I mentioned this in the Price Check on Friday — but had to take a little time to mull it over so I could give you a response more coherent than “WTF?!”
Which is pretty much the only appropriate reaction to the news that a British mom named Kerry Campbell (living in San Francisco) gives her eight-year-old daughter Britney Botox injections every three months plus monthly leg, arm, and bikini waxes. Both treatments are intended to stave off physical flaws — those would be wrinkles and body hair, otherwise known as basic functions of your skin — before they start, so Britney can grow up to be a famous pop star. Britney says:
“I feel like a supermodel and if I do ballet or go swimming I don’t have to worry about hairy legs. Although the pain makes me cry, I feel like a cool grown-up when it’s all over.”
In case you haven’t already read the coverage on this, I’m going to give you a minute to have your own WTF moment and process and all that.
We good? Okay then.
BellaSugar and Jezebel are both pointing out some obvious Balloon Boy moments in this story. (The story broke in a British tabloid not known for super ethical journalism, Kerry claims to be a licensed beautician but doesn’t pop up in California Cosmetology Board records, etc.) That’s good reason to keep a lid on our hysteria — but I want to look at why we might believe such an over-the-top story in the first place.
We’ve been awash lately in both black market plastic surgery scandals and headlines about irresponsible attempts to sexy up little girls before they’re ready: Like Claudia Aderotimi, who died after botched butt injections, those Abercrombie push-up bikini tops, the Wal-Mart tween makeup kits, that German porn star who died during breast implant surgery, this 15-year-old who got lipo “to prevent an eating disorder.” I could go on.
These stories all revolve around a central theme: Will our daughters grow up to be Girls Gone Wild? And it’s a question we’re collectively panicking about and yet also, not doing nearly enough to address.
By focusing only on these extreme, headline-grabbing stories, we get to outsource the issue and blame the victims. Crazy Kerry Campbell is obviously the worst mother in the world — not our fault. Claudia Aderotimi was an aspiring hip-hop star. Well then. The German woman is identified as a porn star more often than news reports used her name, so that one is pretty clear.
It’s so easy to say that these are isolated examples of sad, desperately insecure women who somehow just missed that memo about how beauty standards aren’t that big a deal.
Except: They are.
Client Nine’s mom was no Kerry Campbell. She was wearing nursing scrubs and no makeup — and she thought that getting her daughter’s lip waxed was the most normal thing in the world. And she wasn’t wrong. Our definition of “normal” when it comes to required beauty labor is constantly expanding to include more intensive (and usually painful) procedures. Brazilian waxing wouldn’t be fodder for a provocative “Sex and The City” episode today the way it was a decade ago — unless it’s happening to an eight year old.
I’ve talked before about how everyone has their own interpretation of “normal” for beauty — and on Friday, I said that the dichotomy between fashionistas and feminists (or women who wax/wear heels/insert whatever other beauty work sounds extreme to you here and women who don’t do these things) is one of our biggest time-wasters, because it means women focus on tearing each other down when we could be supporting one another for the greater good.
But as Britney Campbell’s story illustrates, there are times when we can’t shrug and file something under “different strokes.” Because Britney is only eight and she’s having these extreme standards of beauty forced up on her. Even if it turns out to be a hoax, she’s still at the center of a mini-media circus, internalizing the message that pain equals beauty — and attention and a mother’s love. Britney likes feeling like a cool, grown up supermodel because waxing and Botox have been presented as the only route to successful femininity. Not just one option that some smart women subscribe to while other equally smart women make different choices.
And that’s why we need to look beyond Kerry Campbell (or any individual perpetrator/victim of extreme beauty) and ask why we’ve let these standards get so extreme — and at the same time, so utterly mundane.