beauty

The real burden of teenage beauty.

Waxing, plucking, spray tanning, hair straightening, applying full makeup.

No, it’s not a model preparing for a fashion shoot. Rather, it’s the early morning routine of your average teenage girl getting ready of school.

Gone are the days of waking up 30 mins before the morning bell, throwing on a uniform, eating a rushed breakfast of cereal and toast, a quick brushing of teeth and hair and out the door. In today’s world, the alarm is set for 6am and some serious work is being done in front of the mirror before school work is even considered.

What is the responsibility of parents (usually the mothers) in this battle to conform to a perceived standard of beauty? There’s a cost involved in all the primping and priming. Are you enabling this practice by bearing the cost and thereby sending a message that it’s appropriate? Or perhaps you have resigned yourself that the makeup and appearance battle are not worth the fight when there are so many other issues demanding your attention.

girl makeup istock
In today’s world, the alarm is set for 6am and some serious work is being done in front of the mirror before school work is even considered. Image via iStock.

Mother of a teenager, let’s call her Mary, wearily stated to me: “By the time my daughter got to Year 10, I allowed the mascara. I would choose my battles so I turned a blind eye. Ironically the school is vigilant on school uniform but allows the makeup.”

She recalls how her daughter was constantly teased in primary school about her eye brows so she also allowed her to start waxing them in Year 7.

As mothers, we spend our time and money furiously trying to reverse the effects of our own ageing while our daughters are aiming to do the exact opposite. What is perhaps more alarming is the disdain for the body’s natural form and the eagerness to rid oneself of nature’s normal features.

“Pubic hair is disgusting,” claimed the teenage daughter of a colleague. She was in the habit of shaving or waxing off all her pubic hair.

Body dissatisfaction, weight and shape concern and the pressure to lose weight were all significantly higher in girls.

The statistics on girls’ contempt for their bodies bears out the above sentiment. A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry in July 2015 reported on the prevalence of eating disorder behaviours among 14-year olds. Data was collected from over 6000 boys and girls aged 14 years.

Body dissatisfaction, weight and shape concern and the pressure to lose weight were all significantly higher in girls compared with boys. 11.4% of girls reported high weight and shape concern. Almost 20% of girls reported feeling ‘quite a lot of pressure from the media to lose weight’ and almost 40% of girls were dieting in the year prior to the study.

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There was a strong association with childhood body dissatisfaction on adolescent body dissatisfaction. In other words, a child who was unhappy with his/her body was likely to lead to a teenager with weight and shape concerns and a pressure to lose weight and diet. Conversely, high childhood self-esteem acted as an effective shield against disordered eating.

The 24 hour a day access to information and images and the pressure to be fashionable, has resulted in a warping of understanding of what is normal and what has been manipulated. Website rosierespect.org.au launched in 2013 and sought to provide information and answers to many of the issues concerning teenage girls.

It handles up to 3,000 questions a week on a range of issues such as bullying, social exclusion and mental health problems.

wake up rosie app image via website
The Wake up Rosie app. Image via wakeuprosie.org.au

Late last year the site launched a new app, Wake up Rosie, to help girls deal with the impact of the internet and social media and the pressure to look model glamorous every day. Once the alarm on the app is set, it will send a positive message every morning.

As a mother of a teenage girl and a tween, the message I want to impart to my girls is to revel in youth’s freedom to be truly who you are. If it’s curly or wavy hair you have, don’t straighten it or at least only on special occasions.

Don’t cover your adolescent, pre-wrinkled, pale skin with chemicals and war paint. Your eyelashes don’t need extending or darkening nor do your eyebrows need thinning or shaping. Cover up the odd pimple if you must but don’t let the cover mask the reality.

Youth should offer the freedom to be true to yourself. For once the full makeup, plucking and waxing routine starts, there’s no going back.

Liora Miller is a project manager at an independent school in Melbourne, Australia. She’s the mother of three, usually healthy, opinionated children. In a previous life she was a political adviser and costs lawyer. And she doesn’t miss it at all. You can find her on Twitter here.

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