Nothing says Athletics like a 4-year-old Putain
Late December means three things in Thai school; Christmas (more on that soon), New Year and ‘Sports Day’. Recently I was asked what thing has most shocked me about living in Thailand for the past nine months – well the answer has to be the Kindergarten sports day. It began with a parade around the school grounds which had been rehearsed the previous day and which I spent scampering about trying to photograph. I knew the girls would be dressed up; for whatever reason when it comes to special occasions Thai children, not adults, wear less clothing and more make-up than low-grade burlesque dancers. Short skirts, fishnet tights, false eyelashes, hair extensions and painted nails are all part of the routine for Thai children. Once they reach about 9 you can also throw stripper heels into the mix. I’ve seen this before and I’ll see it again many times no doubt but kindergarten sports day was the most extreme I’ve ever come across it.
What you must keep in mind when looking at these pictures is that this is not a beauty pageant or a dance recital or something extra-curricular that their parents are into – this is the Kindergarten highlight of the school year, endorsed by parents, teachers and directors alike, equivalent to our infant school play. What made this even more shocking than usual had to be the star of the school’s ‘Gangnam Style’ dancers – this little four year old named Tiny.
At one point she even had a leather whip to go with the outfit. Of course the irony of this is that no respectable Thai lady over the age of 13 would consider this appropriate dress for herself. The other irony is that, conversely to the west, asides from these ‘special occassions’, Thai girls do no wear any make-up or mildly revealing clothing until they are at least 16 years old and even then they ease into it slowly.
Whilst I’m not unaccustomed to seeing little girls dressed like this in Thailand I have to say that after a while on this occasion it started to really bother me. I barely recognised any of them despite having taught them for the whole year and worse still, whenever I pointed my camera at them, where I would normally get silly faces, massive smiles and peace signs, now I got attempted sultry centrefold poses. PSY’s Gangnam Style was played every 4 minutes and broken up with about 2 other songs on repeat including the ‘sexy girl’ song which involved the girls repeatedly popping their hips, pouting and shimmying to the lyric ‘I’m a sexy girl.’ Tiny danced like a pool girl in a 50 Cent video, copying the moves she must have seen on television and grinding her hips provocatively. I found it so uncomfortable I had to look away but it was worse for a male falang teacher I was standing with; she made eye-contact with him whilst doing her erotic podium dance and was evidently emulating sexy faces she’d seen on television. I’ve rarely seen him look so awkward. She can’t be blamed though; the crowd was loving it and cheering her on enthusiastically. Her mother could not have been prouder. There are some cultural differences which I don’t think I’ll ever understand.
Around about the time where I was starting to feel pretty depressed about the whole thing I bumped into Daisy – which made me feel even worse. Daisy is one of my favourites (not that I have favourites); a tiny little bundle of energy and cute as a button.
Daisy is fairly dark-skinned for a Thai girl, something considered unattractive over here in the land of skin-bleaching, and she’d been covered with so much white powder that her skin had taken on a ghastly ghoulish pallor, no doubt paving the way for a potential lifetime of feeling unattractive and inadequate about her looks. That was the last straw for me and I retreated to the quiet sanctuary of the library. The pictures to the sides are both Daisy.
Very few actual sporting activities took place and I only saw about three girls participating in any of them, they were more concerned with their hair and eyelashes. I was enormously grateful to bump into these three whilst making my exit; they cheered me up immensely by simply being silly and four.
Thankfully on Christmas day, which was a non-uniform day, all the little girls arrived in a variety of very pretty and age-appropriate party dresses and reaffirmed my faith in childhood.