could at least enjoy being children before being barraged by fashion magazine images of unattainable beauty in their teen years, but recently initiation into the lifelong body unhappiness club is starting at younger and younger ages.

A recent Newsweek article Generation Diva: How our obsession with beauty is changing our kids, shed light on the issue. Author Jessica Bennett talks about how girls are getting spa treatments and wearing makeup at a much younger age, egged on by reality TV makeover shows, and frankly, by their own mothers. Women obsessed with remaining young and vital by getting plastic surgery or spa treatments are unknowingly passing on those values to their daughters who want to emulate them.

There have been a few voices trying to help young girls, such as Dove through their Campaign for Real Beauty, but when pro-anorexia groups (pro-ana as they call themselves) are defiantly taking their problems to public forums like Facebook and other teen health sites, you've gotta step back and say whoa there, this is a terrible problem that is not getting any better.

How do we help our girls? Short of finding a way to stop reality TV (um, maybe change the channel?), closing glamour magazines (not entirely impossible with the way pubs have been shuttering) and generally asking celebs to not set impossible standards (yeah right), the most plausible solution seems to be a change in the example mothers set for their daughters. The beauty talk should be right up there with the sex talk if girls are going to spend so much time obsessing about it. Plus, how are these girls getting the money for all of these treatments? I don't see a 10 year-old getting a job to support her spa habit, so mom must be funding the whole operation. Say no! That money could put your kid through college - will she really be a social pariah if her eyebrows aren't waxed?