I can’t believe the things my 12-year-old daughter and her friends take for granted, from chai tea lattes to mascara. Not just mascara, tween girls have been sneaking that into school bathrooms since the 1950s. Today, our little beauty-conscious consumers have a mind-boggling array of applicators to choose from, depending on the desired outcome: be it natural, length, volume, curl, shape, color, or to double as retractable awnings. They don’t know how good they’ve got it, but at what cost?
Take the bra. Back when I was in school boobs were a constant source of shame and anxiety. Those who had them slouched and tried to avoid making any sudden movements. Those who didn’t felt harassed for being a carpenter’s dream—flat as a board and easy to nail. I’ve since come to realize bras are partly to blame. Our options were sorely inadequate. Not to mention we had to shop for them at department stores with the ambiance of a hospital ward; a stark contrast to places like Pink that cater to females’ budding sexuality and will throw in a pole as a bonus gift at checkout.
As a fairly well-endowed early developer, I can attest bras offered substantially less support. Back then the training bra was about as useful as clip-on earrings at a swim meet. For active girls, a sports bra meant you doubled up two bras and cinched the straps till your boobs aligned with your collarbones. Or there was the matronly type worn by our grandmothers, with names like Maidenform and Cross Your Heart. A reasonable alternative if you hoped to stow aboard an aircraft carrier disguised as its prow. But not today. Today girls have endless options: demi cup, full cup, push-up, strapless, racer back, sports bras that can be worn in place of a shirt. All feminine, flattering, supportive and stylish. But try finding one without even a hint of nipple-concealing padding and you’re in for a challenge.
Think about it. When’s the last time you saw a female display of nipple? At what point beyond the 80s did they become proprietary to plumbers and porn stars alone? I’m surprised this hasn’t been a source of contention amongst the Barbie bashers. So focused on her impossibly distorted dimensions giving our girls body issues, nobody took note of the growing trend of perfectly formed, Barbie-inspired generic breasts. Even today’s bathing suits all share secret compartments for padding. It’s somewhat maddening. On the one hand, it’s as though we’re shaming this universal symbol of life, the source by which every mammal feeds its young, into hiding. On the other, why the hell didn’t they come up with this design thirty years ago?!
My daughter is just 12, yet she wants to wax her eyebrows like some of her friends already do, and get eyelash extensions (as if 2000 mascara options aren’t enough). Other girls close in age, I’ve come aware, have gone so far as permanent hair removal on their nether regions, thus bypassing the countless hours of pain and suffering we had to endure over unsightly razor burn and the peeling apart of our butt cheeks after botched DIY waxing! Not to mention the money saved in studio fees, had they chosen the professional route. It all seems so superficial and over the top, though I’m trying to keep an open mind. While the mom in me wrings my hands, my inner girl cries, “I would’ve killed for that!”
In many ways our daughters are blessed. They will never know the stumbling blocks of a seriously unfortunate home perm, maxi pads that bunch to the size of elephant nuts, or subjecting their downy-haired shins to the ill-designed Flicker Women’s Shaver that could’ve doubled as a paper shredder. They’ll never need to rely on Kleenex as a bra stuffer, nor experience the intense competition of sun tanning to see who can pass for a Bain de Soleil ad by the end of summer. Manis and pedis? We did each other’s nails! Poorly. I remember when black polish became the rage—so daring, so punk!—and only took 15 coats. Extreme was getting two piercings in each ear, then wearing mismatched earrings.
Now polish comes in every shade imaginable, and once it’s on has to be melted off with an industrial heat gun. Menstrual pads are one-tenth the thickness and contoured for comfort, girls can show bra straps without being labeled a slut, wear temporary tattoos that don’t come from a Cracker Jack box, and sport cartilage piercings because, let’s face it, the minute soccer moms drove up in their mini vans with nose rings, the edginess pretty much pooled into putty and piercings in general became de rigueur.
A few weeks ago our washing machine broke, forcing me to excavate an old bra from the bottom of my underwear drawer. As soon as I pulled on my t-shirt my daughter, mortified, said, “Mom you can’t wear that.” Rather than a smooth perky half dome, I could see, plain as day, the natural slope of my breast. And, yes, nipple, happy to see me like an old school sweetheart. Now that’s, dare I say, retro.
About the author: Kim McGinty is a writer and mom based out of Santa Cruz, California. Unashamedly blogless yet trying desperately to make use of her Master’s in Creative Writing whenever time permits.