Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

How does this look?

WHEN I was young, I had thick NHS glasses that made me look like Deidre Barlow.

They made the skin on my nose itch, which I would scratch, and then it would weep and then there would be scabs. Mum put some felt on the bridge of the glasses to stop the itching, but all that happened was the felt got tangled in the scabs and when I took the glasses off half my face would come with it.

I had railway track braces on my teeth, and an extra head brace I had to wear at home held on with a huge elastic strap around the back of my head.

And I had a mullet, 10 years after they were fashionable.

You will probably be able to guess that I did not have a lot of boyfriends, and did have quite a lot of arguments with my mum, particularly when she took me to the hairdresser's.

That was my adolescence. It was shit.

But throughout the whole thing - when the pretty girls with long blonde hair bullied me, when the boys I was in love with laughed at me, when acne arrived and made me feel even worse - I never once thought I was a failure.

There were moments I felt ugly, but I knew I was loved even if it was just my mum. I was told throughout the important thing was to do well at school, rise above things, and that I could do whatever I wanted with my life so long as I applied myself to it.

I never wanted a spray tan. I didn't want the world to hear me sing. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, I wanted the boy who smoked Marlboro Reds to fall in love with me, and I wanted my hair to grow quicker.

All kind of normal, really, for a child. No-one treated me as a way of making money, which is just as well as the only way would have involved me joining the circus.

Today we're told about a very different way of doing things, in the distressing shape of Savanna Jackson, who has plucked eyebrows, lacquered hair, fake tan once a month and wears swimming costumes to parade around in front of strangers. She has a catwalk coach. She's three.

She's been doing beauty pageants since she was 10 months old. Her first spray tan was at age two. Her mother Lauren said: "To me the pageants are about having fun, building up her self-esteem, and giving my girl the best possible opportunity in life."

There is a bit of me that can't wait for Savanna to be an adolescent; for her to get zits and self-doubt, hide behind her hair and baggy jumpers and scream at her mum that she will never wear pink again. But maybe that won't happen, because she's been trained from birth that appearance is the most important thing about her.

So what will she do when the appearance isn't so great? Will she read lots of books, will she build a firm network of good friends who don't care about appearance, will she be proud of her stretchmarks, will she ever entertain the thought of being a fighter pilot? I'm going to guess no.

Her mum is destroying Savanna's self-esteem by teaching her as a child that the only way to gain parental approval is to win an obscene kind of beauty contest and make money which is spent on making her even more of a monster.

But they're American. We can dismiss the Americans, can't we?

Do you remember Malakai Paul, the nine-year-old who cried with nerves in his Britain's Got Talent audition? Judge Alesha Dixon rushed on stage to comfort him, as did his watching mum Toni-Ann. He tried again and was voted through, but lost out in the semi-finals.

The viewing public were aghast, especially as the programme makers cynically screened his breakdown either side of an ad break to maximise their viewing figures. There were complaints, but lots of us watched and in fact as a result of Malakai's trauma we probably watched and voted more.

Six months on he's still being stopped in the street for photographs and his mum's upset he didn't get invited on the BGT national tour. And she sounds a lot like Savanna's mum when she explains why she encouraged her son into a talent contest to try and win a £500,000 prize.

She said: "Malakai wasn't exploited, the show gave him opportunities he would never have had anywhere else. If ministers want to offer an alternative, fine. But for people like us these shows offer a real chance to lift ourselves out of our environment."

So does the lottery, love, and the upside is that it doesn't involve your son having a blub on prime-time telly which he is never going to be allowed to forget.

Malakai was exploited, because BGT made more money out of it than he did. The show gave him no opportunities at all but it gave all of us the chance to judge his mother's parenting. It's not up to Government ministers to offer £500,000 cash prizes for him to do something else, and if you're in a poor environment sudden wealth won't help you much.

Malakai's mum took her son to his first BGT audition at the age of seven. This year she got him out of bed at 3am to take three buses to the auditions, and by the time his turn rolled around at 5pm he was tired and fraught. Tears were just a matter of time.

But she still insists: "Not once did I think 'what have I done?' Even though it was a bit daunting for Malakai, it was a good experience. Character building."

Well, so's being hit around the head with a frying pan once a day, but that would seem unreasonable wouldn't it?

Both mums obviously love their children, and the children love their mums; but they are undeniably being encouraged to do something unnatural in return for financial gain and as a bonus are being taught that debasing themselves is the path to happiness. When they don't manage it, they're a failure.

"When I was voted off in the semi-finals I felt my career was over. I felt low," said Malakai. "I thought everyone was disappointed in me."

There are plenty of youngsters who were born for the stage, who love to sing and dance or make people laugh, and a few of them turn it into a career when they're older. There are lots of families which struggle financially or live in grubby areas and wish they could be somewhere else, but most of them don't expect their children to perform like a dancing poodle in order to achieve it.

We seem to have arrived at a point where it is socially acceptable to exploit your children for financial gain and call it 'an opportunity', even though the only opportunity they're being given is the chance of being screwed up in new and interesting ways.

It's what parents do, I suppose. I'm allergic to hairdressers, but at least my teeth are straight. And I am able to forget the bits that made me miserable, because every time someone got a camera out I ran away. More importantly still, my parents thought I was a child rather than a money making machine.

The one opportunity Malakai and Savanna have been given is never being proper children at all.

And I don't care how pretty you are - that never looks good.

Imagine it with a death-scowl and zits.


The Auld Phart said...

Simply put, it's just parental child abuse. The parents should be arrested and tried as child abusers, plain and simple.

Amanda Kendal said...

Im pretty much with Auld Phart on this. Absolutely horrific.

Although just to add to the point you make about exploitation, we're at a stage, generally, where we seem to think it's acceptable to exploit pretty much anything.

I'd suggest that the Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Spring-style programmes are simply a modern form of the freak show, intended to allow people to point and laugh and sneer at people who are often vulnerable and usually in a mess (whether through their own fault or someone else's).

I'd suggest that we exploit people like Jade Goody – making her famous for being thick, crucifying her for being thick and then, for good measure, turning her death into mass entertainment.

Sukh Pabial said...

I have three children, the youngest being my daughter who is two. I love her dearly and she brings a lot of joy to my wife and I. We like to dress up the children when there's an occasion to do so, but never would I want to put my daughter through a pageant or anything similar at such a young age. I am actually really saddened reading that this mother thinks she's helping her daughter. When my little girl has a runny nose, or scraggly hair, or got yoghurt all over her face, I take photos galore, clean her up and give her a big kiss. I can only hope this Savanna's mother sees how un-child-like her daughter is. Le Sigh.

Andy said...

Can't add anything that Auld Phart has said. Disgraceful.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article – I hate beauty pageants and I think there should be an age limit to prevent the plucking of eyebrows and unnecessary spray tans, in fact I personally think they should be banned. But then when you moved onto the talent show I started to remember back to my childhood. I rode (horses) competitively as a youngster, we didn’t have a lot of money but I had some talent (long gone now) and I use win quite a lot. This involved schooling horses every day and getting up at 4am to travel across the country to shows at the weekend, performing in front of a crowd and either winning or landing in the mud with a great splat (and yes I did cry in front of a large crowd once, but I got over it). Sometimes I loved it sometimes I hated it, my parents made me do it, it was what they did for a living, but it was still a performance. I have never considered this exploitation but what would have been the difference if it was singing contests rather than show jumping? It was good preparation for life, when I fell from a great height (normally on my arse) I got up and got back on...this is what I do now as a manager in an office just with less mud. KK

G said...

Whatever happened to kids going out and playing in the street till their mothers shouted really loudly at them because tea was on the table and getting cold. I guess it's just another stage in the evolution of human behaviour. Just look at how much the world has changed in the past 50 years, I think many of the issues depicted in this blog post by foxy, will further change and develop. Just remember that in a few years, we will be the old generation out of touch with what the younger generation take as normal.

Mas said...

I didn't know it at the time but growing up not fitting in and being so interminably unattractive that I spent a lot of time reading books, rather than discovering make up, was the best thing that ever happened to me (seriously - I was properly unloveable). Its all a bit 15 Million Credits (I heart Charlie Brooker) isn't it? What is to become of us :(

Mas said...

G - my children are now 19 and 21 and they do not consider this normal.

Amanda Kendal said...

I think there's a difference, in that I suspect that you were able to make a choice for yourself at some point. The child in the pageant, certainly, is far too young to have done that.

In my teens, I sang competitively. That was absolutely my choice. Indeed, my parents were not wholeheartedly supportive – well, unless I sang hymns. But I was singing Rachmaninov and, heaven forfend, stuff in Latin. And the same could be said of the stage, which was my absolute place of freedom. I had to fight to be able to get on one – from the age of 12.

But I think that Foxy touches on that. I think the beauty pageant, certainly, is very, very different and actually makes me squirm with discomfort.

Amanda Kendal said...

People have become terrified of letting their children play in the street, for fear of paedophiles, which they have been assured by some in the media, are on every corner.

When the greatest danger of abuse is in the home and the greatest danger in the streets is traffic.

Control – great, innit?

Anonymous said...

Hang on a minute people...yup the spray tan kid is grotesque, but have her parents tried as child abusers? Really? ...and who'd want to see a three year old in the wtness box giving evidence against her own mum? And once mum's convicted and possibly jailed are you going to care for Savannah and heal her extra trauma? Engage brain before posting please.

Malaki? It's a TV many of you watch it and thereby endorse the manipulation that's so obvious in the way it's edited 'for your entertainment'. Yes his mum appears to be poor, desperate and let's throw rocks at her. She's doing what she considers to be her best for her son with perhaps not the full kit of parts, so let's condemn her for wanting something better as quickly as possible. Anyone prepared to offer some realistic practical solutions or a bit of help and support? She'd be easy to contact and might even take on board some useful suggestions.

Here's a challenge; there's enough talent on this blog to ensure kids like Savannah, Malaki (and their mums) turn out ok. They'll need the help of well informed people like you. All you have to do is get involved, give some time and offer help, support and a bit of guidance.

I'm sure Foxy could help to put you in touch - wanna lead the way Foxy?

Tracy said...

It's not just on talent shows...parenting programmes are exploiting children too. Usually they promote quick fix methods which in the long term are not a good idea but also it's infringing on their privacy. Showing them distressed, they are repeated often so friends will recognise them in the future and they are subjected to ideas from unqualified self proclaimed experts!

Amanda Kendal said...

Anonymous – so you consider such baby 'beauty' pageants healthy and acceptable? Perhaps you think all babies should be treated this way?

I'm sort of rather an old-fashioned sort – I don't care what consenting adults do – it's up to them. So if an adult woman (or man, for that matter) wants to enter some sort of beauty contest, I have no issue.

This, however, is entirely different.

Gareth said...

I don't think Anonymous was condoning beauty pageants, rather pointing out that trying them for child abuse and potentially locking them up would be just as harmful for the child.

As for BGT, the whole premise is exploitative. Sadly many of the contestants are so transfixed with the idea of instant fame (as that is the modern alternative to climbing the ladder) that they gladly sign away their dignity. For some I'm sure even two minutes of mocking is a good enough return, just to be able to say they've been on TV.

Thank goodness a dog won it this time, very little psychological damage to be done there!

Jess said...

'But they're American. We can dismiss the Americans, can't we?'

My American friends would disagree here. Quite a lot, actually.

I agree with your points in this article. It is exploitative, and borderline abusive.

Anonymous said...

Your parents were encouraging you to and rewarding you for hard work and talet. Ergo you could draw a conclusion that a person and indeed you yourself are more than just a sum of your parts. That little girls Mother is teaching her the exact opposite. Nothing is more important than how she looks because everything depends on it.

Anonymous said...

It's not abuse.

Karen said...

It turns my stomach, but so does a baby with pierced ears, and 10-yr-olds with cell phones, and all that stuff that conflicts with the way I raise my kid. Sure, pageants and in general child stardom warps those kids; but so does encouraging them to read and setting them loose in a forest. Warping, nurturing -- it just depends on whether you like the technique and outcome. Anyway, the crumbling edifices of these girls, when they're grown up, will make my daughter look even better by comparison. So go ahead, ruin your kids!

[On a serious note: Calling a kooky activity "abuse" cheapens the word. Please don't.]

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