Sexualising Teens

I've stolen this post from my friend Katherine, who helps out at one of the youth groups I am involved in. It's a great post, which she published on her own blog a few days back.

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One of the things that really bugs me, and has always bugged me, are the photos of models and celebrities you see in mainstream women's glossy magazines.

For starters the pictures of models present an unrealistic and, sometimes, unhealthy image of what a woman should like. The original photos are altered, often dramatically, to make the subject look more "appealing", closer to "perfect" (whatever that is) and all to make them sell a particular product that bit better. Skin is airbrushed to look brighter and clearer, removing any spots and blackheads, dark patches, dry bits, wrinkles, bags under the eyes and a whole host of other blemishes. Bust sizes are increased or decreased depending on what they are selling. Waists are cinched in, eyelashes made longer, eyes brightened, lips pouted and so much more that the end result often looks quite different to the actual person that was photographed on the day. This person is then presented to the public as the example of how we should aspire to be, literally a model for us to try and copy...of course by using this or that piece of make-up or item of clothing or whatever. It upsets me, and I really mean upsets, as the image that is portrayed as the ideal for a woman is not only viewed by adults but is also seen by young girls and it has a real influence on them. They see these pictures everywhere; in all of the magazines as well as on television and on the internet and this constant bombardment of how a woman should appear to be starts to make them think that this is not only achievable but also the norm. You hear of pre-teen children dieting to try and fit in the latest designer clothes and to get the smallest waistline possible, they cake on loads of make-up, they try as hard as they can to emulate the models in these pictures so that society will view them as desirable, so that they will be "beautiful".

The other thing about these pictures are the clothes the models wear and the poses they use. Look through any magazine and there will be low-cut tops, extremely short shorts and skirts, underwear that covers very little, skimpy bikinis and who knows what else with those in them in all sorts of provocative positions. Some pictures are really rather raunchy, verging on pornographic, yet they are readily put on display for those of all ages to see. And again seeing them here, there and everywhere sends the wrong message to young girls, making them think that displaying their bodies in a sexual way is an acceptable and normal way to behave.

These images are, along with articles and stories talking about celebrities' and readers' sex lives exploiting the natural beauty and dignity of a human body for profit. Digitally tarting it up, making the model in the photos not a real person but an object, something for you and I to desire. We want to be them, to be like them or to have them. You don't see him/her, you see the bits of him/her you are attracted to or in an article you are enticed by saucy details. The people they are written about are irrelevant to a certain extent; it is the little "naughty" pieces of information that we seek. And in doing this these magazines are exposing children to grossly inappropriate material and sexualising them at a young age. Some people would say I'm overreacting but would you talk to your teenager about your favourite position? Or about what turns your partner on? No, of course you wouldn't. You would find it uncomfortable, explicit and just not suitable for them to hear. This is the sort of thing that you would want to shield them from; you wouldn't want them to view their own bodies (or the bodies of others) as objects, as something for other people to desire. You wouldn't want them thinking about sex in a so casual a way at such a young age. Yet this type of material is readily available in your average glossy mag.

Earlier this week I read a story online about a model, Nicole Weider (you can visit her website here), who despite having a successful career abandoned it because she did not like the way the industry was using her body to make a profit. She found the clothes she wore and the direction given in her shoots degrading and it made her dislike herself and didn't know where she should go or what she should do. On the advice of a friend she turned to God and in a moment her perspective, her life, changed. "I just said, God, show me that there's a better way, and I accepted the Lord, and my mind was renewed through God. I just realized that my mind was almost like clear, and I knew that I was put on this earth for a bigger purpose." Since then she has resolved to make a difference; she was genuinely appalled by the material in a specific magazine, Cosmopolitan, and how it was hyper-sexualising young girls and has started an online campaign to have the magazine sold to adults only. Although this is just for folk in the USA I think what she is doing is very admirable and isn't just for Christians to sign up to but something that the general public should make a greater stand on. Teens and children should be protected from this kind of material, they should be taught the innate dignity and beauty of a person just as they are, how precious their bodies are and how they should be respected, not "sexed up" by dressing provocatively so that others will find you desirable. We are all created perfect, different, but perfect. Each one of us expresses the likeness of God in their own uniqueness. Each person is beautiful in their own way. Each one of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit and should treat ourselves thus.



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