Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Cerrie Burnell's Arm
The BBC recently introduced new presenters on their popular children's show, CBeebies: Alex Winters and Cerrie Burnell. They're pictured at left, in a publicity still. Both young, white, conventionally attractive, with big grins for the camera. They're dressed in kid-friendly purple and green sweaters, sitting on a comfy couch with satiny pillows. And Cerrie has a noticeably short arm, ending just below the elbow.
Well, that last detail of the picture is apparently a problem for some parents. They say her appearance is "unsuitable" for a children's show, that the sight of her will "scare" children, even to the point of giving them nightmares. Complaints have been filed. Message boards on the subject brim with panic and ignorance. And it is the parents' problem, not the kids' concern: as Lucy Mangan writes about physical difference in a Guardian editorial on the subject, "To a young child, it is just another element of a large and confusing world that they want to inquire about, no more fearsome or embarrassing than any other."
So, of course kids are going to ask, that's what they do--and they're going to take their cues from how their parents answer those questions. Not just the words, either, but the tone, the body language--I posted some tips here a few years ago.
And think about this--if you're telling your children this lovely young woman is too frightful to behold, what are you telling them more generally about beauty? about perfection? What kind of impossible box are you asking them to fit into, and stay inside, for your approval?