Teenagers exposed

15-year-old C. Robinson looks at the causes and ramifications of a culture where teenage girls are encouraged to bare all

, 3 June 2011

“Dress Less to Impress” is the advertising slogan for a women’s underwear brand named Sapph Lingerie. One of their posters features a semi dressed and probably airbrushed model with a fully dressed man standing behind her. Over 100 years of the struggle for women’s rights and empowerment, and nudity is what is held up and revered by our culture as the best way to impress men and other women.

Trashy Lingerie.jpgSome would say that this is an overreaction or that it’s a limited side effect of what may be seen as the free society we live in today. I would be the first to stand up for a woman’s right to choose and be in control of her body, but we have to consider why so many girls desire to wear so few clothes.

I asked one of my friends at school whether girls have a choice about the clothes they wear. I was told not to be ridiculous and that one of the biggest achievements of our society is the great amount of choice we have. They argued that girls have a choice about what they do, what they wear, and who they choose to identify with – Kim Kardashian and Katie Price are not the only role models out there. Despite claiming this, no one was able to give me an example of a woman who is not a singer, model or actress.

Fame is too often confused with power in our society. It’s now easy–maybe too easy–to become famous for doing nothing other than looking beautiful. I genuinely believe that this kind of celebrity culture can only be called the Look At Me era. As a result, too many young girls feel that taking their clothes off and photographing themselves is something that is acceptable or even a way towards a better life.

The internet can be as damaging as it is empowering

I can’t help but notice how many of my 15-year-old peers are becoming increasingly sexualised. About two weeks ago, the rumour mill went into overdrive: four girls decided to send compromising pictures of themselves over a mobile phone to a boy of the same age. All of them are under 16. Yet all of these girls did this entirely voluntarily with no grooming or pressure beyond that faced by an average teenage girl.

I have known all of these girls for four years. One of them loves the imagery and dramatic beauty of WWI poetry. Another expressed an elegant argument about why access to contraception and abortion was a life or death choice for many women in the developing world. All of them are bright and thoughtful on a wide range issues. Why then do they feel that doing something like this is going to bring them anything but embarrassment?

Mobile phone.jpgOf course there is an element of personal responsibility – it was a bad decision. However it cannot be denied that the blame does not lie exclusively on their shoulders. Everyday women up and down the country send or have semi nude pictures of themselves posted into magazines such as Nuts or Zoo. Not too long ago Nuts ran a competition on their website asking men to send photographs of their girlfriends’ ‘tits’ and encouraged website visitors to vote on them.

Everyday teenagers (both boys and girls) are exposed to a stream of semi nudity and sexual imagery. It’s as if everywhere you look there’s another silicone enhanced, make-up covered advert for almost anything from cars to CDs. This isn’t healthy. No one is perfect and any pretence that a perfect body is possible without serious self abuse is both improbable and unethical. The girls mentioned in the story above were so insecure that they felt they had to prove themselves by stripping off.

Moreover, the internet has brought many new, exciting and positive influences on almost all of our lives – without it I wouldn’t be speaking to you now. But we must be aware of the dangerous and lasting effect it can have on people’s lives. To quote The Social Network: “The internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink” – it is now very easy for an image to both travel widely and stay attached to a person virtually forever. Once a girl sends a picture of her breasts to her boyfriend, there’s no saying what he will do with it or where it may resurface.

If we want the women of tomorrow to grow up happy and with dignity we have to educate them about the dangers of celebrity culture. It is also essential to recognise that the internet can be as damaging as it is empowering. We cannot shield impressionable young girls from the bombardment of constant sexual imagery, but we have to let them know there are other options and ways of being. They don’t need to send photos, texts or videos of a sexual nature to feel ‘normal’ when they’re not comfortable with it. Particularly when the moment the picture leaves their possession and enters a digital domain, they effectively lose control over it.

I would like to end with a quote from Janis Joplin that is a message young girls need to hear, rather than the idea that taking your clothes off will bring you money, fame and power.

“You are all you’ve got – don’t compromise it”.

Photograph of the bright pink shop ‘Trashy Lingerie’ taken by Flickr user Chris P Dunn. Image of a flip-open mobile phone taken by Flickr user phossil.

C. Robinson is a young idealist, Yorkshire born and bred, who enjoys among other things gardening, reading, and extended political and philosophical discussion

Comments From You

cim // Posted 3 June 2011 at 2:26 pm

I’ve definitely no objection to the argument that promoting one particular form of sexuality designed primarily for a certain sort of heterosexual man as the one true way to be sexual is really unhealthy. However, this bit – and some of the other bits about the dangers of the internet – made me rather uncomfortable in the way they were phrased.

“Once a girl sends a picture of her breasts to her boyfriend, there’s no saying what he will do with it or where it may resurface.”

That’s true, there’s not. But if he does anything with that photo that she doesn’t want him to do, he’s the one at fault there, not her. (If he shows or sends it to other people against her wishes, I’m fairly sure that he’s committing a criminal offence in the UK)

That she trusted him to behave like a decent human being in sexual matters is not the problem here.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 3 June 2011 at 3:44 pm

It is not teenage or even pre-teenage girls which are at fault rather it is the malestream media which bombards girls with claims that being sexually available to male is empowering. Media also bombards girls with the misogynistic message that a woman’s/girl’s sole value lies in her being sexually available and sexually attractive to males.

This propaganda is endless and because there is no criticism allowed of malestream media then understandably girls will want to ‘fit in with their peers.’ Boys are not being bombarded with messages they must remove their clothes in order to fit in. Neither are boys sending naked images of themselves to their girlfriends but boys are the ones expecting to receive naked images of girls.

As regards the claim that if a girl sends a naked image of herself to a boy and he then forwards it on to his male peers – he not the girl is responsible. That neatly ignores fact the girl will be seen and treated by the boy and his male peers as a ‘slut’ – yes that nasty male created word which cannot be reclaimed. So even though the boy is accountable our misogynistic society will blame the girl and yes this image will come back to ‘haunt her.’

Because such images are common within cyberspace and they are used to shame the girl/woman who sent them. That is the reason why we have to educate girls and boys that sextexting is not harmless fun it reinforces male domination over women and girls. Why? Because these images are used to reinforce male control over women. Sexting reinforces view that girls, women and even female babies are men’s disposable sexual service stations.

So rather than blaming girls – let’s talk to the girls and educate them about how and why turning oneself into a disposable sexualised object is not empowering but does ensure women and girls continue to be portrayed as males’ dehumanised sexualised objects.

Annie // Posted 6 June 2011 at 7:49 am

I agree with the main thrust of your argument, but at points think that you veer into slut shaming. I believe that a highly sexualised level of conduct is increasingly becoming approved and accepted, but do not believe that it is bad in itself. What is negative about it is that attendance is becoming mandatory and that women continue to be valued as bodies rather than people (I’ve read an interesting study which compared attitudes of girls in the 1930s and girls today and girls in the 1930s tended to be more inward looking whereas today the focus is on external appearance). The important thing which we need to protect is choice, and the valuation of women at large as more than nude bodies.

Jackie Bather // Posted 12 June 2011 at 2:36 pm

This article, examining what is gong on presently amongst young women, was illuminating for me. As the mother of a teenage daughter, I know that I have concerns regarding the sexualisation and exploitation of girls. What I haven’t heard much of, is this situation from a young woman’s viewpoint, other than in conversations with my daughter. Most articles are written by women not of this age group. There is something deep-seated going on, where bright, sparky youngsters send photo’s to a boy’s mobile of their bodies and don’t analyse too much the reasons for doing it. Without having the available research evidence to back up my opinions, I would suggest that they have probably absorbed the current thinking of a male-dominated society, as it surrounds them on a daily basis. An interesting article.

Sarah V // Posted 22 June 2011 at 1:13 pm

Thank you so much for posting this article.

I also believe taking responsibility for one’s actions is key – key to one’s development and even key to feminism. Oh yes, we can all blame the boyfriend who passed on the pictures to his friends, but as we didn’t ask him to sign a legally binding confidentiality agreement that states not to distribute the pictures, we are relying on a 15 year old boy – who is bound to be under lots of peer pressure – to ‘do the right thing’ and not share any semi-naked pictures with his friends… hmmm, well, I wouldn’t bet on that.

You cannot always influence someone else’s actions, but you can take responsibility for your own. I do accept that society has changed and that teenagers today are living in a more sexualised society. Combined with the advancements in communication technology, getting through puberty is a real challenge I’m sure. So, we’ve pinpointed the issues and challenges, now what is the solution? We cannot change our society (media included) overnight and we can not stop technological progress, but there must be a way of helping to empower young women to be more critical about the media, celebrity culture and youth culture? The fact that this article was written by a 15 year old girl is a sign that it is possible…

Mary Warren // Posted 22 June 2011 at 2:33 pm

@Annie yeah I agree!

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