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Tag: One Direction

Boy-band crushes and body image — the week that was

Last week was a big week in girlworld. Unless you were recently deposited back on earth by aliens, I doubt I need to tell you that One Direction arrived in Sydney for their Australian tour. I was in at Channel 9 to talk on Mornings about whether teen girls screaming and crying over this boy band is healthy and normal (yes!) or something parents need to worry about (no!):

For my daughter, Teyah (13), and stepdaughter, Jaz (17), the best part was that they were allowed into the studio to breathe the actual same air as their beloved One Direction, as the boys made an appearance on Today.

Jaz, 17, and Teyah, 13, in the same studio as their beloved One Direction

The fans squealed. They wept. They trembled all over. But please don’t dismiss their feelings as silly or hysterical. Their feelings are very real and raw. And they have their origins in biology: the frontal lobes of the brains of teenagers are primed for high emotions, fighting, running away and, oh yes, romance.

I actually think it is beautiful to see the fans’ excitement for their squeaky clean and sexually harmless objects of desire. The big appeal of One Direction, according to almost every teen fan you ask, is that they are wholesome, down to earth and hard working. They pose little or no sexual threat. And there is no risk of rejection.

But of course there had to be a media kerfuffle about One Direction’s visit, with dire warnings being issued, and much tsk-tsking about the unbridled libidos of teenage girls these days. (Because the hysteria over the Beatles, Kiss, NKOTB, The Backstreet Boys, and so on and so on, was somehow different, apparently.) It all started when Channel 7 apologised because their Sunrise cameras captured fans in Martin Place holding signs that said “Point your erection in my direction” and “Send your one thing Down Under”. Many voices chimed in to express their outrage about the sexual nature of young fans’ adulation. Some pointed the finger at what many girls were wearing, saying their outfits were too revealing.

The fact is, there was a veritable sea of benign, nonsexual signs being held up by the screaming crowds. And anyone who wants to criticise teen girls based on how they dress should take a look at this Facebook album of One Direction fans and do a reality check. These young women are all shades of gorgeous.

To me, the real issue is why society is okay with young men making highly sexual comments, while girls seemingly should not even think about sex. Case in point: on that Facebook album, many males have left comments about whether the girls are hot or not. How sad that some little girl enjoying her first concert with friends inadvertently enters an online beauty quest. How sad that while girls are reviled for expressing a physical interest in their celebrity crushes, no one tries to stop those males publicly ranking teen girls on their hotness. And we wonder why girls end up playing the compare and despair game.

Why are we so threatened by what Wendy Harmer calls teen girls’ “emerging sexuality with training wheels”? Clementine Ford nailed it when she wrote last week in Daily Life:

The nascent sexual desires of boys are so readily accepted as part of life that we barely blink at the mention of them. . . . But instead of encouraging a similar sexual expression in girls (who experience the exact same explosion of hormones during their teen years), we demonise it . . .

At best, this trains girls to adhere to a system that constructs women as passive bystanders to sex . . . But at worst, it encourages the idea that their burgeoning desires are unnatural and gross . . .

A handful of girls waving titillating signs outside Martin Place isn’t representative of an orgiastic trend sweeping the nation, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. But it is a sign that no matter how much we try and shield girls from sex, they’re going to find ways to explore it and it doesn’t always mean they want to actually do it.

The answer isn’t to keep talking about how uncomfortable it makes everyone . . . it’s about giving [girls] the right tools to explore that sexuality in a healthy way, and trusting them to make the right decisions. They’re not delicate dolls, so stop treating them that way.

Hear, hear, sista!

Another big thing last week in this particular girl’s world was that I was on Life Matters on Radio National, talking to Wendy Harmer about positive ways to raise teen daughters. Of course, we talked about boy-band crushes, but we talked about much more, too. I especially loved having the chance to chat with listeners who called in with their concerns. One was worried about teen girls binge drinking. Another asked for advice on how to bolster the self-esteem of her beautiful teen daughter, who struggles with low body image and is teased at school for being flat chested. And a mother was deeply concerned about her 10-year-old girl who is of average weight yet is determined to stay on a diet because she believes it’s “part of being a girl”. All of their issues were heart breaking, so I was glad to have the chance to offer some practical suggestions for turning these situations around. You can listen to the interview by clicking here.

Hearing the stories of those mothers who are worried about their daughters’ body-image angst makes me more determined than ever to help make things right for our girls. If you know any young women who are struggling with body image, please let them know they can read the chapter on body image from my latest book, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo, free of charge. Simply click here for this free sample chapter.

 

Dismiss boy band teen crush at your peril


Frankly, I think it is very cool that on Monday of this week, when the rest of the nation was discussing political machinations, I managed to get teen romance on the agenda. In fact, The SMH profiled my Opinion piece as part of its “Editor’s Choice” feature
I thought I’d share it with you all here too. This was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, February 27th.

 

My Twitter feed was aflutter recently with a firm consensus about which way this country should be heading. Forget KRudd. There is, apparently, only One Direction.

Because I work with thousands of teenage girls every year and follow many online, I was privy to some revealing outpourings of devotion for this squeaky clean British-Irish boy band after they announced an Australian tour. “Don’t ask me to stop loving One Direction as that would be like stopping breathing,” said one. “I. AM. CRYING.” wrote another.

Then it got personal. My usually sensible 12-year-old daughter tried to explain to me that I should have stayed home on Friday to repeatedly call a radio station ticket competition for her. I say “tried to explain” because she actually burst into tears and could only whimper, “I just love them.” (Her usually unsympathetic little brother was so shocked, he declared he’d miss school to try to win tickets.)
Teen crushes are nothing new. I fell prey to the allure of the Construction Worker from the Village People, Ace Frehley from Kiss and David Bowie (it seems I unwittingly lusted after sexually ambiguous men in costumes).

And as tempting as it is to dismiss these outpourings of emotion, we do so at our own peril. Just ask Channel Seven, which almost had a riot on its hands when it underestimated the appeal of Justin Bieber and had to cancel his free concert. Grant Denyer said at the time, ”We just couldn’t have foreseen this scale and Sunrise hired the best security you could imagine, we hired the professionals who look after U2, Coldplay, Pink, the big acts, and even they weren’t equipped and just couldn’t handle the Bieber fever.”

The fever actually has its origins in a physical reality. The frontal lobes of teenagers are not yet fully developed. In other words, teenager’s brains are all tuned up for emotions, fighting, running away and romance.

From the Beatles to Bieber and ”1D”, it seems the more squeaky clean-cut and sexually harmless the object of desire, the more heightened the passions – precisely because the risk of the object of the affection actually posing any sexual threat is minimal. For once, teen girls feel sexually in control. They call the shots. And there is no risk of rejection.

One Direction are particularly clever at tapping into this psyche. Their big hit was What Makes You Beautiful. The lyrics include, “You’re insecure, don’t know what for. You’re turning heads when you walk through the door. Don’t need make-up to cover up. Being the way that you are is enough.”

These words sing to a generation of girls exhausted by body image angst fuelled by a plethora of air brushed images of impossible perfection. They sing too to girls tired of being dished up a diet of singers who literally slap women up (I’m talking to you, Chris Brown) and others who revel in calling them ”bitches”.

Rather than belittle, we should empathise with how very real and raw these new emotions are, just like the mother of one of my teen girl friends. “Mums so cute,” the girl said online, ”when 1D came on [TV] she said, Stop screaming & listen to your boys! LOL.”

This mum is far more likely to have her daughter open up about other confusing elements of her tumultuous teen life and include her in her emerging romantic world. The mothers who went along with their daughters to pine after Edward and Jacob, the supernatural lust objects of the Twilight franchise, realised this too.

And let’s not forget crushes have always been a vital way of bonding. Beatlemania, the Kiss Army, One Directioners, Twihards: crushes are about sharing the love. Parents probably won’t be welcome on the frontline by their daughter’s side at the concerts (no one wants their parents to see them in a state of unbridled lust surely?) but can play a vital role as part of the support crew.

As one tweeter said: “Dear parents, I’m obsessed with One Direction & not drugs and alcohol. In other words, you should be thankful for them.”

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