I may not exactly make the cut as someone hip and happening – but it is a concern – that I know for a fact is shared by several others: are we sexualizing our kids, particularly the girls, way too early? Then again, given the times we live in, is it even a question that ought to bother anyone?
Well, it does me, for sure.
It all started the day I asked a friend’s 14-year-old daughter to send across a picture of hers for an article I was writing on. No, it was not a fashion piece or anything close to glam… just a regular feature on weekend hobby classes for teenagers. Since the kid in question is a keen baker, I thought it would be nice to have a photo of her surrounded by the cakes and cookies she’d whipped up. If I was hoping for an innocent pic with a dimpled darling holding up her culinary triumphs, I was to be sorely disappointed.
What she sent me instead made my head reel. There she was, pouting into the camera with heavy-duty make up in the littlest of dresses, surrounded by the mandatory cakes and cookies (as something of an after-thought.)
I politely asked for another one.
This time, she sent me one in a hair-do straight out of Paris Fashion Week, and you guessed it – in yet another little dress.
I asked her mom for other photos as they were not appropriate. “Oh, why not?” she asked, clearly disappointed with my lack of vision. “My little girl looks so gorgeous in them. She took such trouble to dress up….”
I gave up.
Look around, and you’ll find plenty of such instances…pre-adolescent little girls in the housing society’s Ganpati/ Navratri cultural celebrations, doing the bump and grind to Munni Badnaam Hui, Chikni Chameli or Fevicol se and other raunchy Bollywood hits of the season. All of this in the presence of proud parents busy capturing those special moments on their handycam.
I am no parenting expert but I remember having been through those growing-up pangs and I know one thing for sure: simply being aware of the birds and the bees and the ‘facts’ of life does not teach you either balance or context.
You need to live a certain number of years for that, preferably under the supervision of older people who know better. Hence the distinction between adult, adolescent and pre-adolescent.
That’s how it was in the good old days. But these days, the lines have blurred, and consequently, so have the lines of control.
To what good effect I am not sure. Teenagers continue to be teenagers: achy, breaky, fragile people on the cusp of life, just about coming into their own. Yes, even today, in our much-touted techno-savvy, world-wide web village.
Knowing about sex does not prepare you for heavy-duty relationships.
And dressing up like women – does not maketh girls – women. No matter how much make-up they dab on (helpfully supplied by fashion savvy moms), and no matter how much stuffing they put into their tops.
It takes time to grow up and every counselor in town will vouch for this. Actually, so would anyone with a dash of common sense. In the yesteryears, that is. These days, it’s a different story.
The discovery of one’s sexuality – goes hand in hand with body image, emotional intelligence and sexual responsibility. It is also just one thing amidst a host of other things that are supposed to be happening in the young girl’s life. So why this hurry to sexualize them?
“Kids these days are much smarter,” says a mother of two, helpfully. “They don’t listen, you know. And of course, lifestyles for both the middle and upper classes have taken a quantum leap. You can’t expect them to be like us, the eighties’ kids, you know.”
Maybe not – to some extent. But kids are kids.
Or aren’t they? Then why are there so many well-researched expert reports out there talking of how much pressure our children are under?
Pressures (usually emanating) from being exposed to too much, too soon.
And if they are, why pressurize them – or help them pressurize themselves – into pressing the speed-dial on adulthood?
Puppy fat has its own charm; so does open laughter, teenage acne and a fresh, young face without the goop.
And beauty is not something that fashion magazines or Bollywood fanzines have a copyright on. If only someone repeated that loud enough to our little girls. Let them be children for as long as nature intended them to be.
Then again, as some smartass will archly tell you: “Who the hell is anyone to decide: How soon is too soon?”
As for me, I am still waiting for a fresh-faced kid’s photo. A face alive with colour and joy, a face that savours life at all ages, a face that belongs to a child and not an under-aged, over-painted Lolita in the making.
Oh, I am so not with it…