Confession: I didn’t like being a child. Temporary lines use to scribble my forehead when my mother PUBLICLY cut my food at a restaurant, and I can vividly recall my frustration at her sipping my drink before handing it to me at a theatre. I can’t recall the Mr. Men show we watched, but I do know I had a tantrum at her wariness of me spilling an overfilled cup of juice. It is no secret children love to acknowledge when they’re a “big girl/boy”, though I took that message a step further. I was determined to grow up too soon.
It started innocently enough. I walked round my house with a baby pram and a bag filled with baby doll essentials. At 5, I re-enacted shopping mall visits. My bathroom became a lift and I had to squeeze my pram in and out before the lift doors shut. Somehow, I always managed to make it in time. When I was able to secretly wander in my parents’ bedroom, I sat at my mother’s dressing table and learnt to smudge Chanel lipstick and eye shadow across my eyes without my mum ever knowing. (At least I assume she didn’t). I use to walk up and down in her heeled shoes, and me and my sister did our makeup (orange blush and blue powdered eyes) to perform dance routines to my poor dad, who simply wanted to watch the football.
When girls grow up too soon
The real change began aged 10. Instead of harmlessly pretending to be an adult (naively copying), I plagued my mind with ideas on maturity. Firstly, I desperately wanted a boyfriend. It was a status symbol assigned to the most attractive and popular school girls. Even before adolescence kicked in, me and my peers were aware of beauty and sexual interest. Only then, our version of sex involved a peck on the lips.
For Christmas, I asked for a DVD of every music video Jennifer Lopez had ever released. The disc included mini interviews from J.LO, sharing her thoughts on each of her videos. In my awkward tracksuits, I attempted to mimic her sexiness. I can’t imagine how ridiculous I looked trying to move my non-existent hips to “Love Don’t Cost A Thing”. Millenials grew up hoping to mirror Britney Spears’s school girl outfit.
When my year group was in high school, hip-hop and R&B dominated the charts. Back in the 90’s, the videos for this music usually involved a rapper in a fancy location, swarmed around beautiful women with dancers performing on difference scenes. “No Diggity” by Blackstreet – a classic example. By the early 2000’s, female dancers became nothing more than sexual objects. Dancers were replaced for girls slowly walking, slowly coming out of water, slowly crawling on a bed. Women became an asset – something to acquire when you achieve a generous income.
Though I adore this era of music, I believed it contributed to girls wanting to grow up too soon and look sexual at an inappropriate age. I knew the words to LL Cool J “Doin It” before my teen years. It’s easier in many ways for girls to become too sexualised, because women have countless physical options. When a girl wants to look older, she can remove her body hair, begin to wear makeup, shorten her school skirt, buy a padded bra.
A sexualised society
The Conversation put together research on sexual objectification. When women are treated like sexual objects (receiving wolf-whistles and gazing up-and-down stares etc.), the publication found this can impact “a woman’s emotional well-being” by leading them to “scrutinise their physical appearance”. Website Very Well Mind notes the pressure and increase of sexualisation aimed at young girls. From social media, retail, campaigns, pornography and T.V – even the way parents remind girls to act feminine and ladylike.
I’ve continually argued and defended my choice as a woman to dress and pose how I choose. I’ve supported the increase of women putting their sexuality in their own hands; showing their bodies openly in spite of potential judgment. And regardless of knowing that me wearing next to nothing could make someone else feel pressure to mimic the same, I tell myself I don’t hold that level of influence. When I was researching for this article, I realised I’ve perhaps focused on the wrong areas of female sexuality.
What is the actual stigma with women baring their skin? Because on social media, it’s not a taboo. If I posted myself in lingerie, you wouldn’t think: Wow, Laura is breaking boundaries! She’s doing something so out there and different. The problem lies I think, in how we categorise women based on how ‘sexy’ they present themselves. For instance, I see women wearing the most revealing leggings, putting their butts towards a camera as they do slow squats – and many don’t think that’s provocative. Equally women who show a necklace while their chest takes over most of the image, supposedly not considered overtly sexual. Yet a woman with her legs wide open or posing with her nipples pixelated – some deem entirely inappropriate.
Is it okay to keep selling sex?
It’s a forever wavering debate – is social media bad, are selfies negative, does photographing yourself lead to narcissism? It’s easy with these questions, to nicely place myself in the middle; not fully swaying to one side in the arguments.
Research proves that sexual objectification can negatively impact women greatly, but many people enjoy objectifying themselves. They (including me) upload images to social media, with the sole purpose for viewers to notice a specific body part or gawk at certain features. No one posts a picture hoping others will perceive them average or not pay any awareness to their appearance. I can only imagine as pre-teens, the desire to emulate what other influencers do when they’re trying to understand their emerging hormones.
Sex has progressed to less about female empowerment, and more about generating popularity, money, some elements of fame. We can say that grown women have every right to present their bodies how they want online, but there is debate for whether society itself should decrease its sexualised imagery. Particularly when celebrities target a teenage audience with sexy visuals. The leading question that made me explore societal sexualisation: Am I really empowered, or am I just acclimatised to a sex obsessed culture?
When you’re in a sex obsessed culture, emphasis is place on physicality, which means emphasis on youth. At 14, grown men use to shout sexual remarks as I walked by. Who can forget men counting down when Mary-Kate & Ashley turned 18? In the media, #metoo has proven the interest some men possess for barely legal girls. Who knows whether Jeffrey Epstein’s ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell will reveal some of the other names involved in their disgusting young girl exploits?
Presently, I assume society holds a growing number of girls who try to look and act like adults, and a growing number of men who want to date young women. Put together and you have girls who grow up too soon, surrounded by sex and sexual objectification.
So, how much do girls grow up too soon?
An article on The Reporter, discusses the dwindling value of childhood. They use the example of parents who make their kids Instagram famous. Why go outside and play when you can gain fans and attention on social sites? The Reporter also mentioned the added pressure children feel to “excel academically”.
You could say children are growing up with less responsibility. Unlike previous generations, young people now aren’t expected to get married and start a family in their early twenties. Yet, girls today are expected to quickly adapt to a world where strangers can bully them online, where online likes can feel superior to people who like them in real life, and where sex can majorly boost their chances of getting the online likes. Simply interacting on a social site dominated by adults can make people grow up too soon.
I’ll continue to discuss sex and write posts that reach out to people who want to learn more and explore better, and I’ll post sexual imagery that works with the sex-based articles, but I am starting to question whether sexy images hold any value for me beyond additional views and blog engagement.
Ultimately, yes, I think girls do grow up too soon. If you agree and think yes, what do you think society can do to help? How much can we blame social media?