Role models who refused to be hyper-sexualised

KATY PERRY is doing a concert in Belfast this week, causing thousands of pre-teen girl fans to swoon at the feet of their very own Candy Queen.

Role models who refused to be hyper-sexualised

My own 13-year-old dismisses her as too kiddy, while my 10-year-old son thinks she looks nice in her dresses made of sweets but still prefers Skrillex.

Perry’s followers tend to be girls — tweenagers who are still a few years off puberty, and regard their pop idol dressed as a cupcake the most exciting thing ever. Whether she wants to be or not, Perry is a role model for girl children.

“I’d like to change the phrase ‘role model’ to ‘inspiration’,” she said in a recent interview. “Role model puts you on a pedestal that no one can really live up to. For me, aspiring to be an artist at a young age, I didn’t think about being a role model. But I definitely thought about being an inspiration. So I hope that I am an inspiration, especially with my work ethic and my ability to overcome obstacles.”

Within the sugary yet aggressively sexualised world of female pop, a few things make Katy Perry a good-enough role model. Firstly, there’s the all-important visuals — she keeps her clothes on, and is more likely to appear as a piece of confectionary than a piece of ass. She told Graham Norton that after her initial faux-sexual breakthrough hit, ‘I Kissed A Girl’, she wants to cover up more, rather than use her undressed body to shift product units, like so many of her contemporaries.

So in pop music in 2014, if you are a young female performer, does the mere act of remaining clothed make you a role model? God, that’s so inutterably depressing. Beyond her outward appearance, however, there appears to be some substance to Perry. During the filming of her successful documentary, Katy Perry Part Of Me, she allowed the cameras to film her behind the scenes, and present her as vulnerable after her break-up with Russell Brand.

“It was really important for me to keep some of the more unflattering shots in the film to show at the end of the day I’m just every kind of woman. A normal girl with a big dream,” she told the Telegraph.

“A lot of times people’s perception of people [in my industry] is that we look perfect from the moment we walk out the door. It has become such a big thing that girls have to be so painted and perfect, and I wanted to show that is not the case.” (Madonna never did that in her public home movies, did she, ladies?)

On relationships, she also sounds reasonably sane: “For a modern woman it is important to be supported and that there is equality in every aspect, and that it’s not two halves that make a whole — it’s two wholes that make a whole.”

Meanwhile, in France, recent videos of Perry’s contemporaries Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus are banned on telly before 10pm because of their sexualised depiction of women — that is, the stars themselves. Poor old Britney is herself a different kind of role model, a sort of here’s-what-not-to-do; yet while she gamely recovered from the car-crash years, she immediately reverted to hyper-sexualisation to sell units. Not that she is terribly keen, telling a Boston radio station that she is sick of being sexualised. Perhaps it’s an ex-Disney thing — her fellow former Disney performer Miley Cyrus shook off her wholesome image by getting naked for photographer and director Terry Richardson in her now-infamous ‘Wrecking Ball’ video. A perfectly reasonable song was hijacked by gratuitous nudity and sledgehammer licking.

Worrying about celebrity role models for girl children is probably a bit unnecessary, however, unless you too live inside a vacuous celebrity-obsessed bubble, which is unlikely.

Mothers are their daughters’ first role model. If you are appearance obsessed, this is a transmitted message. Emphasising achievement, intelligence and self-esteem over looks, body shape, clothes and shopping will go a lot further than worrying about who your daughter is into pop-wise.

But you already know that. We all know that. Yet we live in a digital world of external influence — so, outside of yourself, who could you point your impressionable tweenage girls towards?

Taylor Swift keeps her kit on and writes her own music. Ditto Ellie Goulding, who believes it unnecessary to get naked if your music is good enough (a memo Rihanna never received).

Adele is the queen of talent over sexualisation, as is Lorde. Lily Allen is borderline — she talks the feminist talk, but wavers on the sexualisation issue.

Lady Gaga is too weird for a lot of pre-teens, who like their role models to look cupcake-perfect rather than dressed like a butcher shop window, although when it comes to role models, Lady G is admirable with her inclusiveness of all the freaks, geeks, loners, and oddballs.

If, on the other hand, you hear your tweenager gushing about Katy Price or any Kardashian, you might need to have a quick word.

But who is there for slightly older girls?

“Athletes like [UK Paralympian swimmer] Ellie Simmonds,” says my own daughter immediately, to my massive relief. “She’s amazing.”

In the wider world, black girls have got Michelle Obama, Oprah and Beyoncé as a triumvirate of strong women, although Mrs Carter still appears semi-undressed alongside a besuited Mr Carter, which is visually jarring despite her I’m-the-boss rhetoric.

FACEBOOK boss Sheryl Sandberg has made lots of good noise about not praising her own daughter for looking pretty (although surely the obvious thing is to tell children of both sexes equally about how nice they look, rather than neither?), and continues to encourage adult women to push themselves to the top of the corporate ladder.

Tina Fey and Ellen DeGeneres are both positive feminist role models embedded in a culture that worships thinness and female passivity above all, and JK Rowling is the ultimate citizen role model, going from single parent penury to a non-tax dodging individual.

She says she will never become a tax exile because she does not want her children to grow up “only associating with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles”, and because she wants to give something back to the welfare state on which she initially relied.

Exposing our girl children to such wonderful female role models while steering them away from the get-naked-to-make-it brigade is still hugely undermined by the big fat double standard in our culture which judges females differently than males. And by differently, I mean worse.

When boy popstar Justin Beiber showed signs of doing a Britney earlier this year, being arrested for driving under the influence, he was not castigated for being a disgrace to mankind, a terrible role model, a tragedy waiting to happen — as would have been the case had he been a Justina Beiber.

Miley Cyrus may have made an error of judgement with her choice of video director and subsequent nudity, but she has not (yet) had her mugshot posted all over the internet, as Justin Beiber has — but who got the most column inches for out of control behaviour? The girl. Not the boy.

Boys and men get away with stuff that would be deemed career-enders for girls and women.

Bad behaviour is shrugged off as something almost natural — from Bill Clinton to Tiger Woods, it is just men being men.

Hyper sexualisation, double standards, and digital saturation — no pressure, but you — the parent — had better be the best role model you can be for your kids.

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