Growing up fast

This post is a cogitation on how confusing it must be to be a teenage girl these days. I thought it was bad when I was young, but I think it must be more confusing now. I came downstairs on Saturday morning and discovered that Video Hits was on. My husband was reading the paper and my baby girl was watching the Pussycat Dolls on Video Hits with her mouth wide open. The video consisted mainly of very scantily clad ladies gyrating around chairs.

“Please don’t like the Pussycat Dolls or their equivalent when you’re a teenager!” I implored my daughter. “You don’t want to be like that!” Yet, like my daughter I was horribly fascinated. I continued to watch the next few music videos.

Of course, it’s inevitable that my child will like some horrible band or other in her early teenage years, so I should prepare myself for it. I confess that when I was in early high school, I liked “Indecent Obsession” and had their name written across the bottom of my schoolbag. I later blacked it out when I acquired a modicum of taste. I think it’s one of the teenage rites of passage you have to go through. My husband retains his teenage fondness for Milli Vanilli – don’t ask me why.

The ads shown in Video Hits needed to be seen to be believed. I think advertisers have decided that teenage girls are a dream target audience. You’re self-conscious, unsure of yourself, desperate to fit in…so why don’t you buy this product, it will make you so much slimmer/more beautiful/give you clearer skin/make you more popular! It’s preying on vulnerable girls (not to mention their parents, who just want their kid to be happy).

It seems to me that there are some very weird messages mixed up with the way in which our society portrays teenage girls.

First, there’s the whole body image thing. I’m sure some of these celebrities must have had heaps of plastic surgery to make them look the way that they do. Plus, their business is “looking good” so they can devote time to diets, workouts etc. But to a vulnerable teenage girl who doesn’t fit in with the slim gorgeous stereotype, these images just serve to further compound her misery, and make her feel unattractive and unworthy. (Although, hey, that makes her more receptive to buying rubbish!)

The reality is that there are many body shapes out there, and lots of beauty which doesn’t fit into the stereotype. I once worked with a girl who fulfilled all the stereotypes: tall, blonde, clear tanned skin, slender, big breasts, regular features – you name it, she had it. Yet I found her very unattractive, because she had a sour, sullen look on her face and often made unpleasant comments about others. Attractiveness is not just about looks. But teenage popular culture doesn’t seem to portray this.

But the other thing that worries me is the way in which girls seem to be expected to grow up very quickly. After watching Video Hits, I went to the supermarket, and my eye was caught by one of those horrible little pink magazines at the checkout (“TeenZine” or some dumb name). The cover had a heavily made up girl who looked about twelve. It was a bit disturbing: the virgin and the whore, all in one. Unfortunately, the first thing that came into my mind was that this picture would be a pedophile’s dream. I was reading an article the other day that the catwalks are full of 13 and 14 year old models. That just seems revolting and ridiculous to me on a number of levels.

It’s true that childhood and teenagerhood are modern ideas. In the European Middle Ages, one was considered to have reached adulthood at the age of 7. My grandmother was born in the Depression era and had to grow up quickly in another sense. She finished school at the age of 14 and went out to work, because she had to earn her keep. It seems childhood is a modern luxury. But there seem to be mixed messages in society as to when one should start behaving like an adult. I think it would be very confusing to be a teenage girl these days.

The whole thing reminds me of the description of Susan in the Narnia books:

“…She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

It seems sad to me if girls are encouraged to become mini-adults too soon. I hope my daughter doesn’t grow up too fast. After all, you’ve got the whole of the rest of your life to be an adult.

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6 Comments

Filed under motherhood, society

6 responses to “Growing up fast

  1. -k.

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I see it every day at work, 12 year olds coming in with full faces of make-up, talking about things that would make truckers blush (and I don’t just mean indecent language). Why is there such an emphasis on being adult – and sexual – before their time?

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