A friend went to the dancing competitions recently with her three young girls in tow. She expected a chance to appreciate the talent and dedication of our city’s fledgling dancers, to ooh and aah over the costumes with her daughters and just have a fun, girly time together. She also expected to feel that old pang of connection to her childhood days when it was her up on the stage, leaping and twirling, smiling heartily in a cloud of glitter and sequins.
Instead she walked away feeling cold.
“How things have changed,” she said to me.
“I wish I hadn’t taken my daughters to see that.”
What seven or eight-year-old’s performance could evoke such a response?
She described little girls dressed in costumes more suited to a gentleman’s club, gyrating like Miley with saucy moves and expressions far beyond their years.
Another dad relayed how uncomfortable he felt seated in the stalls of the local theatre, waiting for his daughter to perform. He thought they’d all be wearing pretty dresses, leaping and pirouetting around the stage with the joy of a child, not emulating the pop music videos of raunchy divas like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
But the child dance scene isn’t all lace and leather! Our city has many brilliant dance teachers and conscientious mothers who are aware and proactive about the sexualised culture girls are spinning into.
Some still need that wake-up call.
Last month activist group Collective Shout petitioned against a US-style child beauty pageant in Melbourne. It quickly attracted around 25,000 signatures in a petition against the Universal Royalty Child Beauty Pageant.
“Girls as young as five years old are made to undergo ‘beauty’ treatments like waxing, tanning, even botox. They’re told to ‘flirt’ with the judges and be sexy,” Collective Shout activist Coralie Alison said.
“The pageants teach girls from a very early age that their worth is based on their appearance… Research shows that reinforcing an emphasis on looks and attractiveness leads to negative body image, disordered eating, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.”
Incidentally, in France last year child beauty pageants were outlawed for children under 16 with pageant organisers facing possible jail time and fines.
I have a daughter. She’s not even three months old and I’m fretting about the influence of the world on her beautiful innocence. “You can’t wrap them in cotton wool,” they tell me, but I wish you could. Somehow I must strike a balance between chastity belts and pole-dancing classes for five-year-olds (true story – as reported in the Geelong Advertiser, although you won’t find the story online anymore!).
It’s an irony that while the world is doing all it can to hurry-up the maturing of our infants, Jesus spoke of attaining child-likeness.
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me,” you will read in Matthew 18:3-5.
I have learnt so much from my kids:
Look at how quickly and completely a child forgives, for example.
Look at their unbridled joy.
Look at the way they bestow love so generously.
If you have a child in your charge and you’re wishing away their tender infancy – stop it! (face slap) Just STOP!
They don’t need you to dress them up like Barbie dolls and inadvertently teach them the sinister expectations placed on the female populace. That needs no prompting.
We must parade true beauty: love, respect, compassion, peace.
I’ve learnt it from my kids and they will learn it from me.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday August 4, 2014.