As a sex educator and mother, it is almost impossible for me to watch anything on television without thinking about how it affects my students and my children. Through both of these lenses, I navigate the world around me. There are many times when I am proud of what I hear, read, or see; however, it seems like these days the news is far more problematic. And this past week, well, let’s just say it was a really bad week for girls (and parents of girls).
On Thursday morning, during the promo for Good Morning America, a video aired showing a mother administering Botox injections into the face of her eight-year-old daughter. (Eight, I said, eight. You didn’t read that incorrectly.) When the full segment finally aired, we were introduced to a woman named Kerry and her adorable daughter, Britney. The little girl is part of the beauty pageant scene, which as we know is fraught with all sorts of scary, sexualizing, low-self-esteem-inducing madness.
In their interview, this little girl talked about her “wrinkles,” which she claimed bothered her. Her mother said that her daughter was beautiful “as is,” yet, she took it upon herself to correct this “problem” that upset the little girl. The source of the Botox, the mother’s medical qualifications, and presumably the Botox itself, are all questionable.
I knew the minute the promo aired at 7:01 a.m., that there was going to be a firestorm of commentary (and rightfully so). This was not just an example of poor parenting—it was a question of fit parenting as well as the larger issue of the poor values that we are giving to our children. I am horrified that a woman would inject toxins into her child’s face simply because she apparently “asked for it.” I am appalled by a culture that would compromise a child’s health for the sake of vanity.
Thursday afternoon I received a call asking me to appear on Good Morning America the next morning to help the audience process the long term “psychological” effects that this child (or children like her) would have; Dr. Richard Besser would be tackling the medical effects. (View our segment)
My point in the interview was basically this, teaching our children that their personal worth is measured by their looks is dangerous, and sets them up for inevitable disaster: low self esteem, poor body image, and unhealthy relationships, to name a few outcomes.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the message our society is giving young girls every day. While Botox is definitely not marketed to children, there are some products which are deliberately selling the “you’re-not-good-enough” message to our kids. Which leads me to my second Good Morning America appearance just two days after the Botox drama. Brace yourself: Skechers has made a Shape-Ups sneaker for…Girls. Yes, your favorite ass-shaping, thigh-firming, lazy-person’s-substitute-for-exercise is now in the local children’s shoe store. Its ad campaign is sparkly and shows skinny girls being chased by sluggish boys dressed as junk food.
In my segment, only one of my statements was used. But if you were wondering what else I had to say during my interview, here are some of my additional thoughts:
1. Little girls can’t see their own rears. So if we’re suggesting to them that they tone their tush, it’s not for them, it’s for the people who are looking at them from behind.
2. Where are the shoes for little boys? Oh, wait. They don’t exist. Girls, you have to look a certain way. Boys, you’re fine. Keep eating those doughnuts.
3. Targeting prepubescent or pubescent girls during a time when they are already trying to make sense of their developing bodies is detestable. We want them to feel good in their own skin, not hate themselves before they have a chance to even know who they are.
4. No parent in his/her right mind should ever buy these sneakers for their daughters. If you are concerned about your daughter exercising and staying in shape, any pair of sneakers will do.
5. We are a lazy, lazy country. We have shoes that people buy so that they don’t have to exercise. They can just walk their way to a firmer ass. (This is obviously not a commentary about the sexualization of little girls, but it is part and parcel of the societal challenges we face.)
So, as I said, not a good week for little girls. But I meant what I said on the GMA roundtable. This is a wake-up call for us. What are we telling our children? What values (either deliberately or inadvertently) are we giving to our children? If they know about wrinkles or cellulite it’s because we’ve talked about it in front of them. If they know about our own insecurities, it’s because we aren’t looking around to see if they are in earshot.
This is a call to action. Let’s do better for them. And let’s do better for ourselves. When we’re happy, our children are happier, too.