In Pursuit of Pefection

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Young children often feel pressure to be perfect. Helen Carroll examines why this is and how this will hurt future generations.


A THIRD of seven to ten-year-old girls believe they are being judged on their appearance regularly, and one in four feel intense pressure to be “perfect”, according to a study by Girlguiding UK.

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Consider that these are children in first class in primary school. Pre-communion aged girls trying to be skinnier or have more curves; trying to appear more like the celebrities whose images they see constantly, in magazines and online.

While the focus is often on how young girls perceive themselves, it is not just girls who are affected by this. For boys, trying to match the manliness that is desired of them restricts their ability to speak out on why such an issue as curbing sensitivity is important. Young people today are being boxed into conformity.

This raises the question of what exactly is at the root of it all. For a start, the images we see affect people. We see more adverts each day than we did just ten years ago thanks to a spike in internet usage. We are bombarded daily with messages. From needing to fix our acne, trim our eyebrows and shave absolutely everywhere – the list is endless.

In much of these images there are “ideal” versions of people presented. Men are portrayed as silent, strong, powerful creatures. Women are told to be skinny, but curvy, but not fat, but not too thin. Men get a very narrow box they must fit into, but women are told to fit into a box that contradicts itself constantly. The human desire to match our expectations hurts us, but it fuels the corporate machine and is thus incredibly difficult to halt, never mind reverse its effects.

“The statistics show the damage being done. It’s hard to know at this point how irreversible this is and how it may affect their mental and physical health in the long run.”

With so many messages being bandied about it is no wonder young children are also feeling the strain. Of course seven year olds are not resistant to the constant barrage of information. No one is. Kids in particular, with little idea of their own identity, are more likely to fall victim to these advertisements.

For children seeming ‘grown up’ is the most desirable thing. Childhood as we know it is being eradicated by the corporate structures deeply entrenched within our society. Its vice grip upon the minds of the younger generation that traps them into a cycle of being told they “aren’t worth it.”

There’s a bombardment of harmful messages such as “boys will never like you without the newest skin-cream/makeup/ hair product.” The question is not how marketing is making seven year old girls feel inadequate but rather how it took so long to make them feel such a way.

There is no such thing as personality or individuality in the marketplace, as they don’t sell. If everyone looks and thinks the same way, it’s easier to pander to the audience. Children are being brainwashed at an early age into becoming commodity-dependant consumers whose self-worth lies in the hands of material goods.

The statistics show the damage being done. It’s hard to know at this point how irreversible this is and how it may affect their mental and physical health in the long run.

Children are getting phones at an earlier age than ever before. A four-year-old who is well able to navigate an iPad is nothing out of the ordinary.

Kids these days aren’t getting phones like the youth of generation Y. A ‘blokia’ with snake and a great ringtone would not go down a treat in the playgrounds of 2016. No, they have touch screen phones with Wi-Fi access. Technology has moved on, for the better mostly, but one of the problems is the early access children have to them.

“You have to look perfect, but God forbid anyone knows you put effort into your appearance.”

The constant advertising as they play free games and talk or browse Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat with their friends gets to them. Even if they don’t want it to and actively try to resist, it makes an impact.

Children today are unable to unplug themselves as they have phones, tablets, game consoles. Never mind the TV, radio, billboards, promotional salespeople, magazines, and more, that they can experience daily.

This is why when we hear of tags like “pro-ana” — a pro-anorexia community on Tumblr — we must consider the culture of needing to fast-forward childhood and move straight onto being a teenager. We must consider the explicit message that being different is the worst thing that could happen to you. Kids these days don’t have it easy.

When people hit puberty, their bodies’ change, they understandably freak out. Loss of control surrounding your body’s appearance is startling. Never mind the whole host of new issues that arrive such as shaving or menstruation; being stigmatised early, combined with the implicit media-driven message that you need to be flawless effortlessly, really hurts the delicate mental health of young, developing minds.

You have to look perfect, but God forbid anyone knows you put effort into your appearance. This is hiding the fact that people have imperfections and are unique to each other. But sure, “maybe she’s born with it?”

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