By CHARLIE PICKERING
When I was a kid, my Mum thought I was going to go bald.
I had very thin, wispy locks that gave every indication that they weren’t going to go the distance. My mum, worried that I was headed for a Sampson-like crisis, decided that the best thing to do was build my confidence.
Her hope was that, by the time the inevitable depilation happened, she’d have created a young man confident enough to get by. As it turned out, by the age of fourteen my hair had rebounded to become one of the healthiest mops in the post-Garfunkle era and what she had in fact created was a monster.
Despite the outcome, there is something to be said for her thinking. Last year, during a discussion about cosmetic surgery on Q&A, I suggested that whatever people choose to do, the important thing was to not index your self-esteem to your appearance.
Judging by the response I got from people who have struggled with body image issues, or had kids who were wrestling with how they see themselves, the idea seemed to connect.
Now, whether I got it from my mum or not, I’m not entirely sure. It’s always just made sense to me. That may be because, much like my hair, I was a late-bloomer. I was smaller than my high-school peers and never really used my looks to get ahead in the world. I always had to rely on other things like my sense of humor, personality or a propensity to over-share my opinions.
It may also be that, to me, it always seemed like a terrible bet. Not a single person in the world can guarantee their looks will work for them forever. Whether we like it or not, everybody ages. Some people who are gorgeous kids make less gorgeous adults and positively weird looking seniors.
Some kids that don’t look like the models in Dolly magazine grow up to be the most stunning people on the planet. So to stake your identity and sense of self-worth on something as temporary and subjective as looks, always struck me as akin to building your house out of straw.
And if you go by the content of newspapers, magazines, TV programs like mine and websites like this, we have found ourselves in a time of great crisis where the wellbeing of our children is under an unprecedented threat. We’re not entirely sure what from, but they are under threat. We call it cyber bullying, or peer pressure or body image issues but we seem to believe that, because of the media, social media and other kids, that they are under threat like never before.
While this is fairly new problem, it is by no means the greatest threat our children have faced. In the 1800s rates of infant mortality ranged from 10%-20%, with even more dying of diseases in early childhood or teen years. Families with as many as 10 children would routinely have three or four pass away from illnesses that came as mysterious thieves in the night.
Before that, things were worse, with the most basic concepts of hygiene and disease treatment yet to be learned. (Hell, if you go back far enough, kids were being killed off by sabre tooth tigers until we effectively taught kids to avoid them…but perhaps that’s going a little too far back).