I grew up in the age of ready-to-please genies in bottles, songs celebrating the tiny strip of fabric known as the thong, and not-that-innocent teen sensations in red leather jumpsuits. Yes, the 90s and early 2000s were rich with the sexualization of the female body. (Note: I do not mean to discount any other decade that may also have experienced its own Britney-esque sexplosion in its time, I merely wish to reminisce my own experiences.) I remember mothers banning together to protest Britney Spears and whatever image she was projecting in this week's music video.
No longer were little girls allowed to wear plaid pleated skirts and white button-up shirts for fear
that they would roll up the blouse to reveal their stomachs and start dancing in the hallways in an attempt to emulate Ms. Spears' naughty-school-girl
persona. Whether the celebrities themselves are women living under the guise of "celebrating their sexuality
" or some third party orchestrates this objectification is irrelevant because the result is the same: we are bombarded on a daily basis with thousands of media images of half-naked women in every suggestive pose and context imaginable.
And so ends my walk down memory lane. With "Oops!...I Did it Again" firmly planted in my mind, I fast forward to the present. The cast of "Glee" has once again generated a major controversy. Featured in this month's issue of GQ are three of the cast members who participated in a risqué photo shoot for the popular men's magazine. Channeling the aura of Britney Spears in her "Baby One More Time" days, Lea Michele, clad only in underwear and a thin shirt, stands near a locker, an innuendo-filled lollipop in her mouth, while Diana Agron poses with pompoms overhead, skirt hiked up to reveal quite a bit of thigh.
Many parents, like The View's Sherri Shepherd, find the spread distasteful, appalling, and all-around inappropriate. She revealed in Thursday's "Hot Topics" segment that she feels that "Glee," because it markets itself toward a teenaged audience, has a social responsibility to promote a more wholesome image than the one created for GQ. However, where does the character end and the actor begin? These actors should be allowed to cultivate whatever image they choose because it is their careers at stake. They are old enough to understand that posing in a men's magazine like GQ may offend some "Gleeks," and they are completely within their rights to do so.
If parents are concerned that their children will see these photos and attempt to emulate their favorite TV characters, they are overlooking three very important issues. First of all, have those parents who oppose the GQ photos even seen the show? In the Britney Spears episode, for example, Rachel finds that she can gain popularity among her peers simply by donning provocative clothing that leaves precious little to the imagination. She eventually trades this new look for her trademark kitty sweaters and tights, but only at the request of her boyfriend. Is this message of a woman using her body to attain power, and then giving it up to please her man any less detrimental to the teenage girl psyche than a photo with a sucker?
Secondly, children are not as naïve as many parents make them out to be. A ten-year-old girl knows, for example, that the actress who plays Rachel Berry is older than she is. Moreover, she knows that what is appropriate for a twenty-something actress is not necessarily appropriate for her. Children undoubtedly idolize their favorite actors and characters, but this does not mean that they emulate their every move with no filter. Assuming these photos will prompt young girls to romp around in libraries with their skirts above their heads gives these girls absolutely no credit in terms of their ability to take in a media artifact without living it.
Lastly, we have to acknowledge just how many images like the ones in GQ we witness every day. Victoria's Secret commercials featuring emaciated models strut across our TV screens in lingerie. Music videos continue to depict racier and racier situations (like seventeen-year-old girls making out with other girls in cages). People like me who have grown up surrounded by these provocative messages are completely unaffected by them. We are no longer phased by images like these, no matter how scandalous they are meant to be. Despite what angry parents intent on chastising any questionable ad campaign or magazine spread may believe, our shock threshold has been saturated such that we are no longer affected whatsoever by Miley Cyrus in a blanket or Glee Club members sexualizing the high-school experience. While I respect the rights of others to voice their opinions regarding the morality of the Glee-inspired GQ photos, I consider these concerns unnecessary, given our blasé attitude towards such "indecencies."
Having said that, I wonder how many "Sexy Rachel Berry" costumes I will encounter this Halloween...