Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I’m just going to have to get this down, because it’s hanging around, sitting on my shoulder and while all is Keep Calm and Carry On around here, there is the distant jingle of tiny warning bells. It may seem as though it is nothing. But I reckon it’s a potential Something.
A week or so ago, we were all sitting around while the Mr was reading the bedtime story and I was practising my knitting-without-looking. I glanced over at the seven year old and saw her place her flattened hands against either side of her thigh. Antennae tingling, I sidled over and asked her what she was up to. “I’m seeing what my legs look like if they are skinnier”. Radar crackling I say: “So... how come you want to do that?” “Because the girls at school were deciding who was too fat and who was skinny.”
Stop. Right. There.
Huh? She’s only seven.
I may well be up for the Naïve Parent of the Omniverse award. Did I really think that by avoiding commercial TV and limiting the non-commercial variety to an hour on Fridays, that I could protect my childrens’ innocence? Did I think that sending them to a Steiner school where branded clothes are banned and where other children from generally like-minded families attend, that my kids could just be ‘kids’ for a good bit longer? That they could get on with perfecting five cartwheels in a row, having a big imagination, learning and creating stuff – all the while nutting out the whole making-friends gig? Sheesh.
Naïve and furious, I am. Actually, I was already furious. Seething at the insidious side to our culture – something that in the main, we seem to accept, possibly because we’re pretty used to it. The billboards on the drive to school, the sexy little girl fashions, the Bratz dolls, the Spice Girls (mighty catchy tunes back then, but what does it say about our thinking? Girlpower: because five girls turned blokes on?), etc, etcetera. Those few examples are but a taste of an attitude that challenges any feminist ideal but also endangers the mental and physical health of the kids who grow up into it. Think self-esteem issues, eating disorders, alcohol abuse, self-harming, depression, worse.
In a tiny gesture of protest, earlier this year, I gifted my older-than-her-years, turning-ten niece, a subscription to Indigo magazine. A publication with a strictly no airbrushing policy, Indigo is the brainchild of two driven Mums. The aim of the magazine is to promote positive body image, self-esteem, confidence. It’s fun (confirmed by excellent niece review), topical, creative. It doesn’t sexualise girls, offer diet tips or suggest surefire methods for a twelve year old girl to snare a fifteen year old boy by doing something highly ill-advised but nonetheless found with step-by-step instruction in the sealed section of a different magazine (ok, NOW I’m ranting).
I realise I may be coming over as an unrealistic wowser getting things WAY out of proportion. But my kid with her thinner leg thing, the two subsequent skinny references and an escalating mirror obsession is sending me a message. When I replied to her that she didn’t have skinny legs and she didn’t have fat legs – that what she did have were good, strong, perfect-for-her legs, I reckon that made some sense, this time. But searching her eyes, I think I also saw my first small confrontation with peer pressure. And I’m big-time wary of what drives that sort of peer group mentality.
As luck would have it, the planets aligned and I happened to be listening to ABC local radio and bumped into a discussion on the sexualisation of girls last week. You can listen here (I’m not sure how long the link is available – and fast forward to the 36 minute mark to miss the intro).
There are also newly published books in the offing: ‘Getting Real – Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls’ by Melinda Tankard-Reist and ‘The Butterfly Effect’ by Dannielle Miller. Dannielle also has a website and a blog.