Monday, 27 June 2011

21st Century girls: The Media Sheep

When I was growing up, I was out until all hours (or at least until the streetlights went on) in my tracksuit bottoms, on my bike. We'd play "Blocky" and trade our Pokemon cards. I listened to bands like the Spice Girls and S Club 7 and watched programmes like Sabrina the teenage witch and Kenan and Kel. To be honest, the 90's was an awesome time to grow up. I loved my childhood and I wouldn't change it for anything. And I am sincerely glad that I was growing up in the times that I did and not today. Because now, most young girls aren't out getting muddy and playing on their bikes. They're inside reading magazines about how to look like some stick thin celebrity and what they should be wearing, watching provocative music videos and ridiculous reality TV programmes. The girls I see out at the weekends with their friends aren't rollerblading, but they are dressed in heeled shoes and skirts so short, they leave very little to the imagination.

I'll start by saying, I am not a prude by any means. I will wear shorts in the summer and if I go out to town round the clubs, I will wear a dress that most likely shows off my legs and/or cleavage and some killer heels. The difference being, I'm 22. My dress sense isn't influenced in any way by what the celebs are wearing or what a magazine tells me is in fashion. I wear what I feel comfortable wearing. If I can't be bothered, I will gladly stick on a hoody and jogging bottoms. If I can be bothered, I'll dress up. Otherwise I'm more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl.

The girls I'm talking about are half my age. It's not uncommon for me to go into town shopping and see groups of girls, standing about in knee high socks and revealing tops, talking loudly about their "sex lives" and swearing. Most of them are usually wearing streaky fake tan or false nails that look more like talons, their hair in high ponytails and their faces caked in overzealous make up. And it makes me sad, more than anything, that these girls will never have the childhood that I did, because their lives are taken over by the way they look and how they should act.

These days, music has become extremely over-sexualised. A prime example is Rhianna. A great artist she may be and of course, she is gorgeous. But some of her songs that are listened to by the younger teen audience are inappropriate. Rudeboy, for instance, where the chorus is: Come here rudeboy can you get it up, come here rudeboy is you big enough? Obviously, this is not a song about how her man is putting up a high shelf. Of course, there is her more obvious song, S&M (for the innocent amongst you, this is in reference to sadomachochism, the act of sexual pleasure through pain and often torture) in which the lyrics in the chorus include "sex in the air, I don't care I love the smell of it" and "whips and chains excite me." The more "offensive" words are blanked in radio edits and on music channels before the watershed, or at least they are meant to be. And it's not only Rihanna of course. I once went into a shop with Lily Allen's "Not fair" playing over the speakers and a girl no older than 9 was singing along to it. Considering the lyrics contain "You're supposed to care but you never make me scream" in a song that is in reference to a partner who never makes her orgasm, that is pretty worrying.

It's not just the song lyrics themselves which are inappropriate but the music videos that go with them. Women dressed in lycra or bikinis, writhing around or rubbing up against men. Not only are the female artists dressing and dancing in a sexual fashion but even male artists include scantily clad women in their videos. Of course, all of these women are gorgeous size zero models with massive boobs and bums. Not only is this kind of image destructive to a young girl's self confidence but it is also extremely degrading to women in general. For a generation of girls growing up believing that to get anywhere in life you have to be sexy and be seen as a man's plaything is a terrible realisation that the media is going too far.

I'm not perfect and there are times when I open a magazine and see a female celebrity and I wish I had their boobs or their legs or even their hair. But I am also at an age where I'm no longer naive, I know I am who I am and I'm proud of that. So it's no wonder that these girls are being sucked in to what is becoming a massively celebrity centred world. There are clothes retailers out there who are selling clothing aimed at young girls that include padded bras, frilly knickers and mini skirts, as well as heeled shoes. Some are aimed at children as young as 7. I have seen numerous statistics and documentaries that show that girls as young as 6 think they are too fat and they need to diet so they can be slim. Others have shown that there are more and more teenage girls who want to become glamour models. When I was 7, all I wanted to be was an author. I would sit and write for hours and hours and dream about one day making it a career. Never once did topless modelling cross my mind. I'd be a hypocrite if I said that it was wrong. I have grown to like my body and I'm not afraid to show it off in some respects. But to make a living from men paying to see me naked is not what I wanted out of life and never will be, and my dream of being an author still stands today. I do wonder what happened to all the ambition. Now girls want to be popstars, models.. they just want to be famous. They want the money, the lifestyle, the fancy clothes. Nobody seems to want to work hard for a proper career, like a doctor or a lawyer. But unfortunately, the chances of becoming famous are very thin. But that's not something these kids realise.

I have a three year old daughter. Thankfully she is totally anti-feminine. She'd rather be out playing in mud than having her nails painted. But it worries me to think that one day, she will read a magazine article or see something on TV that will make her think she isn't good enough. I am dreading her coming home from school in tears because she thinks she is too fat or that her bag isn't a designer label. And worse still, that she will become just another media sheep, dieting and trying to be someone else. In essence, that is what irritates me the most. All these "look like Cheryl Cole by eating this diet" and "look like Kim Kardashian by wearing these clothes" type articles in magazines that are telling you how you can look like someone else instead of being yourself, an individual.

Even TV programmes are getting in on it. I used to watch Hollyoaks back in the good old days of Bombhead. I don't watch it anymore unless there is nothing else on, so imagine my horror when I turned on the omnibus on Sunday to see a scene featuring a young school age girl who had snuck off on holiday with her school age boyfriend, kissing quite passionately on a bed when she was wearing only a bedsheet and he was wearing a towel which then fell off... we all know what was going on there. Previous to that scene, these 16 year olds had all been swigging vodka and cocktails and talking about sex. Hollyoaks is a prime time show, which is on at 6.30 in the evening. Their viewers are mainly young teenagers. Not only is this whole image thing being pushed onto them, but it's taken to a whole new level with the pressure of sex.

With sex being a word that just gets thrown around carelessly these days in music, tv, wherever, it's lost it sacred nature. Of course, it's been like that for a long time now, I learnt about sex from friends and what we'd read in magazines that we probably shouldn't have been reading. But I never felt pressured into it. Recently I was on a bus and I overheard a group of girls, one of whom I recognised and know that she is only 12, talking about the party they were going to later that night. They were discussing their outfits (which sounded decidedly slutty for 12 year olds) and who they were going to "get with" or in other words, who they were going to snog. I was a bit boy mad, probably from 15 onwards. But at 12 I was still too busy going out to play with my friends on ropeswings to give a crap about them, the thought of snogging one was considered gross. I still consider that to be the case now but that's besides the point. I just sat there thinking, is that really what 12 year olds do these days? Go to parties and kiss boys? What happened to children being children? Because they are in for a shock when they do grow up because all they will want to do is be a kid again.

What does it mean to be a young girl in the 21st Century? It means dressing right, acting right and wanting to be someone else. It means taking sex with a pinch of salt, dressing in a provocative manner with the intention of attracting boys and not stopping to consider any consequences. With the Internet being such a huge part of people's lives now, it is a lot easier for young girls to interact with others online. Facebook and Twitter are two huge social networking sites and many do not think about their privacy when they interact with people they don't know and happily have their mobile numbers, email addresses, even their hometowns displayed on profiles where they can easily be accessed. Not to mention the thousands of chatrooms that are around. 14 year old girls posing in their knickers is bad enough, but knowing that they haven't even thought that the people viewing them might not all be innocent friends, but men with sinister minds is worse. At 14, if you're online you have your parents nagging you about safety but of course, when your're 14, you know best and so you just nod and agree and carry on doing what you were doing anyway, not really thinking. And there are the ones that arrange meet ups with guys who flatter them by saying how pretty they are and more often than not, it ends in tragedy when that "lovely boy" turns out to be a 50 year old man who preys on teenage girls who don't know any better about the reality of the world we live in.

I wish the clock could be turned back and that the people who write these teen magazines, who retail padded bras and knee high boots to an age range of 8-11 year olds, who write these sexually themed songs could step back and think about the implications they would have on young girls. Girls who, at 13/14 are going through that awkward hormonal change and life seems hard enough without being told they don't look right. So many girls appear on the news, having killed themselves over things like being bullied for looking different. It's so wrong and it needs to be stopped.

But my fear is, it's a monster that has spiralled out of control. It can't be reined in because the media has taken over reality for so many that the world of celebrity has become the norm for them. Anorexia and bulimia will continue to rise where diets fail and the sheer refusal to stop until they are skinny will cause so many more tragic deaths. It all seems such a far cry from the days of skinning your knees and playing in fields with friends. Instead it is primarily about boys, fashion and being famous. I only hope that one day, someone somewhere will stand up and say that this isn't right. Children need to be children, not miniature adults and that instead of trying to be the next Miley Cyrus (who is a shocking role model to children) to be proud of who you are and put a stop to the growing celebrity phenomenon that is sucking these girls in and changing them into people who so desperately want to be anyone else but themselves.

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