Dear gorgeous seven-year-old girls,
This morning, I read that you are worried about how you look.
I’ve learnt that this worry is deeper than the type of hair braid you’d like for Sarah’s party, or the pair of Converse shoes you keep asking your mum for because you really really want them to wear on sports day. (Even though she says they’re bad for your feet).
Around a fifth of you say you want to lose weight. My stomach churned as I read the research from Girlguiding, a British charity that surveyed 1,600 girls and young women between the ages seven to 21.
I know the social trends in Britain can be applied to here too. That means all those little girls I see at shopping centres and walking to school. All those girls I thought were thinking about how to get a donut out of their parents were thinking something completely different.
Something that is the complete opposite of feeling seven years old and carefree.
A quarter of you feel pressure to be “perfect”.
You are seven years old and you’re not happy with how you look in the mirror. So soon?
As you get older, these numbers will become bigger. Between 11 and 16 years, 42 per cent of you will feel ashamed of how you look. Ashamed? Half of you will feel as if your “looks” are holding you back.
When you reach 17, more than half of you – 66 per cent – won’t think you’re pretty enough. As you have your first drink. Or you dress up for parties. Or you think about the job you want after uni, that voice in your head will be questioning how you will get there, looking like you do. It will be chiding the width of your hips, frowning at the way your freckles stand out on your skin, unhappy with how big, or small, your breasts are. Something will be wrong. Make that, so many things will be wrong with you.
You’ll be so used to that voice by 17, it’s been nagging at you for more than a decade. You started so early, picking yourself apart. That voice has been a part of you since you were seven.
These numbers make me want to hold you. To keep you in a room away from television screens and YouTube videos and scrolling Instagram feeds of tanned “perfect” six packs and coloured-in eyebrows.
When I was seven (bear with me, don't roll your eyes), it was a different world. I was worried about the bully, Alicia, stealing my lunch at recess. I loved my teacher. I thought her curly hair made her look kind. I played hockey and soccer.
My younger brother was a constant source of irritation. We had a cubby that we would play in underneath the house. We would race each other around the park near my primary school. We would try to surf at the beach and hit golf balls with my dad on the oval.
I didn't think about my stomach or my legs. I didn't think about being pretty. I didn't care about ribbons or lipstick or looking "perfect". When a friend of mine had a dress-up party for her eighth birthday, I went as batman.
Barbie dolls were the closest things we had to a body "ideal" ... Plus Kylie Minogue's "Can't get you out of my head" music video where she looks like a red-lipped, choker-wearing robot.
But these examples were so far removed from my everyday life, that I never considered them to have anything to do with my body. Or my relationship with my body.
For you, it's different.
For you, there are social media images of girls your age wearing makeup and posing in swim suits. And children of celebrities dressed up in thousands of dollars worth of designer gear, looking the part as they go shopping for more designer gear.
You see television shows where young kids are dressed up and perform on stage.
You see YouTube videos about how to create the perfect lip pout or how to shed stubborn bottom fat, created by 13 year olds.
You are much more aware of what society wants in a woman's body than I was at your age. And you're terrified that you don't live up to these expectations.
You're afraid to participate because you're worried about how your body will look, even though you're seven. A time where the biggest problems should be around school readers and friends and how many marshmallows you can fit into your mouth and whether you can take your brother's Game Boy and not get caught.
I wonder if we can change the way you look at your body?
I wonder if, the next time you look in the mirror, you can judge your body for what it can do, as opposed to how it looks? The way it can run and jump and swim and dance.
You might judge your body for how it enjoys food and how your skin is your largest organ and how your brain works to solve those maths equations that one year ago you couldn't understand.
Don't forget your brain. That wonderful, magnificent, powerful thing that can make you do anything. Your brain is so beautiful but no-one can see it. And so is the way you talk to your grandma and the way you (quite secretly) comfort your brother when he's hurt.
I'm not going to tell you to stop judging your body. Because, realistically, it's unlikely you will. Judgement is, quite unfortunately, a part of who we are.
But if you learn judge your body differently, the judgements might start sounding more positive.
The tone of your skin, and the way your stomach folds when you sit down, will feel less important when you know you can run a kilometre faster than you could last year. The colour of your hair will feel less important when you think about the way your hands can draw and your body can move through water. The width of your hips won't matter so much, when you think about how you can write amazing stories that come straight out of your imagination, about dragons and fairies and clever, brave girls.
I wish I could hold you and hide you. And I wish that the only examples you saw were of real bodies and real women. Women of all sizes who are smart and kind and strong. But I can't do this.
Instead, I am going to do what I can. When I next see you, I'm not going to tell you how "pretty" you look, or how "beautiful your hair is". I'm going to ask you what you learnt that day. Who your best friend is. What you'd like to be when you grow up. What book are you reading?
Because these things are much more important than how you look. And maybe, if we talk about these things, your body will become just another part of you, in between the brains and the sports and the personality and the love.
Love Caity. x