I was a 10-year-old proto-feminist

Okay, so I wasn’t. At all. But reading this post over at Shapely Prose reminded me of an experience of mine. I rarely write much about beauty standards, because I have a damn hard time keeping myself from saying “well, I look like this, and I feel…” and I never feel quite comfortable doing that.

I have, however, had countless arguments with my mother about my choices (or quase-choices) with respect to my personal appearance, from my lack of makeup to my weight (which has fluctuated significantly in the past few years due to periods of illness). And these arguments date right back to my childhood, which is why I was struck by that story in the linked post about a young girl being given growth hormones because it was what she wanted (said her parents).

My big flaw when I was a kid, apparently, was that I had ears that seriously stuck out. Like, seriously. Dumbo ears. That may not sound like a really big deal, but my parents (primarily my mom) decided that it was important enough for me to have surgery in order to correct the problem. So I, at ten years old, went under general anesthesia, spent three days in CHEO and wore bandages around my head for two weeks* in order to not have Dumbo ears. I still hate getting hair cuts because my ears don’t really move the way they should, so when hairdressers hit them with a brush, it hurts and I come out of there with a headache.

I actually said at the time that I didn’t want to do it–I remember already having the conscious thought that I shouldn’t be judged by what I looked like, though of course that was a completely substance free thought at the time. The point is, I was repeatedly told that I pretty much had to do it. The line was, over and over, “you’ll thank me when you’re 16″. The general assumption was that I would inevitably eventually care about beauty standards, so this surgery was saving me from myself.

The reason 16 was the age in the line was that, as I recall, this surgery was covered by OHIP for children up to the age of 16. That in itself strikes me as pretty messed up. Like somehow it’s not merely cosmetic if parents decide to do it on their children’s behalf, but it would be if I were older. Maybe there are other reasons for that, and additional medical conditions are associated with Dumbo ears that are not an issue beyond the age of 16, so there is some kind of logic to the Ontario government’s decisions as to what medical procedures are funded and for whom. I kind of doubt it, however.

I obviously wasn’t completely traumatized by this experience, and my residual anti-haircut feelings (while seriously annoying) are not on the level of what a kid who was put through growth hormones must experience, nor does this come with the insistence that I have to repeat the process (the way that kids/young teens pressured/forced into dieting would hear). But I think some of the elements raise some points that relate and/or piss me off. One is having decisions–big decisions–made for me on the assumption that I will/should want to conform to social norms of any kind later in life. I’m not sure a ten year old should be subjected to any kind of unnecessary surgery, because it’s scary and lonely and genuinely dangerous, but I wonder where we would draw the lines on that one–I mean, I also had braces, which were cosmetic, extremely expensive (not government-funded), and decided on my behalf by my parents, but I don’t tend to feel such a strong reaction when I think about that. And yes, I do know that ten year olds often genuinely don’t know what’s best for them, which is why we have parents, but this is pretty different, and what I find interesting about it is that the “you’ll thank me when you’re 16″ is the same kind of “appeal to future social normativity” argument that I still hear at (almost) 28. About how I’ll choose to wear makeup when I’m not already so young and smooth-skinned, among other things.

Apparently the “will conform to social beauty standards” by age 16 expiry date having past, we can just flip the date back.

*It’s interesting that the post at Shapely Prose is immediately preceded by spelling bee posts, because my big county spelling bee experience took place while I was wearing the aforementioned bandages…there are pictures of me with my spelling bee medal and taped-up head

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