Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Greed-impaired World of Girls' Beauty Competitions.

What is scathingly wrong with the photo above?
Eden sang to her own kiddie-rap song “Cutie Patootie,’’ whose lyrics include references to “shakin’ her booty’’ and how she is all over the newspapers and the television screen. Whipping off a denim jacket during the performance, she twirled it above her head to reveal a two-piece, rhinestone-studded outfit to go with her cowboy hat, and smacked her backside for emphasis.
First hint: It accompanies a news item about Eden Wood and some of her 6-year old peers.

Second hint: The routines Wood and contestants in girls' beauty pageants chronicled by Toddlers & Tiaras are elaborated by adults, based on adult performances, judged by adults - and appeal to adult consumers' *appetites*.

Third hint: Though adults (parents, organizers, sponsors) involved in such events defend the hyper-sexualization of little girls by claiming the participants love all the attention they get, those who actually benefit financially from such displays are rarely the children.

Fourth hint: Try applying gender reversal to these activities. How would people respond to the hypersexualization of little boys, who arguably are as beautiful, adorable and appetizing as little girls are?

The Good Men Project, a loose network of men who challenge sexism and ideological assumptions that emprison men and women within gender-based caricatural behaviours and roles, has advanced some thoughtful ideas about this phenomenon.
Five-year-olds in princess costumes are cute. But the problem is that the compliments we give as fathers, uncles, and coaches have an impact on the self-esteem of little girls. As they grow up, they realize quickly (certainly by age 8 or 9) that Cinderella costumes won’t cut it anymore. If they want to sustain the same level of attention that they had when they were adorable first-graders, they’re going to need to employ a different strategy: sexiness. And that sexiness gets our attention all over again. [...]

[Girls' play-acting] sexiness has very little to do with sex, and everything to do with the craving for validation and attention. While all children want affirmation, princess culture teaches little girls to get that approval through their looks. Little girls learn quickly what “works” to elicit adoration from mom and dad, as well as from teachers, uncles, aunts, and other adults. Soon—much too soon—they notice that older girls and women get validation for a particular kind of dress, a particular kind of behavior. They watch their fathers’ eyes, they follow their uncles’ gaze. They listen to what these men they love say when they see “hot” young women on television or on the street. And they learn how to be from what they hear and see.
From here.

And if there were a remaining doubt that the increasingly competive environment of the fashion industry contributed to the hypersexualization of girls, this should dispel it. The blog Jezebel also provides valuable insights into this phenomenom.
Fashion images of girls years away from the age of consent who've been made by adult professionals to look "sexy" don't even register, to most people, as inappropriate — even though they obviously are, and even though the chances are that a successful 14-year-old model is working close to full-time hours with relatively little supervision (whereas most child models Thylane's age benefit from both a less all-encompassing work schedule and proper supervision). But then a magazine poses a 10-year-old in a similar kind of way to make a point about that very inappropriateness, and everyone is suddenly very concerned for The Children. The images are disturbing. They're meant to be. The point is that the practice they represent is disturbing, too.

But that Vogue Paris spread is not the photo spread that everyone has been criticizing. Child psychologists, journalists, fashion industry professionals, and bloggers have been drawing attention to the body of Thylane's work, not all of which is exactly age-appropriate. The Vogue Paris shots may be sensationalistic, but they're nowhere near as concerning as the topless shot of Thylane lying on a bed. Or that photo of Thylane posing, this time without any pants, on a (different) bed.
The line separating the hypersexualization of girls from child pornography has been blurred; adults are tampering with girls' sexual identity and expression for their own benefits, advantages and profits.

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