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Tag: Justin Bieber

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.

 

 

More than skin deep: Helping your teen with her changing skin

I didn’t have pimples very often as a teen but when I did get them, they were huge. Naturally, on the day we were having school photos one year, right in the middle of my forehead a pimple appeared that was so big I felt like a unicorn. Really, I am not just being dramatic here! It was a study in humiliation. So I get it when girls are deeply upset about having pimples.

And, of course, so do the companies who make acne treatments, who play on teen girls’ (and boys’) deepest fears in order to move their products. You know the ads: Girl has a date coming up and a pimple appears. The end is nigh; social ruin and a life of compulsive Farmville playing beckons, with only a houseful of cats for company. But wait! Magic tube of ointment makes the zit vanish in two seconds. Cut to girl confidently smiling at the adoring hunky boy.

Ever noticed that the girl is always impossibly thin and gorgeous — in a computer-enhanced, international-model kind of way — and has the most perfect complexion you’ve ever seen, except for one barely noticeable bump? Think how it looks to a teen who actually does have pimples: if the girl on the pimple-cream ad has perfect skin and is anxious out of her mind, just how anxious should she be? Awesome, now teen girls can feel not only the crushing anxiety of having pimples, but also play the compare-and-despair game with a TV fantasy girl who doesn’t even represent what a real girl looks like!

I love this example of the genre — partly because it’s so painfully obvious it’s dubbed from an American ad, but also because I’d really like to see the school where this young lady is able to waltz in and interrupt a class in order to deliver a note to a boy:

Marketers also use the scientific approach, using fancy words (that usually sound made-up to me) and promises that their product will help girls “control” their breakouts. It’s an interesting word, isn’t it? As a teen you feel like you have so little control, so how appealing this must be.

Another highly successful tack they take is the celebrity endorsement. Proactiv costs more than many products on pharmacy shelves, even though it shares the same active ingredient as the majority of over-the-counter acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide. How do you get people to pay more for the same ingredient? Have stars that teen girls adore — such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne — give testimonials for it. (By the way, Jennifer Love Hewitt, whom you may remember from a past blog post as a champion of the fine art of vajazzling, refers to Proactiv as her “ultimate companion”. Okay, Jennifer.)

I worry that by manipulating girls’ fears of social doom because of pimples, advertisers are encouraging them to use too many harsh chemicals, which strip their skin raw and then cause more problems — which, of course, they then need more products to fix.

I asked Dr Alicia Teska, a cosmetic physician in Melbourne, if girls can harm their skin by misusing over-the-counter acne products, to which she replied, “YES!! YES!! And YES again!! People think that if a little bit of something makes a big difference to their skin, then using a hell of a lot more of it will be a good thing for their skin, and it’s actually the reverse. If they overuse medicated products, they will not only strip the outer dead layer of their skin down too much and therefore make it far more susceptible to sun damage, they can create incredible irritation and sensitivity in their skin.” This can lead to the development or worsening of eczema.

If you have a girl in your life right now with pimples, it’s important to tell her that she’s beautiful on the inside and outside, no matter what. It’s equally important to listen to her concerns and help her find out the best way to treat acne, rather than just fall for advertisers’ promises of instantly amazing skin. Acne really is an issue that needs to be addressed — for instance, a woman I know actually wagged school a couple times as a teen because she felt so ashamed of her skin. So I asked Dr Teska for some practical advice on what girls who have pimples can do.

Home treatments

“You don’t need to spend a lot of money on skin care,” says Dr Teska. “Cleanse regularly with a combination of mild soap-free cleansers once daily, and AHA or BHA cleansers (or a daily gentle AHA/BHA scrub) once daily to encourage increased turnover of keratin and dead skin cells, as these will easily block pores.” (AHA and BHA are types of acids.) “If black- or white-heads have already formed, a night-time treatment with an AHA/BHA gel or topical Vitamin A product (preferably low-strength retinoic acid, not retinol) will be necessary.

“The key is not to rely on only one approach. One needs to attack acne from multiple angles to get a fast response.” Dr Teska suggests balancing acid-based products with non-acid-based ones, such as Australia’s ASAP and the French brand Avène.

GPs, cosmetic physicians and dermatologists

Dr Teska suggests that girls with any type of acne, even mild cases, should go and see an expert for advice. “If your GP has an interest in skin, your GP might be a suitable point of reference.” She says that GPs tend to prescribe long-term antibiotics or the oral contraceptive pill, or may refer patients to dermatologists for the drug Roaccutane. If you are wary of jumping straight to medication, you may want to get an opinion from a cosmetic physician, because while they can prescribe antibiotics and the pill, they also give non-drug-based skin treatments that GPs do not provide.

Does makeup make pimples worse?

A lot of girls want to hide their pimples with foundation or concealer, but wearing makeup to school is a thorny issue in many households, not to mention the old advice that it makes acne worse. “The last thing any teen girl wants to hear is that they can’t wear makeup to school anymore,” says Dr Teska. “I always say to the girls I see, ‘If you feel the need to wear the makeup to cover your acne, then that’s okay for the short term.'” Once a girl is on a treatment program and seeing improvement, she encourages them to gradually wear less makeup. “Obviously the sort of makeup they’re wearing is important . . . Anything that’s oil based is going to dramatically aggravate the acne.” Dr Teska suggests girls use only oil-free formulations.

To squeeze or not to squeeze?

I asked Dr Teska about the truth behind the advice that squeezing pimples causes scars. And yes, your mother was right. When you squeeze a pimple, “you’re introducing infection and trauma . . . and can cause permanent scarring.”

Don’t wait

Dr Teska’s final words of advice are: “Whatever you do, please ensure that even mild acne problems are treated rapidly. This is a critical time of your teenager’s identity development, and issues such as mild or moderate acne may seem trivial to parents, but to a teenager they can have enormous consequences.”

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