To young girls... very young in some cases.... these are now just a thing you do. If you want to look "perfect" that is. Or even just acceptable. Even just "normal".
I was speaking to the 14 year old daughter of my friend yesterday. She was interested in what I was saying about male violence. Suddenly though, her face contorted and she leaned across the table in a concerned fashion with her voice lowered to impart a bit of advice.
She whispered to me, "The left side of your hair is hanging in curtains!"
What this meant was that I had tucked my hair behind my ear as I spoke and it wasn't falling quite perfectly.
I launched into a discussion of airbrushing, photoshopping, the media's unrealistic presentation of a woman's body and fragmentation of the female body and male gaze theory etc etc. My friend's daughter could hear not one word. She could only focus on my hair. She was unable to see or hear me. I pointed out that men murder women with perfect hair. Men rape women with imperfect, unruly hair like mine. Men rape women who have or have not tucked their hair behind their ear. Men murder women they love who have all kinds of hair. They do it at a rate of more than 2 a week. We should stop that. Not the hair.
We have all been horrified at the increased sexualisation of the bodies of young girls. We have long seen the advent of plastic surgery and injectables as a norm that even poor women should aim for. Ageing is not allowed. That is nothing new. Aiming for impossible beauty ideals established by the media is nothing new. Women cutting themselves up to please men. This is old hat and 'The Beauty Myth' lies yellowing on feminist shelves all over the globe.
But this accelerated and extreme type of pressure on young girls is new. I've heard it creeping in. Another young girl told me of a girl at her school who shaves her face every morning so that she can get her foundation to look perfectly smooth. Another of "baking" where girls apply a full face of make up then put lots of white powder over the top, which they then allow to "set" into any cracks or pits in their skin. They then brush this off and have a sort of cement effect under the eyes and the natural creases around mouths and cheeks etc. Contouring allows you to use a variety of beiges to make your face have contours it normally does not and can make you look entirely different. Let's not doubt there is also embedded racism in this too. Look at this. This is how you turn a beautiful woman into a doll. The racism in the message is obvious too. Skin needs to be white if it is black. This is what our children are learning is normal. This is the new assault on our girls....
How do we save them? Vloggers and You Tubers and online magazines and print media and an endless stream of instagram posts by celebrities are brainwashing our girls into a prison within their own bodies. They cannot walk freely without the thought that a camera is snapping them. They are always a magazine front cover. They are always still in their heads. They must not move or the "perfection" is out of control. I weep with frustration at the fact that a young girl cannot see patriarchy, cannot hear her sisters telling her a thing, because she is thinking of how to erase her nose with brown powder.
It seems to me that the more feminist work has been done on this, the more efforts have been stepped up to freeze our beautiful warrior girls in their tracks. This is a new war and men are shooting our girls with new guns. This is my message to 14 year old girls everywhere.
"My darlings. You are beautiful. Your hair is long and smooth or short and curly or short and smooth or you are bald. Your eyes are shining in a way mine have forgotten. Your skin is bewitching, growing, breathing whether light or dark Your lips are plump as peaches, your skin is soft and magical like finely shifting sand. Your cheekbones hang like Italian alps above a face that swirls with a lake of promise.
But inside your head is a brain that can be president of the United States of America or Prime Minister of the UK. Inside your fingers are beautiful paintings and novels. Our future buildings and roads and bridges are in your hands. You have the potential to change the world for women forever. You can heal others. You can stop wars. You can save children from poverty. You can stop men murdering women. You can stop men raping women. Inside you is our future world. Be a warrior my girl. Stand up. Move forward. Start running from this trap. Don't stop until you are free."