This week, in an era in which the 24-hours-news culture hangs on to any controversy like a dog with a bone, no matter how trivial, a photo shoot by teen singer and actress Miley Cyrus for Vanity Fair has taken center stage. Miley is 15, and the photos, by Annie Liebovitz, are considered, by some, to be highly sexual and inappropriate. Cyrus, certainly cognizant that her main employer, Disney, wouldn't be happy about alienating the parents of her fans, has expressed regret about the photos.
In the grand scheme of things, the photos are not very racy. She appears to be wearing nothing but a blanket from above the waist, but in this day and age that's not a lot of bare skin, even for a fifteen-year-old. The way she has been styled, though, does give her that "rode hard and put up wet" look. If I were her father I probably wouldn't have approved it.
But this tempest in a teapot brings up a larger issue, which I think is not trivial: the increasing sexual objectification of young girls. To start with, it should be noted that this is nothing new. Coincidentally I am currently reading a new book about teen model Evelyn Nesbit, who was wooed by captains of industry at the ripe age of sixteen back at the turn of the twentieth century, and it wasn't new then. It wasn't until maybe fifty or sixty years ago that girls of Miley's age could be wives in rural areas of this nation without too much controversy, and that is still the case in many cultures around the world. Nature makes the female of the species sexually mature far earlier than it makes them emotionally mature, and this has created tension since the beginning. When, during the Victorian era, children began to be seen as something other than just small adults, attitudes changed. Child labor laws were enacted and over time it has been accepted that just because a girl menstruates doesn't mean she is ready to be sexually active.
But even though there is nothing new under the sun in this area, I think girls are pressured these days to grow up too fast. I have no idea what it's like to be a teenager today--I was a teen in the 1970s, when there was no Internet and no cable TV. Sexual adventurism for me was sneaking looks at my dad's Playboys and coming across smutty passages in novels. Everything I learned about sex came from letters in Penthouse magazine (which is why it's so ironic I ended up writing them for a living). I didn't see an R-rated film until we got HBO when I was sixteen (ah, Going Places, a film I will always have a soft spot for).
Today it's a different world. When some bluenoses claim that the Internet is just a pipe that allows sewage into their homes, well, they're kind of right. It's not hard for a kid to find porn or, for that matter, racist, violent or otherwise disturbing material. Advertising has lowered its standards considerably. When I was a little kid, bra commercials had to use mannequins. Compare that to the Victoria's Secret commercials of today. I shake my head in wonderment when seeing girls no more than thirteen at the mall, wearing sweatpants that have the word "Juicy" written across the ass. There's a line of t-shirts that says "Porn Star" across the chest. Would any parent really allow a young girl to wear that?
Meanwhile, girls don't exactly have great role models. High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens has had naked pictures leaked to the world, Jamie Lynn Spears gets knocked up at 16. News reports say that sexual activity is common among girls as young as twelve and thirteen. And fifteen-year-old pop stars are displayed as if they were sex hungry minxes in national magazines.
If you've read this blog regularly you know that I am no prude--I'm for complete sexual freedom, let it all hang out, as long as it doesn't hurt it anybody. But when it comes to kids I think lines need to be drawn. Children should be allowed to be children, and not encouraged to become sexual beings before they are ready. How can this be stopped? Short of turning this country over to the Christian taliban, it can't, at least not by legislation. It's up to wise and vigilant parenting. I hope, for these girls sake, there's that plenty of that to go around.