Children’s Happiness and Ethnicity

There is an interesting article on childhood toxicity as a moral panic in the Observer. I appreciate that the journalist dismisses the connection between a ‘declining’ society and children’s happiness and brings attention to what I see as a much more immediate and manageable problem: a focus on appearance and perfection.

I was a chubby child, able to fit into the school’s chairs and uniforms but visibly different from the majority of my classmates, and this is without doubt the factor that had the biggest impact on my happiness levels in childhood. I was unfashionable, bad at sports and never did the celebrity crush thing, in part because I was very aware that such celebrities would always go for the slender blonde over me. I was lucky enough to have near-perfect health, a supportive family and positive reinforcement for achievements in other areas, but dissatisfaction with my appearance was the greatest source of unhappiness in my childhood.

And I am only now in my mid-twenties unravelling exactly how much of that dissatisfaction is also connected to my race. So I do not appreciate the journalist’s dismissal of race as a factor of unhappiness in British society today:

Tellingly or not, the new survey found that unhappiness about appearance was less pronounced among black and Asian children.

The Children’s Society cannot elaborate at this stage on what makes young white girls in particular become so exercised about their appearance, but their research conforms with mounting evidence that, in a post-feminist age, women have become more self-conscious about their looks, rather than less.

Issues with the phrase “post-feminist” aside, what she seems to be implying here is that because black and Asian children in Britain (I have no idea if that even includes the children of the 680,000 mixed race people in Britain, as “ethnicity: other” may have been the only option for this survey) are less unhappy than the unhappiest children in the Western world that they are more able to reject the media messages than white children.

No, Ms. Observer Journalist. The media has rejected us. That takes its own toll. You just aren’t interested in finding out what that is, and children have neither the self-awareness nor the context to put it into words. Not that this really matters; ‘mixed race’ is not exactly a group that people routinely attempt to survey, and is arguably not a group at all, as ‘mixed race’ effectively means ‘no one race’. Again, I am not a member of a category, but a non-category, and non-categories are, by definition, not representative of anything.

I understand that I live in a country in which the majority of people are white, and that attempts to ‘fix’ society will inevitably involve tackling problems that affect white people. Got it. But you know what? White girls aren’t the only ones trying to look like Cheryl Cole. They’re just the ones who stand a chance.

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Filed under ethnicity: other, let's blame the media, the personal is political

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