I was on social media earlier in the week, and found myself caught up in a discussion about ear-piercing. A mother was asking what the earliest age a child could be to get their ears pierced. This question came with a disclaimer – that she was not interested in any information regarding whether or not she should pierce the child’s ears, because “it was (her) baby” to do with what she wanted.
My first reaction to the post was actually curiosity – how early did piercers agree to shove metal rods through a tiny human’s earlobe? My second reaction was an overwhelming desire to be the voice for this tiny human, because this mother was asking how early she could pierce this tiny, perfect, little person, expose her to infection, cause her un-consented pain; and for what? To make her ‘pretty’?
This got me thinking – I know that this is not an uncommon procedure for young girls in our society. I don’t think mothers are ‘bad mums’ if they have their daughter’s ears pierced. I believe it is almost seen as a bonding experience for mother and child. But what, I wonder, is the message we are sending to these children, at such a young age, about their worth? About their value? About the fact that these risks are worth it so that they can be more aesthetically pleasing? This procedure for girls, is giving them a loud and clear message, that they are not good enough. They require enhancing.
I entered into the debate with my unsolicited views, and was met with hostile responses; but the one that pricked my ears (or eyes) the most, was a comment suggesting that the risk of infection was actually lower below 3 years old (I assume because 3+ children are out and about, getting dirty, playing in mud, having fun, being children). You’re piercing an almost newborn baby’s ears, for the sole purpose of making her ‘prettier’, and you are justifying that, by saying the risk of infection (which is only there in the first place because you put it there) is lower? Quite baffled, and feeling quite sorry for this perfect little baby with her perfect little earlobes, I began pondering this huge issue of societal standards for feminine beauty, and it’s impact on the mental health of girls and women.
Whilst I completely agree that there are unrealistic expectations driven by society for men, I raise the issue in regards to women in this instance, largely because, well, I am one – so this issue affects me directly… but also because I have first hand experience of just how damaging it can be. I did, however, find this twitter interaction an interesting take on the situation;
“How do boys look good without makeup?”
And that is so true, isn’t it? I look at my husband, with his electric blue eyes, dark lashes, and five o’clock shadow dusting his jaw, and I am almost annoyed with him. How does he look that good without makeup??
“Because society hasn’t told boys that they look bad without it.”
It is extraordinary that this issue is such a long-standing one; it is not new. We, as a society, have known for decades that the unrealistic beauty expectations in the media have adverse impacts on the mental health and self-confidence of girls and women. Marilyn Munroe articulated it quite aptly when she addressed “all the girls that think [they are] ugly because [they are] not a size zero,” reassuring us, that they are “the beautiful one. It is society who is ugly.”
Of course, society has not learnt from the overwhelming stack of research that has piled up over the years. In fact… it has gotten far worse. We now have an estimated one in four women suffering from eating disorders; myself included. And the problem is not only in magazines and on TV; which can be closed and switched off. This bombardment of information telling us we are not good enough is literally, everywhere. It is on our phones, in social media, in advertising… A subtle undercurrent, at every age, on every level, all the time.
Thanks to social media, we don’t even need corporate media to be shoving this down our throats; we are doing it ourselves, to each other. We add filters. We nip, and tuck, and present a false, enhanced, version of ourselves. Of our lives. Of our children. I go online and I scroll past 10 girls ‘live’, doing their makeup, giving other girls ‘tips’ on how to be better versions of themselves. The ironic thing about that, is that these girls are all too often school aged… and are ‘live’, during school hours… with a following of other school aged girls glued to their ‘life lesson’. When did education stop being about academic achievement, and start being about lip liner and contouring? And what will this mean for the mental health of these girls as they grow older and are faced with the unfortunate truth that beauty fades?
It could be argued that the problem was society’s standards… Now, the problem is that we have accepted them. And it is making us sick.
We are prepared to risk infection for our infants to ensure they meet this standard. We are prepared to find “Pretty”, an appropriate answer to the question, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” We are prepared to let our teenage girls go on diets, when their bodies need fuel the most. We are prepared to go and get injections into our faces to prevent aging. We are prepared to throw up the food we eat – the food we need for our bodies to function. We are prepared to distort the images in our mirrors.
I would argue that every single woman in our society has some level of body dysmorphia. How could she not when she is bombarded again, and again, and again with information telling her that she is not good enough.
And not only is she not good enough.
She never will be.
If our society sustains its current standards of what ‘beauty’ looks like… that ‘she’, that tiny baby with her perfect earlobes… she will never in her life, win the fight against her own reflection. And I for one, am so sad about that.