Recently, my husband, mother and I stumbled upon a box of old photos of me and my brother, Richard, as small children. They were photos my Auntie Shirley, who passed away recently, had kept and treasured for twenty five years. In some of the pictures, Richard and I look very sweet, dressed in lovely clothes and with perfect smiles.
In most of the pictures, though, we look like, well, normal kids. We’re pulling faces. We’re wearing ice cream containers on our heads. We’re dressed in clothes that can best be described as “80’s chic” (AKA 80’s eek!). In one photo, in which I look about four, I am dressed in a severely misjudged outfit of a knee-length denim skirt, a tucked-in skivvy and chunky sneakers. Coupled with the sort of curly bob elderly women have been asking their hairdressers for since the 50’s (though mine was natural, not permed), I look like my mum was taking me to a “dress your daughter as her grandmother” costume party. Except my own grandmother is way too funky to ever be seen dead in clothes like that.
In some photos, my brother and I are wearing no pants. In some, we’re wearing our pants on our heads. In many, we have food on our clothes, our faces, and in our hair.
In all of them, we look happy. We look like kids having fun being kids.
Looking through the photos was a brief time of happiness (and even hilarity) during what was a very tough period for my family. It was fun to cringe, to blush and to say, “Mum, what the heck were you thinking?” as we leafed through the photos.
Later, I read an article about how some photographers are offering a photoshopping service on school photos.
Now, I’m not a parent but, if I was lucky enough to ever be, there is no way in hell I would let anybody airbrush my child. For one thing, what message is that sending? “Sorry, love. We had to fix your photo. You’re just not good enough as you are”.Can you imagine what that would do to a kid’s self esteem? Poor kids these days are already having to grow up bombarded with images of so-called “perfection” being hurled at them from every direction – through television, magazines and the internet. It’s bad enough we’re airbrushing adults to look younger. Now we’re airbrushing ACTUAL YOUNG PEOPLE? To look like what??? Robots? Dolls? The beauty of children is in their quirkiness and their individuality. How could you possibly want to erase that in the quest for “perfection”?
For another thing, no matter how embarrassing some of my childhood photos are, I loved looking at them. Mess, chaos, bare bums, dressing your brother up as a girl … that’s what childhood is about. What will these kids have to laugh about when they look through their childhood photos? “Oh yeah, haha. I actually had a freckle on that cheek but see how they’ve removed it? Aren’t they clever? Thanks, Mum!”
I was watching Sunrise this morning and saw a segment on Eden Wood, the young American girl who’s been shipped over here to promote some “child beauty pageant”. The girl was in a full face of makeup. Her hair looked as if had been bleached. Her midriff was exposed and she was doing hip-thrusting moves on camera that would make Tom Jones blush. The girl is six.
In my opinion, the only time kids should ever wear makeup is if they’re trying on their mum’s lipstick and half of it ends up up their nose and the rest all over the wall. Seriously, telling a six-year-old they need makeup to look pretty? How on earth is that kid going to grow up with any sensible idea of self worth? How is she going to react when she gets her first wrinkle, or pimple, or cellulite, or grey hair? Is she ever going to be able to divorce self esteem from physical appearance when she’s been taught since she was a toddler that this is all she’s good at – looking pretty? Being a “cutie patootie”? What if, when she hits puberty, she starts to look less “cute”? What if, at thirty, she finds that being “cute” doesn’t cut in any more, in the “real world”?
As I said, I’m not a mum, so maybe I’m not qualified to comment on any of this. But I was a kid once and I am damn grateful that my mother and father never made me wear makeup whenever I left the house. I’m thankful they never made me dance like a stripper on national television when I was six years old. I’m thankful they let me be messy and wear stupid clothes and look like an idiot in photos.
I’m really, really grateful they never let me be airbrushed.