I’m blaming the Kardashians. Or maybe Donald Trump. Definitely social media.
I need to blame someone because I’m so fucking angry.
Maybe I’ll blame our largely patriarchal world that tries to make women feel undervalued and flawed if they aren’t the epitome of physical perfection. We’re inundated with imagery and messages telling us so every minute of the day – billboards, television, magazines, the internet.
But I’m a grown up. My adult brain is capable of telling me not to take on board the subconscious messaging being dealt out with a heavily male-skewed slant. It’s taken me almost 45 years to get to the point of being able to accept the parts of me that aren’t ‘perfect’ in the eyes of the media beholder.
It’s a lesson I’m constantly trying to embed in my 11 year-old daughter’s brain too. She’s already under a relentless amount of pressure simply existing in a Western world that idolises whiter skin, unblemished complexions, thigh-gaps, big round eyes, a tiny waist, and pert breasts. God forbid that she stray from those basic physical ideals. As a mixed race kid, she already has.
So you can imagine my disgust when I was sent a link that showed a slew of online apps aimed at children as young as eight for plastic surgery.
These games and apps encourage kids to chop noses, plump up lips, lift eyes and faces, and get liposuction.
Think about the messaging that gives their very vulnerable, impressionable brains. Any responsible adult would read my last few paragraphs and hopefully feel the same waves of nausea and revulsion that I did.
Angela Barnett certainly did. She started the New Zealand chapter of Endangered Bodies, a movement that has eight chapters throughout the world in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each country group has released a petition calling on Apple, Google and Amazon to stop marketing cosmetic surgery apps aimed at children. To date, only Apple has taken down a number of these apps (without directly acknowledging the petition) but the group are wanting to speak directly with Apple CEO, Tim Cook, to get an assurance that he will change their policy so these apps won’t appear again.
Dr. Susie Orbach, UK psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, author and co-founder of Endangered Bodies said, “What appears as playful in these apps is in essence a dastardly training in seeing one’s own body as infinitely malleable. These games don’t develop a child’s imagination. They direct it towards body transformation and implicitly into the demand to be beautiful and body preoccupied rather than giving children wings to fly.”
Although there are no scientific studies that have measured the impact of these specific cosmetic surgery apps, a 2016 study conducted by the University of the West of England found that young girls who played with “makeover” apps for only ten minutes showed a decrease in their body confidence. Primary school children expressed a more pronounced desire for a slimmer figure immediately after playing a free game which challenges players to give a female character a makeover for a date. “The study provides preliminary evidence that internet games with an appearance or sexualised focus may be detrimental to young girls' body image,” the authors of the study said.
Our societies are saturated with images of perfect and unattainable bodies, with over 21 million cosmetic procedures being performed throughout the world in 2015 according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The dissatisfaction many adults face with their bodies is trickling down to children. In the UK, the 2016 Girlguiding Girls’ Attitudes Survey found more than a third of girls aged seven to ten felt women were valued more for their appearance than their abilities.
“Giving young children access to cosmetic surgery games is not teaching them to celebrate their originality,” Barnett says. “Games that make dark skin whiter, chisel larger noses, plump up lips, shave off curves, and turn eyes round and Disney-like create judgment, fear of being different, and fear of not looking like the fictitious ideal. Children shouldn’t grow up looking for flaws or thinking their appearance is some kind of DIY project that needs fixing. With scalpels. These games glamorise cosmetic surgery and are teaching children that their bodies and faces are inadequate, and that one day they will be able to undergo these surgical procedures to get fixed and get a happily ever after.”
I can’t think of a worse fairy-tale ending than that.
What you can do:
Add your signature to the petition :
The United Kingdom: change.org/surgeryisnotagameuk
The United States: change.org/surgeryisnotagameny
New Zealand: change.org/surgeryisnotagamenz