Taming Tween Divas

Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.

Georgie loves looking through fashion magazines and can’t pass a mirror without checking to see if she’s put on weight. She’s got 20 kinds of lip gloss and a closet chock full of expensive clothes, shoes, and handbags. In fact, she’s already saving up for enhancement surgery, reports Diana Appleyard of the Daily Mail.

But here’s the catch: Georgie is just 10 years old.

Newsweek calls girls like Georgie “Generation Diva.” They are tween girls who are becoming obsessed with hair, make-up, clothing, and body image at earlier and earlier ages. “Forget having mom trim your bangs, fourth graders are in the market for lush $50 haircuts,” writes Newsweek columnist Jessica Bennett.

Once they hit high school, $150 highlights will be the norm. Meanwhile, Bennett writes, “five year olds have spa days and pedicure parties.” And teens “get laser hair removal, the most common cosmetic procedure of that age group.”

According to market research, if the trends continue, by the time today’s 10-year-old turns 50, she’ll have spent almost $450,000 on hair, makeup, elective surgeries, manicures, and pedicures.

Even the recession doesn’t seem to be dampening Generation Diva’s spending very much. A recent survey commissioned by Seventeen Magazine found teen spending habits virtually unchanged by the downturn. Almost 75 percent reported that they would spend the same or more this year on cosmetics, clothing, hair products, or skin care.

While makeover shows, reality TV, and Madison Avenue exacerbate the trend, tween excess may find its roots in parental over-indulgence. Susan Thomas of MSNBC, writing of a similar phenomenon, notes that today’s Gen X parents were themselves raised on the self-esteem movement.

For all the “you’re special” indoctrination, half came from broken homes, and 40 percent were latchkey kids—leading experts to call them “the least nurtured children in American history.” Now, as Gen X parents nurse their own childhood wounds, they want to see that their kids don’t lack anything. Enter stage left the Tween Diva.

Whatever its roots, the trend points to the fact that we moderns have forgotten one of the cardinal virtues: temperance. The word “temperance” sounds quaint and antique today. C.S. Lewis lamented in Mere Christianity that the term has come to be associated merely with teetotaling. But temperance really means moderation or self-restraint. And it’s a virtue that relates to every area of our lives.

Lewis explained, “A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as ‘intemperate’ as someone who gets drunk every evening.”

The main difference, wrote Lewis, is that “bridge-mania or golf-mania do not make you fall down in the middle of the road.” In other words, they may not be so outwardly obvious. Still, such intemperance isn’t hidden from God’s sight.

As our young girls grow into young ladies, it’s not that we should aim to teach them that caring for the outer appearance is wrong. We should, however, be modeling by our own temperate lifestyles that any good thing can become an idol if carried to excess.

Whether it’s handbags, golf games, or lip gloss, that’s one lesson we never outgrow.

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