Beyoncé performing "Single Ladies"
A video recently making the rounds on the web has been shocking many people. In it, a group of seven-year-olds wearing shiny bikinis and thigh-high boots are shaking, shimmying, thrusting, and grinding to the song "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," which they performed at a World of Dance competition in Pomona, CA. The video is disturbing, to say the least. It reminded me of the scene in the movie Mean Girls where the main characters dance to "Jingle Bell Rock," except that the outfits are skimpier and the girls a decade younger. The video can be seen here, as part of an article about the controversy. Though the girls are undeniably talented, their costumes were neither necessary nor appropriate for the venue or their age group.
There has been a lot of moral outrage surrounding this video, but an article in this week's New York Times magazine took a different approach. The author cited research showing that early sexualization leads girls to have an unhealthy view of their own sexuality. Researcher Deborah Tolman has spoken to many teenage girls who talk about their sexuality in terms of others, rather than how they feel or what they experience on their own. These girls put on a "performance: while ignoring their own desires, and Tolman theorizes that this stems from pressure on younger and younger girls to present themselves as sex objects.
This is an interesting take on girls and the images they project (or which society projects onto them). Many times the issue of girls and perceived sexuality is framed in terms of modesty and a fear of predators, but the evidence here is that there are long-term emotional consequences. If that's the case, we need to be better mentors for today's girls. They should not have to look to celebrities to figure out how to dress and act. They should be able to look at us, their family and friends, for guidance in their lives.
Girl Museum Inc.