Girl Talk: Beyonce, bouncing for obesity (+ Right 2 Childhood Conference)
This Beyonce clip, which is part of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign for childhood obesity, is a remake of her 2007 single "Get Me Bodied". For much the same reason that I feel discomfort when little girls sneak a peek at their mums during Zumba class, Beyonce's cafeteria booty shaking has me shaking my head.
I have nothing against women getting their sexy on – in fact, a Zumba class is an unreal way to do that without having to set foot in a stinky nightclub. I am also all for exercise and teaching kids how to value and look after their bodies. But there should be a distinction between what is child-appropriate exercise and what should be reserved for adults. Beyonce, her beautiful booty and super-short-shorts, heels and knee-highs tread a very thin line in this regard (to think they banned Katy Perry from Sesame Street?!).
The music industry has a huge role to play in the sexualisation of young women and the issues that arise when girls – particularly those who are vulnerable, and arguably all girls who are not fully formed women are – start to tie their self-image too closely to their body image and their ability to attract the male gaze.
While Ms. Beyonce is clearly a great gal and good role model for girls in terms of making it big on her own terms and keeping fit, she's also a part of an entrenched music culture that values hotness over one's vocal abilities.
For those of us brought up on Video Hits and Rage, music clips have been a part of our culture; more so for girls who partake in dance classes in which the moves are emulated and the music replayed. But the diminishing of identity through the imitation and imbibing of these cultural standards doesn't become clear until later on in life... or until you find yourself experiencing the repercussions of turning sexy too early in your life.
In her book, which I will stop talking about soon, Tina Fey writes of the workshop held by Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, she attended during which the women were asked to write down the moment they first "knew they were a woman":
The group of women was racially and economically diverse, but the answers had a very similar theme. Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them. "I was walking home from ballet and a guy in a car yelled, 'Lick me!'" "I was babysitting my younger cousins when a guy drove by and yelled, 'Nice ass.'" There were pretty much zero examples like "I first knew I was a woman when my mother and father took me out to dinner to celebrate my success on the debate team." It was mostly yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let girls know they've crossed into puberty? If so, it's working.
Touché! Go Fey!
A few weeks ago, I was driving home from the Gold Coast when I passed two girls on the side of the road. One was a teenage girl, overweight with her head downcast, on the footpath. Another was a little blonde girl of six or seven happily playing in her front garden. I desperately wanted to yell out to both of them, "You are loved! The world will try to take away your girlhood, but don't let it! Joy is not only to be found in your form, nor your ability to look hot; there's so much more to life!".
But I would have looked like a crazy stalker lady.
We can't protect every girl from the circumstances that she will endure on the road from girlhood to womanhood, like what Fey has dubbed "car creepery", nor can we screen out all the pop culture influences in her life, but we can ensure she gets all the right messages when she's young, be a good role model for her, and educate her about how to discern good, healthy behaviours that add to her life from behaviours that will impact negatively on her development into a thriving young woman who has every right to be doing some major bossypants business with her life... outside the bedroom (where she might benefit more from doing her homework).
Tomorrow there's a forum called "Right 2 Childhood" being held in Sydney, convened by Dr Ramesh Manocha, that aims to address "the convergence of sex, violence, the media, commerce and popular culture, its impact on our children and what we can do about it". I would very much like to attend but won't be able to (there will be updates on the website for those of us who take an interest, which obviously I'd encourage). The blurb reads in part:
The aim of this event is to provide up-to-date and authoritative information from leading experts, share initiatives and strategies to facilitate understanding and awareness and empower participants with practical skills to address this crucial social issue.
The conference is targeted at media makers and anyone involved in marketing or communicating with children, adolescents and young adults, as well as educators, counsellors, welfare workers and health professionals and parent. Being informed is the first step towards making the world a fairer, safer place for children, especially girls, with less car-creepery, more creative play-time; less booty shaking, more running, skipping and trampolining.
Getting Real, Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls edited by Melinda Tankard Reist with chapters by Maggie Hamilton (The Seduction of Girls), Clive Hamilton (Good Is the New Bad: Rethinking Sexual Freedom), Dr Steve Biddulph (How Girlhood Was Trashed and What We Can Do To Get It Back) and Julie Gale (One Woman's Activism: Refusing to Be Silent). What's Happening To Our Girls by Maggie Hamilton
Pornland by Gail Dines
Living Dolls, The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter
Girl With a Satchel