Back in the mid-2000’s when Hannah Montana began to air on the Disney network, I had the experience of channel surfing through the basic cable line-up. I was twenty years old, living with my boyfriend, and in college. Between classes I was going up and down the channels, and stopped suddenly. There was a girl, not more than thirteen years old, wearing a blond wig, in skin-tight garb and makeup, singing as hundreds of preteen girls screamed in the audience.
My first thought was, “What the fuck is this?”
I’m sure a lot of you have seen an episode of Hannah Montana. If I had happened upon the show during a scene in which she talks to her brother, or Lily, or just hanging out with her dad (who is creepy, can we just say that openly here?) maybe I wouldn’t have had the same reaction. But seeing my first glimpse of Miley, shaking her hips, her fake hair flying around her face, her clothes much too old for her left me flabbergasted.
Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez—they all grew up sexualized on television, and yet we somehow only object to their sexuality when they are of an age to own it. Is it from guilt that we never objected before? Was it okay for a fourteen year old Miley Cyrus to go on stage in a blonde wig and makeup and NOT okay for Miley Cyrus to be barely clothed with a teddy bear strapped to her back when she’s a legal adult?
I hope at this juncture your reaction is: “Both are kind of gross, Christy, but it’s more disgusting that she was hyper-sexualized to begin with.”
I grew up a few years younger than Britney Spears. Her first music video, “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” featured her in pigtails with a bare mid-drift, prancing around her school, a perfect reenactment of some pedophiles sex dream. Why is she allowed to prance around thusly? We could say that it’s all a fantasy, but then, why is HER 16-year-old fantasy to be that sexualized? The camera zooms up from her frilly-laced socks, up her exposed legs, and stops at her biting her pencil and staring at the clock. Shouldn’t she be fantasizing about a guy (or girl) gyrating around? And she’s obviously intelligent—she’s finished her test and has time to eat her eraser and dream up a dance sequence. Maybe her dream is to be an archeologist, a cave spelunker, a freaking dentist. (Commence with the fetishizing of those professions and I’ll see you next paragraph)
So what is it, society? Are teenage girls okay to ogle at as long as we pretend they aren’t sexualized? As soon as the object of our young girl fantasy is old enough to tell you “no” she is instantly sexualizing herself? When did it become her idea? How are we to know that the make-believe Britney that danced around in “Hit Me Baby” enjoyed what she was doing? Because she smiled? Because she’s in school, and school’s for cutting and being looked at inappropriately?
I’m not trying to say that I like what grown-up pop stars have done with themselves, or that they have no control over themselves because they’ve always been sexualized. I’m saying that, regardless of what Miley’s motive is, or any of the others, what is poignant is that she is an adult now, not controlled (or less controlled) by managers, greedy fathers, publicists, and whoever else is trying to make a buck by exploiting teenage girls. The girls are now women, and they are no longer packaged. They’re just women. And as fun as it is to watch someone self-destruct (bald-Britney, Amanda Bynes) don’t judge them like you didn’t see it coming, like it wasn’t a natural progression. Did you think they would grow up to be rocket scientists? That they would cure cancer, learn the secrets of sub-atomic particles, or build monuments with nothing but a pick-axe and a block of ice? Did you think about their futures at all?
Maybe I have high standards. How many people think of their own futures, let alone those of the people they watch on television? The people on television are a diversion from whatever we don’t want to face in life. I get it. I’m as guilty as the rest.
But not as guilty as Disney, who has done the same thing to dozens of girls.
Seriously, Disney. WTF?