Let’s talk about sexy selfies on the internet. Let’s talk about the idea of young women acting and dressing in provocative ways. Let’s talk about moralizers on blogs and in major newspapers who want girls to stop doing this because they think a culture of girls who dress like the cast of Little House on the Prairie will return us to a state of moral uprightness. Let’s talk about what kinds of sexual behavior are considered appropriate. Let’s talk about the presumption that outward displays of sexuality are shameful. Let’s talk about the certainty that sexual behavior will always bring regret.
Let’s talk about how it’s utter bullshit.
Here are some pictures of me. I was 18. In one, I was dressed up for the Halloween dance my freshman year of college. In the next, I was wearing nothing but lingerie under that lab coat. It was a costume party hosted by a secret society I was president of. And one more picture from when I was 25 and dressed as a FemBot for Halloween.
Do I feel shame over these pictures? No. Regret? No. Do I look at them and think that what I was doing was inappropriate? No. Nothing shameful, regrettable, or inappropriate was happening here. I was 18, 21, 25. I was young and as lovely as I will ever be. I was a sexual, sensual creature and it was a power I was learning to use. It was a part of who I was and who I would eventually be. It was fun.
It wasn’t definitional. Dressing up and acting sexy was one thing I did in those days. But it wasn’t the only thing I did and everyone who know me then knew it. I wasn’t always doing this. It was part of a growing up process.
Girls who post sexy “selfies” on the Internet today, the same girls who become the subject of moralizing screeds like the “FYI If You’re A Teenage Girl” post that’s gone viral today, are acting the same way I did and for the same reasons. They are young and they are as lovely as they will ever be. They are sexual, sensual creatures and it’s a power they are learning to use. It’s part of who they are and who they will eventually be. It’s fun. It isn’t definitional. It’s one part of who they are and people who know them – not nosy mothers who judge them based on a photograph but people who take the time to know them – know that.
They are doing nothing wrong. No one should tell them otherwise. No one should force on them feelings of shame or regret for being human and at the peak of their sexual power. No one should thrust an alternate morality at them and force them to conform.
The message we should send girls is that they are young and lovely and sexy and powerful. And they are smart and savvy and silly and success-driven and all of that, all of those things and more will make them into full-blown adults. They need to know all those parts of themselves: the sexy part, the ambitious part, the brainy part, the silly part — all the parts that will make the whole. They need to learn when to use which facet of their personality to achieve their goals. And they can only learn that by using all those facets and seeing how they work. They should be smart, take care to protect their health and safety but don’t let fear or shame make them stifle any part of who they are.
The message we have to send to people who look at girls – or boys – in their sexy phase of growing up is that they are people of inherent worth and dignity. You may not judge based on appearances. This is true for everything: race, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, ability, disability, age. You cannot look at one aspect of a person and pass final judgement. You must treat each person as an individual.
Because that’s what it always comes down to: you must treat every person as an individual, worthy of respect, undiminished by prejudice. Don’t let one photo frame them in your mind forever.
Rebekah Kuschmider is a DC area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, a cable news addiction, and a blog. Rebekah has an undergraduate degree in theatre and Master’s in Arts Policy and Administration and a decade of experience managing arts organizations and advocating in the public health sector. Rebekah also blogs about her life, her thoughts, and her opinions at StayAtHomePundit.com.She was voted one of the Top 25 Political Mom Blogs at Circle of Moms. Her work has also been seen at Salon.com, Redbook online, and the Huffington Post.
Images courtesy Rebekah Kuschmider/all rights reserved