Dressed in a slinky red evening gown with long blonde hair, lengthy dark eye-lashes, sultry eyes and immaculate make up, Sasha Bennington looks every bit the glamour model ready to strut down the catwalk or pose for a fashion magazine cover. But Sasha is eleven; strip away the makeup and the sexy clothes, she is a little girl lost.
Following on from Tuesday's 'Baby Beauty Queens' on 60 Minutes, last night 20/20 featured young Sasha and her family (from Manchester, UK). They were interviewed about Sasha’s “career” and their aspirations for her. It was a disturbing episode. With hundreds of dollars spent on her beauty regime every month, Sasha’s mother dreams of her daughter's future celebrity status – “I want Sasha to get every opportunity she can”. She seems to pay her daughter the ultimate compliment as she describes her looking “like one of those little Cindy dolls you play with”.
After Sasha's mother described her daughter as confident and talented, when asked to describe herself, Sasha says “Three words to describe myself? – pretty, blonde, dumb... I am stupid”, followed by inane laughing of mother and daughter. Sasha later points out that “I don’t need a brain”.
I acknowledge that such “current events” TV shows do often highlight the freaks and absurdities in our society, and I predict that the overwhelming majority of people who viewed this in NZ last night would share my views. Examples such as Sasha Bennington are the extreme: However, for many girls and young women growing up today, there is a similar pressure to achieve the looks and body of the models that surround us in magazines, TVs and billboards.
It seems in many circles, the backlash against beauty contests, begun by the feminists in the 70s has well and truly turned full-circle. With our society obsessed with reality TV shows, offering the average punter their chance of “fame” and “making it”, is it any wonder that we are now seeing a resurgence in the popularity of beauty contests? For parents, they are the ideal training ground for such shows as Next Top Model, Idol etc. Sasha's take on it: “Like, 20 years ago, people cared about careers and stuff, but now it’s what you look like”.
Such child beauty contests have not made it to NZ (that I am aware of), but a part of me thinks it is only a matter of time. I hope I am wrong.
In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart”. Child beauty pageants and all that surround them kill that light in the heart.
I was recently at a ‘style workshop’ and had been volunteered as one of the models to be 'made up' in front of an audience of business women – the goal was for me to be prepared (hair, makeup, clothes...) for a photographer to take some professional photos of me. I don’t consider myself very ‘stylish’ so it was a real treat!
The presenter discussed having professional photos taken and the process of getting ready for them. She then added that with the wonders of photoshop, anything that wasn’t perfect could be fixed up. Until that moment, I hadn't ever considered photoshopping my own image. It was something that was done to celebrities and models. As I sat on the stage and looked at my image in the mirror, I suddenly saw the bags under the eyes, the crooked eyebrow... Hmmmm.
The high-profile presenter was 50-ish, but joked that with the wonders of photoshop, she hadn’t really aged in the past 10 years and acknowledged that her publicity photos are a far cry from herself in ‘real life’. It got me thinking.
Do you have your image photoshopped? Why or why not?
(PS: I have not ever had photos of me digitally altered. The main photo on my homepage is me complete with my smile-lines, forehead-creases and spots. But these are what make me, me. I have a red spot above my left eye which appeared in the first month of my pregnancy with my son (which resembles a pimple permanently threatening to break out... charming). It bugged me at first and I was assured it was hormonal and would disappear after the birth. Three years on, it has shown no sign of departing: but I like it. It is another mark on the journey of my life.)
Rachel is a writer and educator whose fields of interest include sexuality education, gender, feminism and youth development.