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A Bad Week For Body Image

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Folks down under have had quite a tumultuous week when it comes to issues of weight and women's body image. First, it was proposed that, as of mid-2008, plastic surgery and tanning beds will be off-limits for Queensland teens under the age of 18. That would mean no more sophomore year implants or nose jobs (this new rule would not prevent a teen from corrective surgery, however).

The Australian Society for Plastic Surgeons is all for the move, and some U.S. cosmetic surgeons are liking the idea, too. In an abcnews.com story, Atlanta plastic surgeon Dr. Brian Maloney said, "The percentage of teens having surgery is low; however, I fear television showing [young female celebrities] and their antics as well as others will have a tendency to increase the numbers. [We] have seen a boom of cosmetic procedures as a result of reality TV shows. It is unfortunate that a parent would consider letting a 16-year-old daughter have a breast augmentation."

(This move comes within a few days of the release of children's book My Beautiful Mommy. The pink cover features a little girl staring in amazement at her sparkly, tummy-trimmed, breast-enhanced mother, and includes dialogue such as:

Daughter: "Why are you going to look different?"
Mother: "Not just different, my dear -- prettier!")

Today, news from Australia has emerged highlighting the glaring issues facing young women, from Down Under to America, and their sense of self. Club 21 is an elite clique to which high school girls at St Patrick's College in Mackay, Queensland can belong - if they're willing to partake in a ranking system based on the philosophy "ugly girls need not apply." Members are ranked according to their weight, from one to 21. The number is displayed on each girl's wrist. The thinner the girl, the prettier and more popular she is assumed to be and the higher her rank.

I know what you're thinking - "Wait! High school girls rating each other and basing popularity on looks?! The next thing you'll now, the government is going to tell us the sun is a flaming ball of gasses high in the sky!" Hard to believe, but yes, it's true, and it makes me so, so sad. Simply belonging to a clique is no longer enough. Wearing jelly bracelets to signal to the boys which sex acts you're willing perform is passé. Now, girls are letting their peers marker a numerical rating on their wrists to tell the world (and when you're in high school, it seems that really is The World) how skinny/worthwhile they are.

I will say, when I was in 7th grade, I was a member of the coolest group of girls - Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer and Jessica. We ruled the school. They were all thin and cute and I was tall and big, having only recently been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I definitely felt oafish around them, even though I was sprouting up and my weight was spreading out. I wanted to be tiny like them.

One day, Jessica told Jennifer #1 that I had called her "a prostitute" in the locker room. (I maintain to this day that I did not - what 7th grader ever uses that kind of terminology?) No matter...I was ousted and spent months crying at home and sucking in my stomach as the Js' piercing glares threatened to, I believed at that time, render me terminally uncool and possibly lifeless.

Today, I am much prettier and more successful than any of them, so I think it all evened out in the end. (Note: Sarcasm).

But still, what an awful experience that was. Today's young girls not only have to brave dangerous Queen Bees and social circles based on weight, but elective cosmetic surgery is becoming as common a graduation present as a car. They're being introduced to thong underwear when they're barely out of diapers and plunging, padded bras before they hit double digits in years. And of course, they can wear these items while playing a rousing online game of Miss Bimbo.

I'm not a parent, but I'd love to hear from mothers and fathers of young girls - Would you give them a senior year rhinoplasty if they truly believed it will boost their self-esteem? What about liposuction? Are they allowed to wear thongs as early as they want? Have they come home crying from being taunted by some Heathers-esque clique leader? Are you and your daughters battling these demons...and if so, who is winning?

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