This article is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.
I don’t think I need to get into the reasons why taking your nine-year-old daughter to get a bikini wax is a poor choice–it’s pretty obvious, or at least I hope it is. Of course this kind of parenting behaviour is extreme; I don’t know too many mothers who drag their girls to the spa every Saturday. But I do think “baby waxing” is an expression of a larger issue.
Sometimes, my boyfriend’s daughter will come over and ask me if I think she’s beautiful. I will reply with something like “you’re always beautiful.” If I ask her why she wants to know, she never has an answer. I think it’s just something she wants to hear.
It makes me sad when she asks. I think about how she’s only five and has the rest of her life to fret about how she appears. I want her to know that along with being beautiful, she’s smart and thoughtful and sweet. I want her to focus on things that really matter.
In her case, I’ve observed that the importance of beauty is emphasized in her home. She’s been encouraged to match her clothes and jewelry since I’ve known her. But I’m not ready to hold her mother solely responsible for her fixation. It’s a cultural thing, resting at the very root of socialization. We all praise little girls for how pretty they look in pouffy dresses and matching accessories; we buy them make-up kits and dolls to dress. We compare them to the Disney princess that looks the most like them.
I don’t want to make it sound like concern over appearance is inherently evil. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best and fashion can be great self-expression. But when beauty becomes the factor that determines how you perceive yourself as a person, it’s a dangerous game. And it’s one that we reinforce all the time.
The focus on appearance is one that it intensifies with age. It becomes a female’s currency in the heterosexual marketplace. The competition is over who is the prettiest, because the prettiest girl gets the most attention from the opposite sex. And it usually works backwards from there. All of this sounds petty, because that’s what adolescence is.
What if we started raising our girls using words like ‘intelligent’ and ‘talented’ and ‘kind’, instead of ‘adorable’ and ‘gorgeous?’ It might just change this whole marketplace so that the smartest (or nicest, or most considerate) girls get recognized. Character-building behaviour will be emphasized instead of who has the longest lashes. Then again, I just may be an idealist.
Until something changes, I wish the world’s little princesses the best of luck. All I can say is that I hope you’re not ugly or hairy, because if you are, you’ll have to work hard at the things you are good at. Sure your smarts will land you a job somewhere down the road, but not before you enter a deep depression of worthlessness and self-pity. Enjoy girls!
 Well, white people do.