I was at a barbeque at the weekend, and got talking with my cousin. We were talking about various things, and body image came up.
“Look at my fat thumbs!” She said. “My friends are always teasing me about my fat thumbs,” she laughed. There is nothing wrong with her thumbs. Her thumbs are fine.
Later on, she moved on to leg hair grooming. “I used wax strips. You should use an epilator or wax, because shaving makes the hair grow back thicker and longer, like a beard,” she informed me. “I hate my gorilla legs!” she added.
My cousin is 11-years-old.
She is 11. She is just a child. At various points during the day, she was skipping, or using Snapchat filters on the family and laughing at how we look, or playing with the dogs. She is young and she was playing. But this child is already worrying about the way she looks. She’s already removing her body hair. She’s already started the negative self-talk. She’s already trying to fit the world’s beauty standards. She’s just a child.
I can’t tell you how deeply this upset me, seeing how someone so young has taken in all these messages about how a girl should look, taken it as truth, and started acting on it.
I did some Googling in order to share some stats with you, and the number of links and the questions asked was so disheartening. There’s question after question from parents about when they should allow their daughters to start shaving. According to WebMD, children around the ages of 5, 6 and 7 can be worried about their weight, and according to Children Come First, 51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
I discussed recently how beauty is a social construct enforced by the media with their impossible beauty standards. We know this, we know how adults buy into the idea of the perfect ideal and go to ridiculous lengths to try and meet it. But it’s affecting children as well as adults. Children who should just be playing and having fun, not worrying about how they look.
And I don’t know what the answer is. We can’t hide children away, lock them in their rooms and keep them away from all media, and all gendered toys that focus on beauty and fashion. All we can do is talk to and educate them so they know what they see on TV, in magazines and online just isn’t real. That they’re already beautiful, but also that beauty is nowhere near as important as who they are as people. And lead by example; if children see adults stressing about how they look, complaining about their bodies, and obsessively dieting, they’re going to pick up on the idea that how we – specifically women – look is important. I truly believe if we want to prevent children from worrying about their bodies, we have to start loving and treating our own kindly. Because the alternative is just so upsetting.
My cousin is 11-years-old, and they’ve got her already.