As a future educator and hopefully a parent one day, it disturbs me how much sex is thrown in our faces – and that includes children’s faces – all day. Sex has always been used to sell stuff and has been part of the entertainment industry for a long time. However, with increase use of technology it is more readily accessible to our children. As discussed in Sext Up Kids “pop culture is fast becoming porn culture.” Take for instance the magazine below:
Also, consider the photoshop that goes into these images, such as the one below:
How are kids supposed to maintain positive body images when the ideal they are shown – and can’t avoid when surfing the web, watching TV, going to the grocery store, looking at a billboard, shopping at a store, buying their favorite C.D., etc. – is not attainable because it is not real? Girls are shown that fame = get naked and boys are shown that masculinity = action/no emotions/muscles/getting chicks. From actors/musicians like Miley Cyrus who are “hyper-sexualized… to be visible in society” or wrestlers and rap music perpetuate this gender binary. Success is equated with these unattainable and highly sexualized images. As the documentary noted, “as girls are bombarded with images that reinforce their value as sex objects, boys learn that is just how to treat them.” It is not shocking, then, that children have a high tolerance for sexuality. If you see it everyday, why would it bother you over time? If we as adults are not shocked why would it be any different for our kids? How can the norm (or the presentation of it) be shocking? We don’t shut off from the world now and the world presented to us is one of sex.
Today I was talking with one of my friends who is a parent. She was complaining about the clothing choices that her eight year old daughter has. This friend kept discussing about how store after store all they found was stuff that she wouldn’t let her daughter out of the house in. This mother was torn about what to do because she didn’t want her kid to be dressing inappropriately but had no idea where to find clothes that weren’t sexualized. I don’t question why “girls are often showing up… dressed in a highly sexualized way” because if you spend five seconds sifting through children’s clothes, it is easy to see they have no other option (for the most part). I believe that everyone has a right and should not be shamed for how they dress. If you want to wear a mini-skirt or a turtle neck, so be it; dress does not = personality. However, the problem lies in the single narrative – the lack of choices.
To me the issue is not as much about the sext up images but that they are the only messages out there. The Canadian Code of Advertising (See: 12. Advertising to Children) states that “advertising that is directed to children must not exploit their credulity, lack of experience or their sense of loyalty, and must not present information or illustrations that might result in their physical, emotional or moral harm.” Well, we are failing at this. And even if children’s advertising avoided this (which it doesn’t) children don’t live in a separate world; they see the magazines on the shelf when mom, aunt, foster parent, or dad take them grocery shopping. They see the commercials that pop up during family TV time. They see the billboard on the street talking about breast implants. I think our job as educators is to directly and explicitly discuss this. I’m not about to single-handily dismantle this narrative, that has perpetuated society for many years, anytime soon (even though I would love to be powerful enough to do so). But I can openly and critically discuss it. I can have body-positive images/lessons presented in my room. I can offer another narrative. I can have open conversations about healthy relationships. I can act as a role model by dressing professionally and by speaking positively about myself and my looks (especially as a 5’10 lady who is nowhere close to meeting the ideal). I can teach about the myth of privacy online. I can create my own positive digital citizenship and help my students create one, too. When “everything is saying promote yourself, flaunt yourself, exhibit yourself” I can say promote your talents, teach us what you know about this topic, exhibit your best work this year. And I hope that will be enough!