For anyone who may have missed the recent parenting news of the day, pop superstar Katy Perry recently taped a guest appearance on Sesame Street in which she was filmed running from Elmo in a short little low-cut dress and veil. Her yet-to-officially-air frolic with Elmo and friends quickly made its way to You-Tube, triggering a virtual firestorm of national media attention and the subsequent cancellation of the episode’s airing. The fundamental question being raised? Whether Perry’s revealing attire was inappropriate for children’s television.
After listening to one too many national commentators conclude that we’ve all become too prudish as parents and asking, “what’s the big deal?” I feel compelled to stop everything else I’m doing to help parents raise happy, healthy children and answer this admittedly rhetorical question. The fact of the matter is that while it may be superficially amusing to deem this “Cleavagegate” and laugh at the resulting Saturday Night Live skit of Perry donning a breast-emphasizing Elmo t-shirt, there’s something very, very fundamentally wrong about our culture’s acceptance of a scantily-clad 20-something year old female flaunting her highly sexualized assets on what is arguably America’s last bastion of wholesome children’s television.
While I’ve just outed myself as what some would call a prudish parent, I guarantee you I’m not alone in my beliefs. As parents, I strongly believe we need to avoid being lulled into complacency while our children are being steadily fed a media diet of increasingly sexualized images. While sexual well-being is an unquestionably important part of healthy development, a 2007 national report from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls concluded that sexualization of girls and women is both pervasive and has wide-ranging negative effects.
So what’s a parent to do? First and foremost, don’t trivialize all of the messages our youngest girls are getting – all of which repeatedly and cumulatively teach them that what really matters is how “hot” they look. You can also take the following steps, adapted from the APA Task Force Report, to teach girls from a very young age to value themselves for who they are, rather than how they look.
- Tune in and talk to your children. Pay attention to what they’re seeing on TV, in magazines and in the world around them. Discuss what they see in such a way that they learn that looks aren’t the most important quality.
- Question choices. Don’t hesitate to discuss clothing choices with your daughters so they understand why too short, too revealing, and/or too tight just isn’t appropriate.
- Speak up. Commit to noticing disturbing images and influences, and then speak up and discuss them with your children. Don’t be afraid to say no to your children, or to any products, campaigns or companies that send the wrong message(s).
- Educate. Many parents simply aren’t comfortable talking about sexuality with their children, but it’s important. I suggest checking out So Sexy So Soon and From Diapers to Dating to get yourself started.
While I wish that this was all there was to be said on the subject, the sexualization of girls will inevitably continue to be a force to be reckoned with. And it seems that Katy Perry and her wardrobe choices are here to stay – now reportedly being given a warm welcome by The Simpsons.
While that may be true, we simply don’t have to sit back and allow our children to watch! As parents, we really do have the power to raise our children with respect and a healthy body image, so long as we start by acknowledging that it really is a “big deal”!
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska