While ads make parents obsess about hygiene, kids learn to hate their own bodies


I got really cross after reading a batch of press releases out this week. One, issued by a manufacturer of office cleaning products, listed a variety of dirty habits that are “annoying the UK’s mums”. These include not washing hands after going to the toilet, leaving toe nail clippings in the lounge, picking feet, kissing pets and taking cookery books and laptops into the toilet.

Apparently more than a quarter of mums said their children had had a mystery sickness recently, thanks to poor personal hygiene – oh, and not cleaning their computer equipment.

This makes me mad for two reasons. One, using guilt to make people buy stuff (“you bad parent, your kids are getting sick, and all cos you’re too mean to buy our product and too lazy to clean properly!”).
And two, demonising the mums. Why is this all about women? Where the hell are the dads? Why aren’t they being encouraged to take some responsibility for the family’s welfare and worry themselves into a panic over toe nail clippings and dirty keyboards and whether little Johnny’s got the squits?

The poor cows questioned in the poll admitted the main reason why they are “not more hygienic” is lack of time to clean due to work commitments and caring for their children. Come now, ladies, don’t forget the chaps let you have the vote and all that – now stop making excuses about having to work 20 hours a day to pay the mortgage and bring up a family – do your bit and get on with the cleaning.

Meanwhile, a press release from a manufacturer of power tools says 45% of parents spend less than five hours a week playing and bonding with their children. This means not enough time to teach the kids the DIY skills they’ll need to put up shelves and things when they grow up.

Of course parents haven’t got time to play with their children and teach them life skills; scare stories about e.coli have put the willies up them to such an extent that they’re too busy buying cleaning products and scrubbing computer keyboards – which is exactly what manufacturers of cleaning products, though clearly not of power tools, want.

Meanwhile, according to a cosmetic surgery company, a quarter of women first considered plastic surgery when they were between the ages of 10 and 15.

Don’t even start me on dodgy research: the women polled were “asked at what age they first considered cosmetic surgery”, the assumption being that they all had! So we’re led to believe that a quarter of all women had considered surgery as children, whereas the truth is probably that a quarter of all those who had considered surgery had first done so as children. The difference is important and potentially statistically significant. It makes me so cross to see imprecise research because it makes the resulting statistics misleading or even meaningless.

Anyway, that’s by the by. The gist of the research, that some children are so uneasy about their bodies that they think about plastic surgery, is shocking. Even the company involved admits as much. Could this trend be related in any way to the fact that these poor kids are left in front of the TV, soaking up the insidious messages of the adverts telling them they should be more beautiful, while their parents are working all the hours and are too busy worrying about whether they’re hygienic enough, to actually talk to their children?

Perhaps while the mums are cleaning the family’s mobile phones and doing the DIY, the dads could be encouraging children to critically analyse the vile marketing messages that are damaging their self-worth to the extent that they want to surgically alter their bodies when they get older.

Pic credit: Scottchan, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1701

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