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Tag: Adele

Generation Cleanskin: Part 3

In the final instalment of Susan Johnson’s exceptional piece on teens and body image that we have been running here for the past few weeks, teen girls speak frankly about how they respond to the relentless pressure to lose weight and be skinny, while teen boys talk about how they deal with the pressure to work out and “bulk up.” 

Saturday afternoon at Indooroopilly Shoppingtown, in Brisbane’s west, is teenage heaven. The movies, the food court, the clothes shops: teenagers in large groups or in pairs come to meet each other or eye each other off, checking each other out in that overt, challenging way that only teenagers can.

A group of giggling girls is meeting up: the girls come here almost every day after school. It’s free dress at their school, and the first pressure felt by these girls is the pressure to wear the right clothes, the “right” brands. Zoe Robberts (“I’m almost 14”) is in Year 9 and lives at inner-west Bardon: “Yeah, you have to have nice clothes, like the brands, and there’s pressure every day on what you wear. You can’t wear the same thing twice in a week.” Bella Nielsen, 13, also of Bardon, adds that “when you’re in primary school no-one judges anyone but when you’re in high school it’s all about first impressions. If you don’t look pretty, no-one will hang out with you or they’ll ignore you and there’s lots of cyberbullying going on around … on Facebook, [there are instances where] people really bully others.”

“I got called ‘fat’ one time on Facebook,” says Kiara Cavenagh, 13, of Middle Park, and a bigger girl than her friends. Her dad is tall and she comes from a family with “big bones”: “I feel pressure because all my friends are so skinny and I am, like, not skinny.”

Immediately all her girlfriends rush in with a chorus of “But you’re so pretty, Kiara!” and Zoe Morgan, 12, of St Lucia adds: “You’re like a mini Adele [the British singer]”. It turns out that Kiara sings too, and superbly (she led me to some YouTube videos) and has won a couple of local singing competitions. Which all means that possibly because Kiara is happy in other areas, being larger than her girlfriends is less of an issue: “I can’t be bothered to diet, even though I feel pressured [to be skinnier]. I like food too much! It tastes too good …”

Bella, on the other hand, feels the pressure more: “You walk around here and there are girls who are really pretty and their hair’s just perfect and, like, every day you see yourself in the mirror and you’re so used to seeing yourself you start picking out the little flaws and everything. You don’t see how pretty you are, you just see the bad stuff like, my stomach’s too big, my thighs are too big, and all that … ”

Zoe Morgan feels pressured too: “I’m happy with the way I look but you can never be, like, perfect to yourself … sometimes I see a girl who’s, like, really pretty and really skinny and I’m like, ‘I don’t like her! She’s so skinny’ … ”

Zoe Robberts says a lot of the pressure comes from boys: “Everyone’s trying to look pretty for them, to impress them … guys don’t have to worry. Boys don’t have to worry about anything.”

But her friend Bailey Vowles, 13, of western suburban Sherwood, disagrees: “If you’re really short for a boy you get called ‘cute’ and you probably wouldn’t want to be cute in Grade 8, you’d probably want to be hot. Boys want six-packs.” Bailey concedes, however, that much of the pressure girls feel comes from the boys as well as the media: “Personally, I’ve never dated anyone and I just think the pressure you have from boys to impress them is just, like, everywhere.” Friends Ben Stickley, 14, of northside Wooloowin and James Manteit, 15, of westside Chapel Hill, sheepishly admit that boys do indeed notice girls’ figures but appear nonplussed when asked about pressure. James: “Going out with a girl, I’d prefer that she had a good physique but we’re also friends with girls who are not, like, the best-looking people, but they’re just good to talk to.”

Ben: “Yeah, if they were, like, fat and stuff I’d care but I guess as long as the person’s nice, and nice to hang out with … ” Both think there is just as much pressure on boys as girls. James: “Girls definitely like boys who are muscled.” If James had more money he would spend it on clothes but, as it is, he tries to wear tight clothes to reveal his torso. He regularly works out.

Kean Coghill, 16, of Doolandella, met Aaron Eastment, 15, of Oxley, also in the outer west, at the shopping centre last year. The pair of mates now regularly travels there to meet their friends and look over the talent. Kean reckons “girls are mainly interested in looks these days” and both he and Aaron plan on starting bodybuilding soon. Aaron: “Yeah, most guys want to bulk up.”

Kean admits that, like most guys, “I do go for good-looking girls but they have to be nice too. But to be honest, the first thing you go for is good looks.” Of Aboriginal descent, Kean is sporting a new tattoo in honour of his grandfather who recently died. He wears a chain around his neck and a “snapback”, an American baseball-style hat worn backwards. He regularly straightens his hair, too, and wears the “right” brands, but that is about as far as his fashion-consciousness takes him.

Aaron, of mixed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, has been wearing braces for two years (“It hasn’t stopped him getting girls,” says Kean). Aaron’s fashion routine sometimes extends to straightening his hair but within minutes it is curly again so mostly he doesn’t bother.

They can’t talk long, these boys – they’ve got places to go and girls to meet. So they say goodbye and walk out into the mini-city of the shopping mall, the meeting place of thousands of teenage boys and teenage girls, skinny, plump, bosomy or muscled, anxious to look hot.

 

I would like to thank Susan Johnson and the Courier-Mail’s QWeekend for allowing me to share this insightful investigative piece. Susan Johnson is a full-time journalist and the author of seven novels; a book of essays, On Beauty (part of the Melbourne University Press series Little Books on Big Themes); and a memoir about her experiences of motherhood, A Better Woman.

Integrity is the new sexy

Justin Bieber has been getting the media into a feeding frenzy by dishing up tiny bites of the video for his new song “Boyfriend”. Is it too raunchy for tweens? Well, from the snippets that the Bieber marketing behemoth has been teasing us with, it certainly seems that they are aiming for a more mature demographic, as Bieber himself grows up. Shadowy lighting, whispering suggestively in girls’ ears, pimpy comments about having handfuls of cash that he really wants to blow on his girl. See what you think: they play the teaser for the clip during this interview I did about Bieber’s image makeover, for Channel 9’s Mornings.

I was disappointed when I saw the teaser. It’s just so predictable. Even the squeakiest of squeaky clean teen idols has to turn 18 eventually — but I get the sense that when the Bieb did, his management hit the panic button. Quick! We need intense “Blue Steel” poses. Put him in a leather jacket and have girls pawing at him. Make sure they’re pouty girls wearing dangerous-looking jewellery that subliminally makes you think of S&M and ’90s Madonna videos (and maybe a trip to Emergency … seriously, those rings could take an eye out!). Make sure there is a wind machine sexily blowing the girls’ hair the whole time. (Honestly, I don’t know how the rest of us ever manage to be alluring given that we are tragically denied fans blowing at head height in every room. It’s possibly a global crisis that needs to be rectified, stat!)

What really strikes me about Bieber’s new image is that for him to cause a stir by showing a more adult sexuality, he has to do so very little compared to female stars the same age. He gets to keep all of his clothes on; he doesn’t have to thrust or grind anything; and he doesn’t offer to degrade himself. Actually, if you listen to the whole song, he says, “I can be a gentleman, anything you want.” He says he wants to talk, and he promises to love his prospective girlfriend, treat her right, never let her go and make sure that she is never alone. He vows to make her “shine bright”. A couple of years ago, Bieber was quoted as saying, “I’m just a regular 16 year old kid. I make good grilled cheese and I like girls.” And the new “raunchy” 18-year-old Bieber? In “Boyfriend” he has graduated to a romantic scene in which he imagines him and his girl “chillin’ by the fire while we eatin’ fondue”. Cute! Biebs is such a non-threatening, pro-dairy gangsta. *Swoon*

Compare this to female stars who have transitioned from tween to teen, such as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus. For them it was all about how they were gonna get dirty, how they needed to be “rubbed the right way” and weren’t “that innocent”. It was about getting wasted and flashing their knickers (or lack thereof), doing pretend big-O-style panting and offering to do anything sexually.

In music video world, all too often the message is: when a young guy wants to show he is now a man, he can get a leather jacket and pout; but for a young woman to show she is grown up, she has to get it all off and grind. If you haven’t seen the latest Ricki-Lee video, it pretty much encapsulates the image of female sexuality I’m talking about. Sexy equals wearing your undies in public (hello?) and doing stripper moves. Getting an anonymous food vendor on the street all hot and bothered is actually an awesome self-esteem boost. And the most important thing about sex is that he likes it when you “do it like that”.

Compared to the gymnastics, not to mention the waxing regime, Ricki-Lee had to go through to project a sexy image, Justin Bieber got off pretty lightly, didn’t he?

The music industry is selling its artists and fans short by continually falling back on the old cliches. Yes, sex sells. But the sexuality we are being sold is so narrow, so confining. It doesn’t represent the range of real sexuality that real people experience. When I discussed Bieber’s new image on Facebook, Jenn Lane wrote that her daughter said to her:

Mum, I hope there aren’t really any girls who do think that’s what sex is because they will only end up hurt.

Enlighten Education’s Catherine Manning made this point:

Teen idol crushes are often also about sexual desire — I don’t see anything wrong with that at all — it’s natural. . . . Of course, the problem with music-industry-manufactured sexuality is that it’s often one dimensional and digitally manipulated, so in reality, without the lights/effects, direction, etc., a real sexual encounter is nothing much like the video clips. I think this is what parents should be discussing with their kids . . . it’s up to us to make sure our kids are media literate so that they can put it all into perspective.

Yes, sex sells. But so does honesty and authenticity and raw talent. Just look at Adele. Never once has she relied on creating a raunchy image, or in fact creating any particular image: she is herself, she sings from the heart, and people respond to that. She sings about being a young woman, about real youthful experiences of love and desire — and she doesn’t need to conform to a narrow definition of sexuality in order to do it. I wholeheartedly agree with what Pink wrote of Adele recently for Time‘s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World:

Her success renews hope in me that the world I live in has good taste — that we still occasionally come back to what’s simple, and simply amazing.

Integrity is the new sexy. I for one am hoping that whenever Team Bieber finally releases the whole video, we see a scene of Justin not sitting by the fire twirling a fondue fork but bringing his girl a nice cheese toastie instead!

It’s hard not to make fun of this — but it’s not Justin himself or his fans that I intend to mock. Many of his fans, now growing into older teens along with him, will love his new video and song, and the last thing I want to do is belittle their very real feelings. Catherine is so right to point out that there is an element of sexual desire — and I would add fantasy — in girls’ teen idol crushes. That’s normal and natural.

It’s the entertainment industry that I intend to mock — its predictability, its lazy thinking, its near-total reliance on using sex to sell. Let’s be honest, if we didn’t laugh, we’d cry, right? If your daughter loves Justin Bieber, don’t make him a forbidden whisper. Just help her deconstruct the images on the screen, and maybe soon she’ll not only be singing along and swooning, but also giggling at the cliches of the entertainment industry.

 

 

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