"Teen Mom" star Farrah Abraham proudly blogged about waxing and tweezing her 3-year-old daughter Sophia's eyebrows this week, readers wasted no time in online shaming her.
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"Are you developmentally challenged?" "This is sad!!!! She is a little girl!!!!" "You are insane," "That poor baby" and "Shame on you!!!!" were among the comments in response to Abraham's blog post on the social network, Sulia.
In it, the 20-year-old mom, who recently underwent $16,000 worth of plastic surgery to alter her breasts, chin and nose, wrote about how she decided to wax 3-year-old Sophia's "unibrow" because she felt bad for her. When Sophia protested mid-wax, Abraham finished the job by using tweezers on her sleeping child. "I feel like a good mom," she wrote. "Other moms tell me your ideas!"
And that's when the online browbeating began.
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"It's very easy to vilify this young mom, and what I think we might focus on instead is how to provide support to all moms about what's appropriate at different stages of development," Child Mind Institute psychologist Rachel Busman told Yahoo! Shine. "I understand a parent's desire to have their child look good and fit in. So I try to look at the best intentions."
On the other hand, she added, "There seems to be more of a focus on children's appearances at a younger and younger age, and I think that is concerning."
Busman also noted that Abraham is not an aesthetician, and that young Sophia's skin could have been burned by the wax. "It can be a painful experience," she said, "especially for a child who doesn't know what's happening."
Pageant mom Lisa VanHooser concurred, telling Yahoo! Shine."I've been a licensed cosmetologist for 8 years, and I've never waxed a 3-year-old." VanHooser, who co-owns, with her husband, the Alabama-based Tutu Glitz on Tour Pageant System, said the youngest girl she has waxed was a still-young 10. But, she added, "Sometimes people use eyebrow razors that are not harmful, and a much better alternative to waxing."
Such early-in-life beauty obsessions, experts told us, can cause plenty of negative repercussions.
One consequence is that it teaches young girls "to value themselves based on how they look instead of who they are," explained Diane Levin, early childhood education professor at Boston's Wheelock College and co-author of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and How Parents Can Protect Their Kids. "This plugs right into how young children think; they focus on what they can see and not what lies underneath."
Another problem, she added, is that, by waxing Sophia's eyebrows, Abraham is essentially saying to her daughter, "You're not pretty." In addition, the young mom is teaching her to blindly accept the popular culture's definition of what pretty is.
Levin says being taught to focus on beauty can lead to a lifetime of psychological and social problems. "If your mother values you based on how you look, then appearance becomes the focus of what you care about, instead of the emotional attachment," she explained. That, in turn, can cause an inability to understand how to have caring, connective relationships. "When children are objectified, it undermines the development of relationships and the ability to develop a positive self image."
Another possible effect can be something Levin calls "compassion deficit disorder," which is often a factor in "mean girl" playground situations. That's because, she explains, being taught that a particular appearance trumps all other qualities can push little ones to bully peers who don't measure up to their learned standards.
The other side of that is when a young child comes home upset about an aspect of his or her appearance, and wants to change it. In that case, both Levin and Busman agree that the best approach is to initiate a thoughtful discussion.
"Three-year-olds don't usually come home and say 'I have a uni-brow,' but older kids might," Busman said. "And we want to support them by helping them to make sense of their own feelings and to help them make an appropriate decision. I'm not the one who can say what that right decision is." It could actually be a perfect teaching moment, she says, "about really embracing kids and people who are different."
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