Attention Moms: Think ‘Girls Gone Wild’ is Dying Out? Think Again (And What To Do)

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51WVRX4uHOL._SL500_AA300_Back in 2006, my husband bought me a fantastic book by Ariel Levy called, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.  In this book, Ariel explores the stratospheric rise in popularity of shows like “Girls Gone Wild” and our current sexual stereotypes of women.  But this book is more than just a rant.

It turns out that in order for shows like “Girls Gone Wild” to be successful, they need….well…girls.  They need girls to cooperate.  They need girls to willingly take off their shirts for the camera. Which they do.  But…why? 

Ariel goes on set with a “Girls Gone Wild” camera crew and finds that all it takes, in most cases, is the promise of a “Girls Gone Wild” baseball hat.  So yeah – something else must be going on.  Additionally, there’s been a rise in celebrity of porn stars.  Porn stars are getting their own TV shows, which is fine – they’re actresses, after all – but they’re also being interviewed in magazines for tips on sex.  Which strikes me as funny.  I mean….people know that porn is fake, right?  YES – porn is actual sex, but these women aren’t really having 12 orgasms in a row.  They are just pretending to.

Most upsetting, however, were the interviews Ariel did with current high school students – both boys and girls.  There was the usual stuff: girls wanting to be prettier, girls wanting to be thinner…but what struck me as new was the additional (self-imposed) “requirement” that girls now also be sexually sophisticated.  Not just active, mind you, but sophisticated. Sophisticated in a way that really isn’t achievable by anyone still in their teens.  So what Ariel found are high schools full of girls who look and act the part…but who still have no idea how to orgasm.  Bottom line? 

These girls aren’t enjoying sex.  Like porn stars, they are pretending.

And the boys?  While they certainly weren’t complaining, the one slightly refreshing part is that the boys interviewed by Ariel weren’t fooled, either.  They knew these girls weren’t behaving like this for the benefit of the boys – it was more about the competitiveness between girls.  The old game of “who’s more popular” has turned into “who’s sexier”.  And according to Ariel, their definition of “sexy” is pretty messed up.

But that was 2006.  Surely things have changed, right?

Earlier this month a Canadian magazine, Macleans, published a story called, Inside the Dangerously Empty Lives of Teenage Girls.  It was an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax PhD, author of Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge.  In this interview, Dr. Sax talks about the rise of anxiety and depression among teenage girls, which he believes is related to a new issue girls face today: “self-objectification”. 

Forty years ago, if you went into a department store and looked at
clothes for seven-year-olds, they’d be quite different than the clothes
on sale for 17-year-olds. Today there’s no longer any distinction; the
same short skirts are sold to girls in Grade 2 and girls in Grade 12.
T-shirts that say, “Yes, but not with you” are now sold to
eight-year-olds.

Girls understand what these T-shirts are about: pretending to be
sexually aware. We have girls who are now putting on a pretense of adult
sexuality that they couldn’t possibly feel, and the danger of putting
on a show is that you lose touch with your own sexuality.
[emphasis
mine]

Additionally, part of this “self-objectification” extends to the social media that we all know and love.  Young girls are spending time photo-shopping their pictures – taking out the zits, making themselves look a little bit thinner, etc.  The harm?  According to Dr. Sax, these girls are “essentially presenting themselves as a brand, trying to create a public persona, polishing an image of themselves that’s all surface: how you look and what you did yesterday, not who you are and what you want to be.”

It’s one thing for us, as adults, to remove a few wrinkles (which I’m not above doing) in order to put our best face out there for our old high school cronies to see, but for a 14-year-old, Dr. Sax says, it can be toxic.

It gets in the way of the real job of adolescence, which
is figuring out who you are, what you want, what is your heart’s
desire.

So what can moms do?  Both Ariel and Dr. Sax give us a few ideas.

In an interview Ariel did for NPR, she mentions that one of the best gifts her parents gave her was to never mention her looks.  They never told her that she was “such a pretty little girl”.  Instead, they told her she was smart, they told her she was clever.  I actually hate labels of any kind – even good labels are limiting – but I will admit that “What a pretty, pretty princess!!!” has rolled easily off my tongue on occasion.  But Ariel’s message is a good reminder: Every time I tell one of Raines’ little friends how pretty they look in that dress, I’m basically telling them (and anyone who is listening, including Raines) that it’s important to me that they are pretty. 

Which it isn’t. 

Dr. Sax, on the other hand, is very clear:  Children are not adults.  Not even 16-year-old children.  He warns parents against what he calls the “1980s mindset that you should give your child autonomy and independence”.  Yikes.  Being such a Free-Range Kid parent, this is hard for me to hear.  But he breaks it down thusly:

  1. Set limits  — EX:  Only 30 min of social media per school night
  2. Monitor — Dr. Sax wants you to monitor text messages, email, calls, websites visited…and here’s the kicker:  tell your child, and all of their friends that you are monitoring.  The goal isn’t to catch them in the act, the goal is prevention. (BTW – there’s software to help).
  3. No cell phones after bedtime.  He’s finding that a girl will get a text in the middle of the night, “Jason’s at a party with SUZIE!!”  Then the girl is texting back all night, upset, etc. etc.  Take the cell phone to bed with you.

Furthermore, Dr. Sax encourages parents to protect what he’s calling “middle childhood”, the period of time from 8 – 12 years of age.  This is the time of Harriet the Spy, Harry Potter, of Narnia chronicles.  This is the time to have kid-related adventures and develop “a sense of who they are as people without worrying about whether they’re hot.” 

For ideas on how to protect middle childhood, focus on kid-appropriate adventures.  Here are a few resources:

What do you think?  Are these recommendations right-on, or going overboard?  Each child is different, certainly, but I see the value in both Ariel’s and Dr. Sax’s recommendations.  And as I was thinking through these issues, a video of 7-year-olds at a dance competition – wearing lingerie and fishnet stockings – crossed my desk.

This seems like a far cry from protecting their middle childhood.

So…to my girlfriends with daughters:  Please understand if next time I see your daughter, I remark: “What a great princess costume!!  You are so creative to wear a tutu to the park!!”

Wow.  That’s a mouthful.  But hopefully worth it.

xo,

S

UPDATE on 5/23/10:  I received an email from Dr. Leonard Sax, who wrote a blog post in response to the “Pomona 5” (the video of little girls dancing above).  His response is both heart-breaking and challenging.  Read it here.