I was particularly disturbed by a recent article in Newsweek. The magazine sat around my house for weeks (what parent has time to read a whole article?) until the article Tales of a Modern Diva caught my attention.
This story shared some shocking statistics about this generation of young girls, and their use of cosmetics that stopped me in my tracks. As a feminist and critic of the relentless media exposure most children face daily, I aggressively limit the amount of media my girls are exposed to. But ultimately, it will catch up with them, by way of their peers.
First of all, the whole idea that there is a reality show about the beauty industry of toddlers makes me nauseas (Toddlers and Tiaras on TLC). Add that to the fact that now there are actual spas for the girls and the preteen set, and I am tempted to take my girls and run for the hills in a hut with no Internet, TV and home schooling. In some ways, though, I might just be putting off the inevitable.
Here are a few statistics to consider from this article:
· “According to market research firm Experian, 43 percent of 6 to 9 year olds are already using lipstick or lip gloss; 38 percent use hairstyling products, and 12 percent use other cosmetics.”
· And according to Newsweek research, “by the time your 10 year old is 50, she’ll have spent nearly 300,000 dollars on just her hair and face.”
· Girls between 11 and 14 see on average 500 ads a day.
· Eight to 12 year old girls spend more than 40 million on beauty products.
And these lead to this ultimate, disheartening statistic:
· According to a 2004 study by the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, 42 percent of 1st to 3rd grade girls want to be thinner, while 81 percent of 10 year olds are afraid of getting fat.
There are serious psychological, environmental, and physical problems with this level of consumption and consumerism of beauty products. To name a few, we are increasing the years of multiple exposures to thousands of untested chemicals on vulnerable, developing bodies, rinsing these chemicals into our drinking water, streams, ponds and lakes (and throwing their packaging in the landfill), and emptying our pockets of millions of dollars. Even these fail to acknowledge the dramatic problem of a whole generation of girls, striving to attain the unattainable: a perfect, flawless, airbrushed and photo-shopped body that simply does not exist.
I offer these humble suggestions for fighting back. I do realize that by writing this I will ultimately guarantee that one or both of my daughters will strive to become divas, despite (or in spite of) my best intentions and efforts. But here we go anyway!
· Limit or eliminate your daughter’s exposure to media in all forms. This means only television that is educational, with no or limited commercials.
· Limit the amount of beauty or fashion magazines around your house. Children look at everything, and seeing body parts in isolation, or bodies that are unattainable at young ages sets the stage for insecurity and a need or want to use certain products.
· Use only necessary product on your children, such as unscented soaps and shampoos that are free of chemicals such as parabens, dioxane, pthalates and others. Use the Skin Deep database to assist your selections of what to use on your child, and use products sparingly.
· Try not to emphasize beauty from clothes or products (I know this is hard!). We all say how cute we think our children are in different clothes, but this may lead to them thinking they are only cute or beautiful when they are dressed up.
· Be aware of your comments and beauty regime. Don’t insult yourself or make critical comments about your own appearance in front of your child. And think about the implications of your child watching you get ready for work (even with my quick routine, I still worry about this one).
· Steer clear of spas, shows, and peers that focus on beauty treatments for young children!
· And let your kids play in the dirt, roam free, and barely brush their hair until absolutely
necessary. It is better for their health, and likely their perception of their child selves.
· Discuss that adults sometimes use products, but they don’t need them.
· Explain what advertisements are at an early age, and discuss them frequently.
These are just a few ideas about how to fight the rising tide of media consumption in our children. Readers, what do you do? How do you feel about this issue?
image: ‘Nushka is ‘made up’ with her cosmetics set. by sunflowerdave… on flickr under Creative Commons