Do you think young people are under pressure to look the most beautiful, have the best figure or wear branded clothes?
The discussion that followed was lively and consumed much of the time set aside for the class. Finally, there was a need to draw a line and move on to the next question. “Please write down your own answer; we can return to the subject”.
There had been snide remarks in the class about people who wore things that weren’t the ‘real’ make. A twelve year old boy spoke up with heroic individualism, “These sandals cost €12 in Dunnes Stores at the beginning of the summer; they have lasted longer than some people’s labels”.
Reading the written answers was both depressing and encouraging. The girls’ answers were typified by:
“Yep, because otherwise they look stupid”.
“Kind of, some people like to look the best and others don’t care”
“Yes. I think that people want to wear the stuff they see on TV”.
“For teenagers, yes, they have to wear the latest fashion”.
“Looking like the models in the magazines is what teenagers think they have to look like”
“People think that everybody loves celebrities and that if they dress like them people will like them
“To look good. Not to show up in something a bit ‘out there’ or something like ‘two weeks ago’
The last comment was presumably written in seriousness but sounded like something said by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly.
A few of the girls dissented, one did so in clear terms:
I think people are under pressure to look like models and celebrities, to look too thin and fake. People feel to be liked you have to wear what’s in, be the skinniest, most tanned, have designer labels, lots of money and throw the best parties.
Amongst the boys, there was hardly one who said they felt under pressure. One said that because someone got a new football shirt, it didn’t make him feel that he had to have one, another said that he only cared what he looked like if he looked ‘goofy’.
Eleven and twelve year olds cannot answer the fundamental questions about a society that allows children to be bullied for what they wear, or that provides them with role models that reduce life to no more than the consumption of goods.
After seven years of education in a church school, it might have been expected that the answers would have been different. It might have been reasonable to assume that no-one would have said young people ‘look stupid’ if they do not wear labels, but the church doesn’t tread on difficult ground.
Some subjects are taboo, they are ‘political’, asking about the power of advertising and protesting at the manipulation of young people is not something with which the bishops would become involved. Much safer to stay on traditional ecclesiastical subjects than treat children with the respect Jesus showed them.