Tarted-up teens

Babel (the movie, reviewed in my previous post) illustrates a social issue that interests me: the sexualization of teenaged girls who have not yet mastered their sexual persona.

One of Babel’s four plot lines follows a Japanese teenager dealing with a double crisis. Chieko (played by Rinko Kikuchi) is trying to come to terms with the death of her mother. The circumstances in which her mother died are not made clear until the climax of the movie. And Chieko’s emotional struggles are intensified by the fact that she is deaf. She feels like a freak at a time in her life when she is acutely interested in boys.

Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Chieko’s age is never revealed. She might be eighteen; presumably the actor is, since she is shown in full frontal nudity. The character seems younger than that, but perhaps her social development has been delayed because of her deafness.

Physically, Chieko is an adult, I suppose. (To me, eighteen-year-olds look only half-formed.) Emotionally, she is a needy child. She desperately wants to lose her virginity. She has something to prove, some need to fulfill — not really a need for sex.

suzukaasahina suzukaSome of the scenes reminded me of the tarted-up schoolgirls depicted in animé. Chieko goes out in public wearing a mini skirt — without panties, as she makes clear to a friend.

She tries to seduce various men; some are her own age, others are as old as her father. But “seduce” is the wrong word. Her technique is too clumsy to be seductive; as unsubtle as the plot of a porno movie. She has the necessary body parts, but she has not yet mastered her sexual persona.

Chieko represents some of the adolescent girls I see in my part of the world: all cleavage and half-exposed behinds, with no real comprehension of what they’re playing at.

At this point I must interject a couple of clarifications.

First, I’m aware that there are exceptions to the sort of adolescents I’m describing. I have met precocious girls, not yet twelve years old, who exude sexuality, and who appear to be in complete control of their sexual persona. Perhaps they are sexually active; perhaps it’s just a persona. Those aren’t the girls I’m discussing here.

Second, this isn’t a rant against premarital sex. I’m not arguing that boys drive the sexual agenda and girls require our protection. In the movie, Chieko is on the prowl. I would be OK with that, if Chieko weren’t so messed up in other respects — that’s the pivotal consideration.

Br*tneyMy critique, fwiw, is directed at society and the way we socialize our children. As Chieko mimicks animé, so North American girls ape Br*tney Sp**rs — or the current pre-fab adolescent pop tart, whoever that is.

A couple of summers ago, I noticed a young teenager wearing a very short skirt. She was crossing a street, downtown. It was a windy day. She was trying to hold the skirt down as she walked, and the expression on her face showed that she was very uncomfortable with her situation.

Who dressed her that way? She dressed herself, of course, but with a head full of MTV images. I remembered her as I watched Babel. Like Chieko, she wasn’t ready to wield such a potent sexuality.

Western society rushes children headlong toward sexual maturity. Animé is normative; every schoolgirl aspires to look like her name is written on a bathroom wall somewhere. Harmful consequences will surely follow, for some of them.


23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. reportcard
    Dec 14, 2006 @ 19:43:17

    A great post with a very interesting perspective.

    A couple of questions:

    1) Where do you believe the line is?

    I certainly don’t read you to mean going back to the “Leave It To Beaver” 1950’s, however a line seems to have been crossed. How long ago do you believe we crossed it.

    2) How do we get back to it?

    Legislating morality and requiring public dress codes is even too conservative for my tastes. Is there a better way?


  2. unitedcats
    Dec 14, 2006 @ 22:30:43

    Good post, I agree. I am also very concerned with the ever increasing “sexualization” of children. Advertising and the entertainment are the prime movers in this I think, and it went over the line sometime in the sixties or the seventies. I doubt there’s an easy answer, school dress codes certainly can’t hurt. I think advertising needs to be regulated in some way, but how to do that without instituting censorship is a mystery to me. Darn sure the industry isn’t going to regulate itself though, sex sells, and children are a prime target (possibly the prime target) of advertisers. Ceertainly should get more public debate in my opinion. JMO —Doug


  3. Michael (a.k.a. Snaars)
    Dec 14, 2006 @ 23:43:22

    There’s a difference between being sexually active and being sensually alluring. Anyone can be sexually active regardless of age, but to be sensual requires some degree of maturity. An alarming number of kids become sexually active at a ridiculously young age, and I think that’s caused in part by the fact that kids don’t understand the difference between performing an adult act and being mature.

    We all know that the entertainment media is a powerful tool for molding our culture; but the people who produce irresponsible entertainment care only for money, and not for anyone else’s welfare or the general good.

    Throughout the ages and even in places in the world today, it’s considered normal for girls to start bearing children as soon as they’re biologically able. In our society though, having a child has enormous consequences that our young people are simply not equippedto handle.


  4. 49erDweet
    Dec 15, 2006 @ 01:42:45

    Troubling, troubling subject. We could be – or maybe are – speaking of my own granddaughters. The truth of it is there is no way to unring the bell. So the only effective way to “go back” to an agreed upon “line” is to go generation by generation. Good luck with that! Thanks Madison Avenue and whereever the UK equivalent might be! You’ve made your money but you’ve sold out our kids.


  5. Bill
    Dec 15, 2006 @ 10:06:49

    I agree with 49erdweet it is impossible to “unring the bell,” but we can ring a new one. There are some organizations that are attempting to prevent this sort of sexualization of Children and not just faith based groups. Two that I know of are the National Institute on Media and the Family http://www.mediafamily.org/about/index.shtml and the Parents’s Television Council http://www.parentstv.org/ . Sorry I could not find the Canadian equivalent of NIMF (I know there is one) but as most of the programming in North America originates in the US the NIMF is a good group to support, even for Canadians. NIMF is a Consultant to World Health Organization.


  6. Stephen
    Dec 15, 2006 @ 12:22:54

    Thanks for the feedback, everybody. Here are some further thoughts:

    (1) So far, it’s six guys discussing the issue. I’m interested to know whether women see the issue any differently.

    (2) Reportcard asks the tough questions.
    (a) Where to draw the line?
    First, I’ll point out that it’s not so much a line as a pendulum swinging from one extreme (repressive) to the opposite extreme (sexualizing children). I’ve seen photos from the 1930s of men canoeing in jackets and ties. And of course women wore those ridiculous bathing suits that exposed no skin whatsoever.

    Any line would be arbitrary, of course. I’m just advocating a principle: that children, adolescents and teenagers who are not yet ready for sex shouldn’t dress like they’re displaying fruit in a market. Clothing should send a signal: this girl is sexually mature — not just physically, but emotionally — and that one isn’t.

    A girl who isn’t sexually mature shouldn’t have to dress like a whore to be fashionable.

    (b) How to effect a change?
    If socialization is the issue, individuals as such are powerless to effect the necessary change.

    The links Bill provided utilize the approach people are most comfortable with (though the second link may trigger some alarms). Study the issue, call attention to problematic practices, try to persuade the public of the potential harm, hope for a groundswell of public opinion. This post is my small contribution to that larger PR campaign.

    A second approach is to belong to a counter-culture. Pit one kind of socialization against another. Churches used to be effective at this; now they seem to be losing the battle, but maybe they still exert a moderating influence. Of course, that option isn’t practicable if you aren’t a believer.

    Third, tightened regulations might be considered. Canadians tend to approve of this practice more than Americans do. In general, if Canadians believe private industry is engaged in damaging practices, we’re happy for government to intervene.

    Both in the USA and Canada, the airwaves are regulated, but it doesn’t seem to be effective. Can anything more be done on this front? I’m not knowledgeable enough to take a stand, but I am open to the idea, in principle.

    (3) Several of you point the finger at advertising and the entertainment industry. I hesitated to say so, but I consider capitalism to be implicated at the root of the problem. (Capitalism is arguably the best economic system in the world, but it isn’t perfect, and it’s appropriate for citizens to be critical of it!)

    MTV, for example, wants to sell advertising revenue, like any other TV station. That means they need to play the ratings game. So they push the envelope to attract a larger audience. The more radical the program, the more people tune in — or so it seems.

    MTV offers programming aimed at youth. That’s a place where regulation might work. And I certainly have no qualms about regulating advertising, where sex is used to promote every kind of product.

    (4) Re Michael’s comment —
    Other cultures don’t really provide a basis of comparison because they are so radically different. Girls mature later (using first menstruation as a demarcation); they work alongside adults from an early age, instead of continuing in school well into their twenties; the societies they live in tend to be communal (the village that raises the child); and marriages tend to be arranged by their families.

    It’s true that they marry young and start right into having babies, but the whole social context is different. (Not that you were arguing that the precedent makes it OK for our culture to sexualize children, Michael! I’m not debating your point, I’m just exploring the thought to see where it leads.)


  7. elronsteele
    Dec 15, 2006 @ 16:27:11

    Fascinating discussion … I was also troubled by some of the aspects of the Chieko sub-plot of Babel. I think your point about the development of sexual identity is an important one, and I think one of the problems is the society tends not to have any mechanisms in place to help this process. Its one of the few areas of growing up where we are largely left on our own … what passes for sex education in most parts of the world barely qualifies as basic instruction, never mind identity discussions.


  8. juggling mother
    Dec 15, 2006 @ 17:33:55

    I think there are many issues here. I agree that the media and advertising is a big problem, but also is the Western worlds social attitudes to sex. the whole thing about virgins/whores youth & beauty and the fact that people SEE these children as sex symbols.

    Adolesents will obviously experiment with “adult” things. When we see a young boy with a whole bottle of after shave poured over him, we smile condesendingly. When we see a girl wearing a mini-skirt we think she’s a sexual being. They are doing the same thing, but we see it in different ways. Equality has a long way to go yet!


  9. reportcard
    Dec 15, 2006 @ 18:59:29


    One point on Capitalism:
    Corporations will only provide those products that are in demand. So whether it’s MTV selling advertising space by airing risqué shows directed a teens, or a shorter mini-skirt designed to be worn by a twelve-year-old, I believe the problem is a cultural one. Regulate, Punish, or Ostracize those demanding the product and the Corporation won’t offer it due to lack of demad. If you simply regulate the Corporation, demand still exists and corporate lawyers or lobbyists will find ways around the rules.

    Your thoughts?


  10. juggling mother
    Dec 16, 2006 @ 08:36:36

    “Corporations will only provide those products that are in demand.”

    Although they also create a demand for their products through media manipulation of the social/cultural lifestyles.


  11. unitedcats
    Dec 16, 2006 @ 15:00:34

    Exactly, the science, and it is very much a science, of modern advertising has allowed corporate America to increasingly control, modify, and in some cases create consumer demand. The claim that corporate America is just passively responding to people’s demands simply doesn’t hold water anymore.



  12. reportcard
    Dec 16, 2006 @ 17:50:51

    unitedcats & juggling mother:

    No where did I claim that corporations were passively responding to people’s demands. Rather, if you limit the demand through consumer regulation, punishment or ostracizing; corporations’ attempts to dictate the demand cycle become impotent.

    I appoligize for not making my prior comment more clearly; I’d assumed that we all would have a good understanding of how coroporations can drive demand. Apparently you did not think this was so in my case.


  13. Stephen
    Dec 16, 2006 @ 18:30:05

    • elronsteele:
    One of the problems is the society tends not to have any mechanisms in place to help this process [of developing sexual identity].

    I think that’s a good point. I suspect it’s connected to the individualist orientation of the West. In cultures which are oriented to the community, there are rituals to mark transition points, and instruction to prepare people for a new societal role. We lost something significant there.

    • JM:
    I had a similar thought, although I wasn’t considering the sexist aspect. I was thinking that children are always trying to demonstrate how grown up they are, and typically they seize on the most superficial aspects of adulthood: e.g. swearing, smoking. It’s a kind of caricature of what it means to be an adult. Wearing a skirt that’s too short is a similar not-quite-getting-it scenario.

    I’ve been careful to emphasize that I’m not finding fault with the girls, but with society. Your point, that men bear a responsibility to discern that these girls are actually still children, is fair criticism. Your point about a sexist double standard is also well taken.

    • reportcard:
    I believe you’re taking issue with my emphasis on regulating industry, and suggesting instead that we influence people’s buying decisions. Does that include organizing boycotts, as in Bill’s second link?

    Perhaps all of us can agree that there’s a kind of dialogue at work here. People express a demand for a product or service. Industry responds not only by setting out to meet that demand, but also by trying to increase it.

    Your point that we could set out to change the conduct of either party to the dialogue (or both) is a good one. Boycotts seem questionable to me. I fear they often amount to a manipulation of people who aren’t really very well informed. But regulating industry is also a bit suspect, I grant you: too Big-Brothery.

    • Doug:
    I think your point about corporations manipulating the public, with all the psychological and technological tools of the trade, is well taken. It’s precisely because I don’t see industry as having clean hands that I think regulation may be justified where social harm could result, as here. But I’m ambivalent about it.


  14. unitedcats
    Dec 16, 2006 @ 23:51:38

    Yes, I did misunderstand your post, my apologies. And I agree, simply regulating corporations will not solve the problem, it’s more complicated than that.


  15. 49erDweet
    Dec 17, 2006 @ 02:14:21

    JM makes a good point. May I take it a step further? Would it help for us to actively construct or organize “acceptable” and meaningful rites of passage rituals for our teen-age identity seeking children? Similar in scope to bar/bat mitsvahs, etc.?

    If it could improve the situation in even a few cultures or communities, this would be a good thing to do. Comments?


  16. juggling mother
    Dec 17, 2006 @ 15:11:20

    hmmm, Whereas rituals may well ahve a place, I’m not at all sure they will help with this problem.

    For example a Bar Mitzvah occurs at 13 (or 12 for bat mitvah’s), which may show they child’s progression into the adult religious world, but it is still far too young to be a progression into the mature sexual world. If we took such a ritual seriously, all we would be doing is making the situation worse by stating that 12 years old is actually an adult – and the girls who then dress like that should be treated the same as a woman of, say, 24, whi dresses like that!

    if we decide, as a community, that we need to hold a “coming of age” ritual much later – at a reasonable sexual age of, say, 18, it also won’t solve the problem as girls of 13/14 will still be practising & pretending to be grown up.

    I am quite sure this is an issue with the adults in our society – not the teenagers! we need to discourage the sexualisation of children in any way.

    When i was 17 (hardly a child, i know) i was dating a 30 year old man. at the time I felt very grown up, but looking back on it, I wonder what on earth he saw in me*. Now I’m in my 30’s, i can not even imagine dating a teenager – what would we talk about? Where would we go together? We would have almost nothing in common! he would be, in every way, a child to my adult. Yet society as a whole, and Hollywood in particular, still considers that the younger your partner is, the better – especially older men with younger girls. What was the last major movie you saw where the female love interest wa over 25 years old?

    *of course, i do know what he saw in me, but it’s something i can’t empathise with!


  17. bill
    Dec 18, 2006 @ 00:15:40

    After the two articles on faith on television it seems that PTC has a few stripes that are not included in their mandate. Although they may be sincere they seem to be harboring a bias that is not in their mandate. The claim to be ” a nonpartisan organization that works with elected and appointed government officials to enforce broadcast decency standards.”
    is dependant on their perception of decency that is obviously religious based.


  18. reportcard
    Dec 19, 2006 @ 01:11:59


    You were correct in assuming that part of the solution I presented was boycotts. Your point on boycotts, however, is a very good one. It can be illustrated by this video where a prankster get’s college girls to sign a petition to “End Women’s Suffrage”


  19. mariam
    Jun 23, 2007 @ 18:22:10

    Whether it be media or corporations – both are there to make money – we know very clearly now that anyone stands up to cash in.

    The onlyway forward left now is to sit down and legislate and ask ourselves that howlong is it gonna take us to ask ourselves what our definition of freedom is – how far will we go in the name of freedom? – and how much will we have to sacrifice to give up some of that freeodm and take responsibility because with freedom comes responsibility and in a free-society there is no restriction hence no barrier which leaves us in a situation where the ones that are more likely to be hurt are the vunerable ones e.g children, poor, disabled etc etc.

    If anyone at the moment is protecting the vunerable – it is the legislation, not the person next door because he/she is a good christian/samaritan- legislation gives us responsibility so that we do not take the rights of the vunerable.

    Freedom should be seen as a scarce resource where it has to be divided/shared. Scarce recources have to be legislated to be protected.


  20. joleaneddy
    Jul 13, 2007 @ 19:58:19

    Well, being a sixteen year old girl myself, I felt that I knew what Chieko was going through. In my experience, it is true the media has something to do with it, but for the most part it’s peer pressure. When everyone is doing something and you aren’t, you feel disconnected.

    I think the solution is a solid base within the family. Also, teens do have a responsibility in chosing their friends. The media needs to find new ways to appeal to youth rather than stressing them out about sex.


  21. saman
    Jul 15, 2007 @ 04:21:55

    she is walking on the wrong way she is in hell she has to leave sexual things .she should wear underwear beneath skirt.
    she must release her album n show her talent.if she wants to find serenity she has to leave illegal relationssss.


  22. saman
    Jul 15, 2007 @ 04:24:41

    britney u have to accept islam if u want bliss.stop living in fake world come in reality and try to look at past wat u r and now what u have become a fake ,a sexual tool


  23. Stephen
    Jul 15, 2007 @ 10:34:50

    • Joleaneddy:
    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate having the perspective of a teenaged woman.

    I also agree that having a close relationship with one’s family is crucial.

    • Saman:
    Britney certainly seems to be spiraling downward toward misery. I’m not a Muslim, but Britney’s trouble illustrates that money, fame, sex — those sorts of things — are not a sufficient foundation for life. Since I come from the Christian tradition, I think of one of Jesus’ sayings: to paraphrase, to have a good life requires something more than just owning lots of stuff.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: