Raising Media Savvy Girls: Tween Celeb Sexualization


There was a pattern I watched develop when my daughter was young. She would watch the Disney child celebs and various recording artists who catered to the Radio Disney crowd and I was fine with it. But, in a couple years’ time I found myself having to put the kibosh on what she was listening to or watching from that celeb. We live in a voyeuristic society which seems to feed on the youth of it’s film and tv “icons.” It also, seemingly, feeds on the sexualization of those youths as they become women. Heck, the celebs themselves put their sexual exploration on display as they attempt to move from “child actor” to “serious adult actor.” It’s quite deliberate actually if you look at men’s magazines like Maxim and listen to the gossip sheet chatter about “leaked” nude cellphone pics and sex tapes. It’s “good PR” and helps them to be taken seriously by directors for roles which may get a PG13 rating or better. While that’s all well and good for those celebs, it wreaks havoc on those of us who are trying to raise emotionally healthy girls.

One shining example of dealing with child stars turned train wrecks is of course Britney Spears. I use this example because this was the first one my daughter was exposed to and we discussed. When my daughter first began listening to her music, I was less than thrilled by her being “not that innocent.” As BritBrit continued to release albums, I had to say no to her music for my tween. “I’m a slave for you” just didn’t work for me and the videos became increasingly sexual. There have been numerous “celebs” rise to fame that we’ve had to dissect together. There were the Vanessa Hudgens nude cellphone pics, there was A Night In Paris and the Kim Kardashian and Ray J sex tapes. Rihanna had nude cellphone pics, as well as some gal who was part of one of P. Diddy’s girl groups. Kids talk, so even if you keep these things off your computer and off your tv, your kids will find out about them. Other children with cellphones will try to show your children these pics and vids and that’s why it is incumbent upon us as parents to be deliberate about unpacking what this celeb sexualization is really about and explaining that to girls and boys who may be influenced by it.

How do we do this and what does that look like? What I’ve done at various stages is speak to my daughter about what she’s seeing take place, speaking with her very candidly about what she’s hearing. I’ve spoken to her about these celebs becoming women and wanting to be sexy and how the world watches that and puts it on public display. I’ve made it a point to talk to her about how that’s a media phenomenon and not something that works in “real life.” Girls who share their sexuality like that are labeled “easy” or sluts in school. Very few girls want to be like the girl that the whole football team has run through unless it’s glamorized on tv somehow. When Kim Kardashian came on the scene I explained to my daughter that she wasn’t really a celeb in my eyes. I would ask my daughter what talent Kim had? When she couldn’t answer, I would tell her that the reason that Ms. Kardashian was in the limelight was that she made a porno. Essentially, she’s a porn star who took her 15 minutes of fame and made a career and while that may work for her (depending on how you define “work”), that doesn’t work for girls in general. “Having a teenage boy leak a video you made with him won’t make you popular except with the boys who want a quick piece of tail,” I would tell my daughter. And I’d follow that up by asking here why she wanted a boy to like her. Does she just want to be an object, a plaything or does she want to be liked because she’s funny, or because she has interesting things to say? Part of this is explaining to her how many men look at women in terms that would make me, a very protective father uncomfortable. But I know that if I’m not real with her, I’m ultimately crippling her and forcing her to get her reality somewhere else. And that somewhere else may not have the best intentions. I’ve also been very honest and have told my daughter that these celebs are very smart from a business perspective – or have some very savvy people around them – and that is a talent in and of itself, but have made it a point to ask her if that’s how she wants to become known. Do you want fame so bad that you’re willing to literally do whatever it takes to get it, or do you have boundaries?

Look, this isn’t about judging these persons hearts, but judging and analyzing what they’re doing is absolutely the point! We can all walk around talking about live and let live and “whatever works for you is just dandy as long as it hurts no one,” but the reality is that it does hurt someone. It can hurt our daughters if we don’t take the time to unpack the culture for them when they’re young. I don’t know about you, but my highest aspirations for my daughter aren’t a sex video with a C list celeb so that she can become popular in men’s magazines and go on to have her inebriated exploits broadcast to the world on a “reality” show. I’m jussayin…