Celebrities Do It, So Why Can’t We?

The blending of children’s and adult’s media has created a world in which 10 year olds and 25 year olds can interact and have interests in common. It has sped up the growing up process and slowed down the growing old one. We talk a lot about the “influencers” in the media world today at the PR/marketing firm that I intern at. Most of our clients are spirit and beer companies, so we try to find talent that caters to “partiers” or whatever you would call them, but I realized that most of them are musicians or actors that my little sister (age 13) also likes and look up to.

In the article, “Are Celebrity Nude Photo Scandals Contributing to Young Women Sexting?,” Hollie McKay writes about the prevalence of female celebrities sexting scandals and how it is a dangerous influence for teenage girls. “’Young girls emulate and imitate their idols as a way to connect and feel closer to them, and thus copying bad celebrity behavior becomes another way for young girls to bond with their idols, while also creating their own identity and attracting more attention’” (McKay). She goes on to warn teenagers about the dangers of sexting by stating examples of tragic sexting-gone-wrong incidences that traditional media sources love to report. Girls are depicted, as always, the stupid ones who are victimized and boys are depicted as criminals and distributors of child pornography.

Even though McKay speaks of sexting in a negative way, I think she  is right to suggest that celebrities’ “bad” actions may influence young girls negatively, instead of immediately assuming that kids who sext are sneaky and “rotten,” as media discourse usually does. In Amy Hasinoff’s article “Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online,” she says that “it is important to recognize the cultural and structural restrictions that shape girls’ sexuality, it is equally important to recognize that sexting, like more celebrated forms of media production, could be one way that girls negotiate, respond, and speak back to sexual representations of youth and femininity in mass media—by producing their own.” So when girls see all the attention that celebrity sexting garners, they think that that behavior is condoned, attractive, and even empowering. It is easy for young girls to rationalize sending sexts when they see boys their age ogling over leaked celebrity sexts. Hasinoff says “rather than dismiss teenage girls’ sexual media production practices as a symptom of their victimization by a sexist culture… it is vital to examine sexting and online sexuality as a form of media production and self-expression.” We should not have the right to say what is appropriate or inappropriate in someone else’s private life just because we are over the age of 18. I think that adults taking preventative measures that are condescending does nothing but upset the teenage girls that they are primarily targeting. It plants a “what do you know” mindset in the teenager’s mind and they completely disregard the message. When teenagers sext, they do think of the consequences before they send the sext. Lecturing them otherwise is mostly useless. In the article, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study” written by Kimberly Mitchell and colleagues, it is said that society and especially adults are “easily alarmed about changing youth mores,” so they want to take measures that prevent children from behaving in a way that makes them uncomfortable, when sexting may be becoming normalized in their children’s generation. Perhaps the only way to really stop teenage sexting is for the media to stop glorifying female sexuality.

Hasinoff continues to say that the “internet and cell phones permit instant communication that is removed from traditional social contexts and consequences, these technologies make girls more likely to make inappropriate sexual decision. Practice leads to earlier sex, more sexual activity, and teenage pregnancy.” I think that her reasoning is a little too technologically deterministic. Yes, technology may remove communication from traditional social contexts, but it may not necessarily promote real, physical sexual activity. Girls are constantly fed sexual images from magazines, television shows and films, so it is only natural for them to think that presenting themselves in a sexual way is appropriate. Yet, they are also always warned about the dangers and consequences of teenage sexuality. So, as Rebekah Willet says in her article, ‘‘’As soon as you get on Bebo you just go mad’’: young consumers and the discursive construction of teenagers online“, “on the one hand, the child is positioned as a not-yet competent, not-yet complete social actor who is at risk; and on the other hand, the child is constructed as empowered.” With such conflicting and confusing messages, the teenager has all the power to choose what they believe on their own. Since we are constantly forced to consume hypersexualized images in mainstream media, we should understand why children and teenagers behave “inappropriately.” I listen to some of the same mainstream music that my younger sister (age 13) and that the girls who I babysit (age 10) listen to, so why should I expect them to interpret and act on the messages they hear differently than any other adult or I do?

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  1. sn1014

     /  March 29, 2012

    This post interests me because I have thought similarly about the effects of celebrity’s actions on today’s youth. More than just celebrities, my thought was provoked through watching my twelve year old sister react to television shows, songs on the radio, movies, cell phone apps, etc. My observations lead me to reflect on my years growing up and compare it to my sister’s generation.
    First off, (maybe I was a deprived child) I watched Barney until I was ten. My sister, by the age of ten, was already watching Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows. We actually watched them together- except I was a teenager, and the shows contained teenage content. Although the shows were pretty appropriate, their still involved the once in a while “make-out” scenes or the discussion of it.
    The stars of these shows soon become role models for their viewers. Little girls begin to wear backpacks with celebrities faces on them- and then the celebrities go wild. The same goes for the songs on the radio. My sister sings along to phrases she shouldn’t even know exist! (Sometimes it’s cute to hear little kids singing to “I’m Sexy and I Know It” ha!)
    As we grew older and the media advanced, my sister- now twelve, raves about her and her friends favorite show (an ABC family show) “Pretty little Liars,” another teen drama series. She’s twelve. Relating this to your post, the effects of what the youth now has access too may be effecting them. My sister begs my parents for an iPhone every day because she wants to have a Twitter and Instagram like everyone else. At twelve, I didn’t even have a phone!
    How exactly are these networks and television shows (celebrity actions) affecting the youth? I don’t have studies to answer for a whole, but my sister definitely shows signs of feeling left out without having the latest technology. She feels the need to use mature language and shop for new clothing for every event. Her body image has become an early awareness (at least earlier than mine- I began to feel self conscious about my body in high school.) She claims she shouldn’t be eating so many cookies, and comes home telling us what boys she spoke to in school that day.
    I can only provide answers relative to my own experience. Hasinoff does provide the option that the use of social networking for the self expression of women may be an option, however there is a question of what age is considered appropriate to make those decisions. From what I see in my sister and her friends, they have not yet developed a correct sense of perception to make slightly mature decisions- maybe in a few years!

  2. I think your discussion in this post is really interesting. Especially the section about “[speeding] up the growing up process and [slowing down] the growing old one.” Nice phrasing – it connected well with me. I also concur with the clearly sexist relationship the media attributes to sexting. In my opinion, the boys are just as responsible as the girls (also guys send out nudes too…so, yea?)
    However, I have to say I disagree with some of your reasoning. Although celebrities take naked pictures, they are often slashed by the media as whores. Criticized, from their bodies to their liberalness. I don’t think most women, young adult or adolescents or teenagers, look at this with veneration. If some celebrity has nude photos out there, often my friends look them up and laugh/critique the images. I don’t think girls try to emulate this.
    I also think that, no matter how much my mom tells me what to do and it annoys the crap out of me, I know she knows best. Adults need to create the regulations, or else I would definitely not be at NYU – or in any college for that matter. Teenagers are not as equipped or knowledgeable to make decisions. I think that teens passing around another teen’s nudes can receive a lesser punishment than an adult passing around child pornography. I don’t know, I feel like that just makes sense to me. Just because a guy leaks photos of a girl in 8th grade, it should not label him as a sex offender (Which I think is the law in most places). Teenager don’t think about responsibility as adults do.

  3. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  April 1, 2012

    You all make interesting points here – it makes sense that children would not only learn from adults’ actions but also from the *reactions* to those actions!


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