An Opinion Piece By Natasha Fatah @natashafatah Contributor
Princesses gone wild. That more or less sums up the buzz and discussion about the new movie Spring Breakers.
The premise of the film is a group of college girls who decide to go on a crime spree to pay for their Spring Break holiday. Sex. Drugs.
Drunkenness. Violence. And again lots of sex. Director Harmony Korine I guess was trying to do a little something for everybody since the film is described as a sexy crime comedy action thriller drama.
The R-rated production with a wardrobe consisting primarily of bikinis, dreadlocks and gold teeth probably wouldn’t get most of our attention. But it has caught our attention, because of the young stars of the film — the aforementioned Disney princesses. Specifically Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez — who play two of the Spring Breakers — breaking through their squeaky clean pre-teen images with a vengeance.
Hudgens sang and danced her way into middle-America’s heart as the star of High School Musical. And Gomez was an adorable character in Wizards of Waverly Place…and as the on-again off-again other half of Canadian pop icon Justin Beiber.
And with the release of this new film, those sweethearts of America have quickly made themselves marketable in Hollywood in the easiest way possible – taking off their clothes. It’s a powerful and dangerous lesson taught repeatedly to the young girls who look up to women in the entertainment world.[vsw id=”itbysn3yUKI” source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]
As women belonging to the South Asian diaspora, we know about the pressure to conform into a certain type of sexualized object very well. Light skin. Thin. Small nose. Demure. Obedient. Available. In Bollywood, we’ve seen the same leading men for the past three decades playing the heroes, but the actresses are a revolving door of younger and younger women. And those actresses are increasingly sexualized and objectified in Indian movies.
As for Spring Breakers, whether you watch the movie or not, the images, the ads, and the message about the film are already out. This isn’t about the quality of the film. This isn’t even about the two actresses who are taking a different direction in their career. They may doing it for artistic expression.
Maybe to expand their creative horizons. Maybe it’s the only gig they could get. Whatever the case may be, the issue is bigger than this movie and these two actresses. It’s about what we repeatedly tell young girls (and women) vs. what appears to be the reality about how young public women become successful.
We tell girls they are equal to boys, and they can do whatever they want. We tell them that they have choices. But repeatedly what we show them is that in order to be successful we have to use our beauty and our bodies. There are fantastic female role models – mothers, teachers, doctors, politicians and leaders of every industry who haven’t turned themselves into objects. But the dominance of celebrity culture ensures that it’s the women on TV, on our iPods, and in the movies that dictate what young girls want to emulate.
It’s a strange rule we’ve set up for young women. Get our attention because you’re sweet and pretty and then keep our attention by being hyper sexualized.
I think about so many of the female artists that I admired — they all, with the exception of one or two, went through some form sexualized metamorphosis in order to stay in the limelight, or at least that’s the demand we put on them.
Mariah Carey burst onto the scene with a voice and look unlike any other. But after her initial success she transformed her sweet squeaky clean image into one of sex goddess. Think about the group TLC, or Janet Jackson or Nelly Furtado – all of whom had to sex up their acts in follow up albums in order to keep our attention.
Internationally adored and respected superstar Beyonce asks the question – who runs the world? And offers the answer – girls. But just last month in Huffington Post, Sandra Hawken Diaz of the Canadian Women’s Foundation asked the question “Do girls run the world if they do it half-naked?” I have asked the same question again and again.
Is Beyonce really running the world if she’s doing it writhing around on stage basically in her underwear? I’m not advocating being ashamed of your body. But for women why is it the primary source of pride and empowerment? Who makes that choice? And if the whole industry is about sex then why doesn’t her husband rapper Jay-Z ever get half naked on stage?
There is the argument that as an artist you have to take risks. I’m not buying it. Turning a young girl, into a sexualized adult by putting her in a bikini isn’t a risk. It’s a lame tried-and-true tactic. Watch any music video or beer commercial from the 80s and 90s. There is room for actresses to express themselves and their sexuality, but many of us find it deeply concerning that time after time this is the only path for young female actresses and starlettes to be taken seriously as adult professionals.
We need to expect more and better from the entertainment industry, and really from ourselves. In meantime, there’s a new fresh crop of young women turning into objects for a whole new generation to look up and emulate.
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