Thursday, February 28, 2008

Toe to Toe With Culture

Before you know it, seven-year-old girls will be waxing their legs.

The headline in this morning's New York Times reads, Never Too Young for That First Pedicure.

The article, by New York Times correspondent Camille Sweeney describes a seven-year-old having her toenails painted with watermelon pink polish. The little girl waves a copy of People magazine in the air, telling her mother, “Look, we’re reading an adult magazine.” Britney Spears is on the cover.

And we wonder why kids are growing up so fast.

Apparently, group pedicures are the new birthday party fad. Whatever happened to pizza parties at Chuck E. Cheese?

I’m from a different generation – way different. I have fond memories of birthdays centered around frosted angel food cake with pink lettering dripping down the sides. My friends crowded around our dining room table set with our best china. In my seven-year-old mind, that was playing grown up.

Teaching young girls to take care of themselves needs to be encouraged. I can see that a mother might occasionally paint her daughter’s toenails, or take her daughter along when she goes for a pedicure, and have her toes painted, too.

It’s the larger context of the pedicures described in the Times article that’s troubling. Sweeney writes about a Texas salon for 5- to 11-year- olds that offers a little-girls’ pink limo service at $150. Another franchise, called the Dashing Diva, offers children virgin Cosmos in martini glasses.

A year ago, an American Psychological Association Task Force released a landmark report showing evidence that the sexualization of girls is linked to common mental health problems in girls, including eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

The APA Task Force, of which I am the public member, studied published research on the content and effects of virtually every form of media, from TV to video games and the Internet. The researchers also examined the merchandising of products aimed toward girls and recent ad campaigns.

The New York Times article quotes marketing specialist, Samantha Skey, as saying, “Our little girls now grow up thinking they need to be ready for their close-up, lest the paparazzi arrive.” Talk about pressure.

I’m not saying that because seven-year-olds get pedicures they’re going to develop emotional problems. But, like many adults, I do worry about girls growing up in a culture that is hyper-focused on how they look, more than who they are. You get my point. Girls’ obsession with their appearance begins early early enough. Why can’t we just let little girls be little girls?

Resources
Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health
Words Can Work: When Talking With Kids About Sexual Health

Related Issues and Answers columns
Sexualization of girls


Related columns for young people

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