Let’s talk SLAP

Saturday 21 April 2012
In my local department store there is a toy floor.
Let’s talk SLAP

Now on this ‘toy floor’, there, amongst the jigsaws, fluffy bunnies and other crap claiming to aid cognitive ability, is a large, heinous, deep pink, plastic fantastic, nail bar. ‘From two plus’ says eyelashes behind the bar. ‘But if they’ll sit still, it’s up to you really.’ I don’t know that I’m surprised; ear-piercing doesn’t seem to have any age restriction – nail painting seems pretty tame in comparison.

So what’s my problem? Nail painting can be fun and for either sex. They have bright colours and fun designs, so what is it? I think I could have been persuaded – having your nails painted like a ladybird in non-toxic paints, is surely a fun and potentially creative thing. And what about little fake tattoos and the like? No-one really minds; kids have been emulating grown-ups since forever. But don’t kid me the company behind this is about creativity, expression, stimulation or innocent childish fun. The bar is pinkified to polished, glamour-puss proportions and surrounded by peripheral make-up products, jewellery and what can only be described as some type of burlesque fans. You won’t find any primary colours here. This is the booming market of little girl-beautifying. It’s beauty play. And beauty is what 21st Century girls are being taught is their primary objective.

The nail bar in question is named TANTRUM - boy, does that name conjure up some pleasing connotations: diva, irrational, petulant, spoilt, greedy, demanding, nagging, dissatisfied, unpleasant, and of course the all-important, infantile. Oh what a laugh we can have at that clever brand name; those little madams and their innately bossy, bitchy ways! We all know girls are inherently beauty and consumer orientated! Don’t they just love it the little cats - hilarious!

So, let’s talk SLAP. Make-up for children – why not?

It seems we can’t bandy around simple arguments and say ‘Look, clearly this is awful - tacky, tasteless, vanity-inducing, materialistic and for-god’s-sake-stop-living-vicariously-through-your-children-people’ (hands up, we all do it in our different ways!). Common sense is evidently outdated and overrated. It’s about research not pious opinions. And in some ways that’s fair, because it seems that the parents buying into this stuff do actually think this will boost their daughters’ confidence – well of course - if they knew it was damaging they wouldn’t do it would they? Would they?!

How about parabens and shit? ‘This lip-gloss for 2 year olds is non-toxic’ I hear you cry. ‘And besides, we’re not all eco-nuts; I love phenoxyethanol.’  Ok, so I can’t persuade you from a purely healthful perspective that repeatedly smearing cack on your child’s pores isn’t great, cause hell who really cares on that front.

So let’s think about the difference between a child mimicking their mother ‘making-up’ and being sold make-up. Maybe your mother condoning make-up isn’t the same as being in commercial face-paint candy land. Chances are Mummy’s slap is more limited in colour and therefore less of a tantalising sweet-box affair. Maybe playing ‘grown-up’ isn’t the same as wearing make-up because all your five year old friends are, or someone said without it you’d be ugly. Maybe children attempting to 'out-pretty' each other in the schoolyard isn’t the same as a child wondering innocently why Mum wears that stuff and that it looks fun to put on. Maybe an adult saying, ‘Well, you can have a go, but this is for grown-ups really’ isn’t the same as being presented with this as a present from adoring relatives who take visible delight in your external appearance.

Selling make-up to girl-children is downright sexist. Think of your reasons for not doing so for boys. Well, girls are people too - same reasons apply. And if the whole damn make-up fiasco really is about play, then stop ‘pinkstamping’ it to girls and let all children colour their faces in like glittery clowns. Kids like face-painting, so paint their faces - don’t prettify them, that’s something different. Girls aren’t born knowing we believe they are there to please others with their decorative chic – most kids enjoy being healthy pigs in muck. 'My girl loves beautifying' you say. 'And I always dressed her in grey - it must be inborn.' Well, girls aren’t raised in a vacuum, they are influenced by culture and get a constant stream of references to how they look, affirming that ‘pretty’ is desirable. So they appear to be liking the beauty toys - so nothing. Children also loved ‘smoking’ candy cigarettes. Then we progressed a millimetre and recognised fags were a public health issue. We don’t really encourage cigarettes as sweets anymore.

Self-objectification is a public health emergency. A 2009 study by Grabe and Hyde showed links between self-objectification and body image, disordered eating, anxiety and reduced academic ability. Are we really pretending make-up for children will not contribute to this self-objection? Are we really kidding ourselves that children being told by every well-meaning Tom, Dick and Hilary how cute and pretty they are and how cute and pretty their hair is; nails are; clothes are, doesn’t turn in to an unhealthy fixation with self, combined with crippling body dysmorphia perpetrated by fascists in advertising. It seems we've been talking about these issues forever and are somewhat desensitised, but let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that it’s not normal that teenagers are killing themselves over how they look.

Selling slap to girls normalises make-up as part of the female experience. It takes away what supposed choice you had as an adult to wear make-up, and helps you on your way to being a life-long beauty consumer. It says to little girls ‘this is what females do – they paint themselves to look purty because people like it – and because they ain’t really purty without it.’ Along with the excess of similar messages, the glamorisation of the products and the thematic effect the colour pink has on everything, how can children withstand this kind of slick marketing?

I reject the notion that parents are the ones to exercise constant restraint and are the only ones responsible for their kids. Protecting children from the toy industry seems bizarre. Why must we be the ones to appear to our children their po-faced, constant oppressors? Why can’t we ask that culture doesn’t pervasively spoon-feed children harmful concepts to make money?

Psychologists and relevant authors talk about girls eventually hampering their body movement - a ‘learned timidity’ and ‘learned helplessness’ due to restrictive clothing and body consciousness. A child with growing concern about hair and appearance or bound by impractical clothes, is unable to play freely. A fixation with appearance has been shown to consume young people at the cost of other activities, studies and pursuits. Selling beauty directly to girls is oppressive, sexist and damaging and we need to wake up to it. 


Elaine Johnson

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