As a mother to two daughters, I’m extremely conscious of the way women and young girls are portrayed in the media and how this influences how they feel about their own bodies. There has been a lot in the press lately about the use of airbrushing and younger and younger girls wanting to wear make-up, but what can we do about it? How can we make our daughters feel good about themselves without closing them off from the real world?
Wednesday is my day for volunteering at Belle’s school. I sit on a coach with 50 small children and we all get taken to the nearest swimming pool. My job is to look after the girls in the changing rooms, supervise the switchover between the year threes and the year fours, and make sure everyone goes home with the right pants on. It is an intense couple of hours.
It is fascinating to see how the girls act in the changing rooms, and how comfortable they are with their bodies, which inevitably come in all shapes and sizes. They range in age from seven to nine and although there are a few who make a show of putting their clothes on under a towel, most are happy to prance about, squealing, flicking each other with their wet costumes. (I don’t have much authority, in case you couldn’t guess).
Last week one of the year three ran up to me, completely naked apart from having her pants on her head.
“Miss!” she said, managing to turn it into a three syllable word, “I don’t think I’ve got my pants on properly!” She ran off giggling happily to herself.
What I find most noticeable though is the difference between the seven-year olds and the nine-year olds. Although they are all equally happy in the changing rooms, you can clearly see and hear a difference in outlook. You can almost see them maturing, taken on the thoughts and ideas they believe are what growing up is about.
On the coach home last week I overheard a conversation between two year four girls, who were talking about marriage. It went something like this:
“So, where are you going to get married?”
“I think it might be Spain.”
“Ooh yeah, on a beach. Or how about Las Vegas?”
“Yeah, and whoever we marry has to have a lot of money. We NEED the best things.”
Is this how far we’ve come? I thought the days were gone when women had to marry for money. I wanted to turn around to the girls behind me and ask “What about love?”
Perhaps I am just naive.
Belle is seven now (I can’t even think about Bee being 14 already), and going swimming with her on these Wednesday afternoons is like a glimpse into the future, a vision of how she is likely to change and grow over the next two years. Part of me is petrified, the other part reassured that all the girls I swim with are so confident and self-assured. They know what they want and I get the impression they will stop at nothing to get it. I’m just not sure that what they really want or need is to marry a millionaire in Vegas.
So what do you think? Are children growing up too quickly or am I just being a typical parent, not wanting to let go of my babies? How can we protect our children and make sure they feel good about themselves, when it feels the media is conspiring against us? Answers on a postcard please.