Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hollywood’s exploitation of teenage girls

Breaking news: Hollywood discriminates against women! OK, the U.S.C. study merely confirms what we already knew or suspected. Twice as many speaking parts go to men than women (67.2% versus 32.8%). When women are on screen, they are significantly more likely to “wear sexy clothing . . . , such as swimwear and unbuttoned shirts (25.8% versus 4.7%), to expose skin (23% versus 7.4%) and to be described by another character as attractive (10.9% versus 2.5%).”

The study’s most disturbing conclusion concerns the sexualization of teenage female characters. Teenage females displayed revealing clothing and partial nudity as frequently as 21- to 29-year-old females. Teenage female characters wore sexy clothing significantly more than teenage males (33.8 versus 5.3%). Even skin exposure (showing cleavage, midriff or upper thigh regions) was high and significantly imbalanced (28.2% versus 11.2%).

Teenagers emulate what they see. It is no surprise then that young girls want to appear sexier and engage in sexual acts—see Amber Cole. Girls attempting to be sexy are no longer thinking about trying to act older or more mature. Instead, teenage girls just want to keep up with their perceived peers, the young actresses they see in movies.

The movie industry’s exploitation of teenage females is shameful. According to Smith, sexualizing teenage females may contribute to male viewers perceiving younger and younger girls as “eye candy.” As bad as it is with adult actresses, a movie displaying female minors for the sexual delight of male viewers borders on child pornography. Hollywood’s objectification of teenage females increases “body shame” and “appearance anxiety” among girls.

Unfortunately, shame does not change much in Hollywood. So long as these movies rake in box office returns, Hollywood will continue to produce what it thinks will sell: sex. That means that we, as society, must collectively tell Hollywood that its treatment of teenage females is abhorrent. The only way that we can do that so Hollywood will listen is at the box office.


Alejandro said...

I too find the objectification of female actresses to be appalling, particularly, as in this case, when it is done to teenagers. Given that millions of young, impressionable girls look up to these actresses as role models, it is clear that Hollywood is having a very negative influence upon women, particularly those who, to begin with, suffer from anxiety over their appearance.

Disorders such as bulimia and anorexia are, very often, the result of such anxieties, which are only exacerbated by Hollywood's irresponsible production of sex-filled films and tv shows. Countless young girls are driven to self-destructive behavior in an attempt to fit the "perfect" image. I does seem as if Hollywood will not voluntarily change. Rather, we, the public, must compel it to change by exerting pressure, including publicized boycotts and demonstrations outside of movie theaters.

Caitlin said...

Here is my question: where is the artistic value in showing young girls scantily clad? What is added to a film if a girl's skirt or cleavage is cut so high and so low (respectively) that it leaves nothing to the imagination.

In United States v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285 (2008), the Supreme court decided that virtual child pornography, as well as depictions of actors above age 18 portraying teenagers in sexually compromising positions, was constitutionally permissible and protected by the First Amendment. I believe that society as a whole--and women especially--lost a lot with this decision. Additionally, with so few protections, it seems pretty clear that much of society is damaged by the portrayal of young women as sexual objects, but the connections and links are so attenuated it appears that the only people to pay for the harm will be society as a whole... through medical bills, psychologist bills, and other methods of aiding those who have already been irreparably harmed.

Ringo1985 said...

I think that Hollywood is responsible for many of the eating disorders and body image problems that plague young girls today. Although the original post is more directed towards the exploitation of young girls through overly sexualized images and roles, I would like to mention the rampant eating disorders and unhealthy images that Hollywood promotes as "ideal."

Hollywood profits tremendously from selling sex and objectifying women, and the same industry that has the power to exploit women has the same power to turn it all around. Many women have already been casualties of the distorted, unhealthy image that Hollywood promotes.

Women who drastically loose weight almost always receive unlimited attention from the press. For example, Leeann Rimes, is teetering precariously on the edge. Although some of the coverage has died down considerably, the media had a field day with Rimes's weight loss. All of the media outlets snapped haunting pictures of Rimes in a bikini, where her emaciated body with protruding ribs and bones was obvious.

Perhaps we can best see how distorted media coverage is by looking at the stars who are "curvy." Scarlett Johansen, who is approximately 5 ft 5 in and 120 pounds has supposedly "embraced her curves." But if anyone wants to go by the Body Mass Index, such proportions are much closer to "very skinny" than "voluptuous."

I agree with Alejandro that the public must pressure Hollywood into changing the images it constantly portrays to younger women as a "healthy" body image. I remember reading somewhere that if Marilyn Monroe was alive today, she would be considered overweight by today's beauty standards. To me, this is not a fact that cannot be easily dismissed, as it shows just how extreme Hollywood has become in promoting completely unrealistic expectations for young women and girls that can foster unhealthy and damaging lifestyles.

Brown Eyed Girl said...

I'm afraid you are right, Hanestagless. Hollywood has been, and always will be, about the money. Unfortunately, it seems that few movies are made for their artistic value these days. Human Centipede, The Smurfs, or Sex and the City 2, anybody? Let's be honest, those movies were made because someone somewhere knew that the films would generate revenue.

For some reason, movies that objectify and discriminate against women make a great deal of money, which is horrifying. I appreciate your suggestion that we voice our opinions to Hollywood by boycotting the box office. But the more I consider it, the more concerned I become. Is this something that we collectively need to agree upon as a society? Shouldn't this already be an instinctive reaction? While it is appalling that Hollywood continues to successfully take advantage of women, I am even more appalled that our society passively (or actively, depending on your view) approves of these messages when it purchases the movie tickets.

This is a vicious cycle. Hollywood encourages unrealistic figures and promotes gender stereotypes. But are they the impetus for our societal issues or are they reacting to public demand? Can we fix Hollywood's view of women without also taking a deeper look at society itself?

Girl Talk said...

This post made me think of the Kardashian family. In particular, Kim Kardashian's two half sisters, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, 14 and 16, respectively. They spend their time modeling and have done so for the past few years, stirring controversy when they dressed in skimpy bikinis for some swimsuit ad. They were named in Papermag's "Beautiful People 2010."

Does anyone else see something wrong with this? A 13 year old named as one of the beautiful people of 2010? Girls are becoming sexually objectified younger and younger, and the line between modeling and child pornography seems to be growing blurrier by the minute.

AMS said...

I completely agree that Hollywood’s exploitation of teenage females is frightening. I also agree with Brown Eyed Girl that, these days, "The Industry" seems focused much more on making a buck than producing anything tasteful, quality, and artistic.

As many of you know, my little sister is 15 years old. I recently attended a teen rock concert with her and some her teen friends at the Whiskey A Go-Go in Hollywood. The music was great, and the kids were very well-behaved.

Yet, I couldn't help but notice one particular girl who showed up that night: Bella Thorne. Bella is a teen actress who currently stars in the Disney television show "Shake it Up." (Some of you might recognize her from her role as the little sister in the last few seasons of "Big Love"). Well, Bella was dressed in a very short, skimpy dress and 3-4inch heels. Her hair was perfectly straightened and she had on plenty of makeup. The girl looked like she was going to a club--not a teen rock concert (although she did leave after the first band, so maybe she was off to a club?).

Before judging Bella, though, I wondered if maybe I was just an old lady. I looked to my sister and her friends for comparison. Whereas my sister and her friends wore Converse, jeans, and cute t-shirts, Bella wore her skimpy dress and heels. Yet, with hair and makeup, a few of them looked almost as done-up as Bella (just a little less perfect). Thus, the objectification we're talking about here carried over to Bella's personal, normal teenage life.

Then I started thinking a bit more about what Bella’s (and other teen actresses’) lives were like. They work hard--just as hard as adults, and they do this work at a young age. Unlike a typical teen job, Bella's job is a part of her career and likely requires that she home-school. She likely spends more time with adults than children.

Additionally, if Bella hasn't yet--she'll probably emancipate herself at 16 to make herself more financially attractive to the studios (they're relived of expensive obligations toward minors after emancipation). This is often one of several reasons why 25 year-old actresses are hired to play 15 year-olds. It seems to me that all this growing up at an early age can easily make its way on to the camera and into the homes and minds of American teenagers.

All that said, it might do our society some good to focus on parents—and parenting—in addition to Hollywood. Parents can and should teach their teens about what’s appropriate. Parents of teen actors and actresses should teach their almost-adult kids about the difference between classy and trashy (and what it means for their careers). Furthermore, while we know that sex sells, we should discourage parents like Mrs. Jenner (of the Kardashian’s) from promoting sexual objectification of teens. Instead, lets focus on talent again!

Sophie said...

This post immediately reminded me of the controversy surrounding a music video that was recently released. In a music video for “Elastic Hearts” by Sia, a half-dressed 12-year-old dances in a birdcage with 28-year-old Shia LaBeof. Sia responded with comments like “I anticipated some ‘pedophelia!’ cries for this video.” While the co-director cited that it’s just art. While I understand the value of interpretive dance in most settings, there was something extremely uncomfortable here about watching this twelve-year-old seductively dance around someone more than double her age.

I feel like Hollywood is exploiting girls younger and younger recently. While it started with the youngest Kardashian-Jenner girls, TV shows are now highlighting even younger stars – like in Dance Moms and Toddlers and Tiaras. The hyper-sexualization of these children (who are mostly between four and ten years old) shows something tremendously wrong in Hollywood.

Like many of the comments above, I think the public needs to be proactive about changing these images Hollywood is constantly throwing at us. Parents need to be more aware of how these images and young stars are hurting their children and their self-image. Further, the public in general needs to put the pressure on Hollywood to start creating more positive images of young women, rather that one’s that can lead to self-destructive behavior.