“I have often been asked why, as a man, I create films that empower and focus on women. Frankly, I wasn’t always aware of the myriad societal forces women had to wrestle with from a young age. To paraphrase feminist activist Gail Dines, women are aware from adolescence that they have two options: either be sexually desirable or be invisible.
The first two films from the America the Beautiful documentary series touch on the ideas of beauty politics, eating disorders, media influence, and gender dynamics. But America the Beautiful III: The Sexualization of Our Youth is by far the most personal of my documentary films.
The third installment of America the Beautiful explores the sexualization of our youth and its harrowing consequences as adolescents grow into adulthood. When you look at the current hysteria surrounding the photograph of Kim Kardashian’s behind, it’s obvious that there’s a dark underbelly leading us to question our cultural landscape.”
This is an excerpt from an article by Darryl Roberts on the website the Daily Beast. It discusses what parents currently think, what parents can do and what they are doing to combat the ability of media to influence their child and how their child reacts to those influences.
Obviously teenagers will be curious sexually and sometimes about their own sexuality. The message being sent by the media and their peers is often a disturbing one, a hypersexual and oversexualized idea of what society and culture consider appropriate behaviour. Girls especially feel defined by their sexuality or feel pressured to mimic what they see and hear. It can also have an impact on their self-esteem and self-worth if they feel they don’t measure up to what they view as normal body proportions.
Pornography is one way in which teenagers get a distorted view of what sexuality is and how they should expect sexual experimentation to go, without realising the highly fictionalized and unrealistic behaviours demonstrated in pornography.
Beauty pageants, where parents often live vicariously through their children, is another example of oversexualizing children. Many parents, however, see no issue with dressing their young daughter up as a tiny version of Miley Cyrus. How they miss the implications, who knows.
Is there a solution to this issue? The article argues that the solution lies in parents and I would argue it also lies with educators. Adults need to be there to explain what is fictionalized or unrealistic. They need to be there to explain that being beautiful is not the only job of a young woman. They need to explain that beauty is individual, not just about looks, and certainly not limited to being drastically underweight. They need to be there to recognize the signs of a child or teenager suffering from low self-esteem or eating disorders and get treatment promptly.