(Child) Model Behaviour

Not many people name a daughter Cassandra, Columbine, Cressida, Callianne, or Chrysteelee, Cherubine, or any other three-syllable name for nothing.

The chances are that this poor, defenceless baby is destined for great things – and, in the minds of some, this amounts to sauntering along the catwalk before she is even potty-trained.

A fairly innocuous article in the Times of Malta, in which Children’s Commissioner Helen D’Amato was quoted as saying this kind of event ought to be curtailed, set off a veritable avalanche of observations on a good couple of facebook walls when some of us posted the link to the said article.

It suddenly occurred to me that not one of the remarks I was reading was in favour of these mini-cattle shows, and most of the reactions obtaining kept cropping up, again and again, by different people on different threads. Some of them of course, cannot be repeated here, both because of the sentiments and the vulgar language used, which emulated what the Book of Proverbs describes as “the piercings of a sword”, albeit in a different context.

About the only good thing I can say about child modelling contests in Malta is that the doting parents do not spend as much boodle as their Toddlers and Tiaras (and Tantrums!) American Mom counterparts do. But of course, that is relative, for things tend to be less expensive here, so even this does not really count.

There appears to be a trend for double-income couples to have just one child, for myriad reasons. They think this will fob off nosey people who hint at fertility problems (but these same people will ask when the next one is due, anyway); it lessens the problems associated with baby-sitting – but most of all, it allows the child to become “an investment”, basking in all the attention that does not have to be shared with siblings. It is a pity that this translates into such banal, puerile behaviours, rather than seeking to make the child the best person he can be without filling his mind with sawdust. Boys, alas, are not immune to this attitude. These end up with weird haircuts, dyed manes, and perhaps an earring or two.

It is a paedophile’s instant gratification dream to be able to pore and paw over photographs of children dressed to thrill. Slathered in make-up and body glitter, and loaded with acrylic falsies and hair extensions, these children are their equivalent of Meals on Wheels. All-over real or spray tans appear to be quite popular, too. Seamstresses have been known to rip off designer gowns for their young clients, and some parents will even wax their pre-pubescent girls’ arm and leg hair because “it is unseemly”. For the same reason, perfect teeth are checked every week lest braces suddenly become necessary.

According to quite a few respondents, child models are “virtual prostitutes”, and the whole shebang is “child abuse”.

This, of course, says nothing of the intense coaching sessions; how to pose, how to walk, how to talk, and how to sashay in a manner that would leave Naomi Campbell aghast with envy.

Suggest to any doting parent that she is acting vicariously, and she will insist you look at her child, and admit that she is so beautiful that she just deserves to be held up to public adoration. And don’t the low-lights bring out the golden flecks in her eyes a treat? Music, sports, or drama are mere adjuncts to this primary obsession. Academic excellence is optional – but of course, desirable, so that the child will then be touted as an “all-rounder”.

Anorexia? Oh, not my kid; she’s on a calorie-controlled diet. Bulimia? Oh, not my kid; I watch over her all the time. Bullying? Oh, not my kid; her peers know I watch her like a hawk… or should I say tiger? Won’t you just look at her portfolio? Have you ever seen such poise, such charm, such exquisite gorgeousness…?

Spare me the claptrap about how these contests allow a child to develop self-confidence. It may be true for the one that is placed first – but the rest are sometimes punished by their parents (I know what I am saying!) because they were not up to scratch on the night.

And when the winner is chosen partly by televoting, most of us get umpteen SMSs to vote for (different) children, sent by friends-of-friends-of-friends of contestants.

My friend Angela, a wise woman, puts it all into perspective. She says it is part of a larger trend, where hurry, hurry, hurry (in this case the move towards growing up) is the name of the game. Like psychologist David Elkind, she believes that there was once a time when decisions that pertained to a family’s well-being were taken with the children first and foremost in mind. Nowadays, a family is more “about” the adults; and they will brook no argument if they think their child “must” do this or that. Angela says that it is time to get our priorities right, and reclaim childhood for the children.

Most parents complain that these days, children are not allowed to be children because they have “too much homework” or because “they would rather sit at their p.c. instead of running about outside”.

But it seems that there is a minority of parents that does not mind seeing their offspring’s childhood gobbled up in this puerile pursuit of pseudo-excellence.

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