What are the self-esteem consequences of sexually maturing too early?
In the seventh grade I went to a slumber party where all the girls were talking about shaving their legs, which I had never done before. I went home the next day and grilled my mother on the pros and cons of shaving. My mom told me that if I didn’t start shaving now, I would never need to, but that once I started, the hair would come back thicker and coarser every time. Of course, I was twelve and therefore ignored my mother’s advice and began shaving my legs right then and there, ensuring the need to shave them for the rest of my days.
Nowadays, girls in the seventh grade are shaving their pubic hair. In thirty years the conversation has gone from whether or not to shave above the knee, to shaving it all. Why? Because Big Business has infiltrated our underwear. As ad campaigns strive to pitch the latest hot-new-look, the ideal women is portrayed as a plastic, smooth Barbie doll, and pubic hair is being shown the door. But, should we stop to consider the consequences? Does a shaved pubis really represent the epitome of healthy adult sexual attraction? Or, is it more along the lines of a pedophiliac power play?
Growing up in the 80s, I imagine my friends and I spent our time talking about the same things that girls talk about today, granted on a simpler scale. Shaving our legs and teasing our hair; the only thing we ‘posted’ were actual posters of Leif Garrett and Matt Dillon on our walls. But today, girls feel peer pressure to post pictures of themselves online, and then be judged by the sexiness of those pictures.
Access to images of naked women in compromising positions is unlimited online, what with sex being the top seller and all, (and porn is certainly one of the biggest Big Businesses) but how far will we let it go?
When nude photos circulate, it destroys any perception of who the girl is or hopes to be; the imagination is trampled by the all-too-real screen shot. By revealing herself at such a young age, the girl risks her reputation when she is too young and fragile, and unprepared to deal with that kind of bare-all notoriety. The act of posing nude is way too real, and ultimately embarrassing; it can shatter any self-worth that was on its way to maturity, acceptance, self-love. Being too young to embrace the alter ego, it is not the same as mature women dancing Burlesque, for example. Instead they are just girls trying to keep up in a global society that forces unrealistic physical standards on our women.
Added to the fact that, in the 80s, we didn’t see nearly the amount of plastic surgery or photo-shop that we do in today’s sexy images. For example, take a look at Christie Brinkley’s cameo in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). Compare the pool scene where she takes off her shirt to reveal her B-cup breasts with any movie today where breast implants are as common as lip-gloss. No wonder girls today feel more pressure to look good than feel good. And, the plastic surgery trend is reaching younger and younger girls, who are at an age when comparing one’s body to others is natural, but actually altering the labial flesh to conform is not.
Science, engineering and art fall to the wayside in Tweendom because society places more emphasis on a woman’s ability to get the job rather than her ability to do the job; how she looks versus how she uses her brain. Women in the workplace are all too often the victims of ‘mansplaining’ because they are not considered as credible as their male colleagues.
Speaking of women in the workplace … after spending forty hours at work and another eighty at home, just how much time and money do we really have to spend on all the body maintenance? Between the moisturizing creams, makeup, hair care and color products, waxing and razors, (how can a tiny piece of metal cost so much??) “pink tax” beauty products are Big Business. And, the more we buy, the more it drives the industry to stay cutting edge.
As American models get younger, thinner and hairless, we’re watching our children mimic this unattainable ideal. And, when they can’t achieve the standard level of beauty in the eye of the beholder— the internet— they look for ways to push the envelope. This leads to sexual activity beyond their maturity.
In the 80s we used to sneak outside to smoke cigarettes. Today, 13 year-old girls sneak out to give boys blowjobs because oral sex doesn’t count as “real sex,” so technically they remain virgins.
What happens to the confidence and security of a young girl who is involved in sexual acts before she even understands the consequences of those acts? And what happens to intimacy? If these kids skip over the years of daydreaming and holding hands by jumping straight into the sack, when will they experience the naiveté nuances of a relationship? The ups and downs of the seesaw that teach us how to love someone for who they are, not just what they look like. Will these kids really learn to love and trust their partners, much less themselves?
Girls, young and old, need to love their bodies in order to love themselves, and not be deterred by the Big Business ideal of beauty. To grow into the woman she wants to be, it is important for a girl to be secure in her own skin, and feel comfortable showing it to those she loves. As grown women, it is our responsibility to lead by example. By not ‘buying in’ to the plastic surgery enhanced, hairless, photo-shopped hype, we can show our girls how to be strong, confident, and beautiful; just as they are.