Society The toys, the ads and the reality shows are turning children into consumers of beauty products. Serish Nanisetti follows the marketeers tricks
Maska maska chikatilo…’
The husky risqué voice rises in crescendo and a young girl perhaps 10 or twelve wearing a heavily embroidered —mirror worked bustier, short skirt and her midriff bare, taps her right foot, makes faces and dances. Her mother sitting in the audience sits proudly and watches as three judges sit and evaluate the girl’s performance on the strobe-lit dance floor. This is one of the dance shows on a Telugu channel that keeps young girls engrossed. Interspersed during the ad breaks are advertisements of girls whispering to their mothers or mothers whispering about saving a penny or two for a particular brand sanitary pad.
You may think Popeye- The Sailor is about the spinach chomping sailor. But there is an undercurrent of sexuality that runs through it. It is about the men fighting for Olive Oyl. Listen to the Hindi or Telugu version on the Cartoon Network and you will be left wondering whether the fare is for children or adults.
While the mandarins of morals and ministers work themselves into a tizzy about sex education in schools, bar girls and cheerleaders, the marketeers are successfully going about their task of doing just that albeit with a twist; i.e. “sexualisation of tween girls aged between 8 and 12.” This is the conclusion drawn by Gigi Durham in her The Lolita Effect written after a 13-year study in the U.S.
“A lot of very sexual products are being marketed to very young kids. I’m criticising the unhealthy and damaging representations of girls’ sexuality, and how the media present girls’ sexuality in a way that’s tied to their profit motives.
“The body ideals presented in the media are virtually impossible to attain, but girls don’t always realise that, and they’ll buy an awful lot of products to try to achieve those bodies. There’s endless consumerism built around that,” she has been quoted as saying.
“Maa”, is no longer a moviedom’s cliché. It is used to sell coconut hair oil, or the lice killer formulation that keeps the daughter’s tresses long and shiny. It isn’t enough to drink a cappuccino but you need to have that brown moustache and be admired by the boys.
“It is very tough being a teenager today. TV erodes the young person’s self-confidence. I had this girl who was good at whatever she did but was obsessed with her hair fall. She would imagine that the whole world is watching her head only,” says Aruna Ranadhir who counsels as well as trains psychology counsellors. “Only if parents, teachers and the extended family reinforce their self-esteem we can break this trap. Most young girls end up feeling low and wanting something that is physically unattainable. Continuous exposure to TV can create hard to break stereotypes,” she says.
Cheerleaders are another gauntlet thrown at the really young ones. At one level cheerleading is a play with latent and potent libido of the older folks, but for young girls it is a harmless pursuit turning them into unwitting sex objects. For them it is about being pretty, fair skin, rouged cheeks, pouting lips, flouncy colourful clothes and be the centre of attention the continuum of the message to be fair and desirable is a perfect marketing formula.
The same obsession with the body and appearance is pursued. It isn’t enough that the U-12 dance show children dance well, the blokes sitting as judges pass comments about the teeth, the hairstyle and toning of the body.
Children no longer aspire to be clowns like Tom Sawyer when the circus is in town, they want to be sexy like the dancer on the floor, have a body and clothes to match. Then there will be advertisements about how to go about acquiring it. The sexualisation message is complete.The five myths n If you’ve got it, flaunt it. n How to achieve the anatomy of a sex goddess. n Pretty babies. n Sexual violence. Girls don’t choose boys; boys choose girls — and only hot girls.