Have We Really Lost our Innocence or Have We Never Had it At All?

If you read this blog, you'll have figured out that I'm a reality TV addict. I, like so many others I'm sure, find it fascinating to watch these shows that purport to portray 'real life' when we all know that having a camera in your face dramatically changes your behavior. Not to mention the editing and 'unscripted' scripting that goes on. Although they often show us the worst of human behavior, I do think that some reality shows can hold up a mirror for us to see what our society values - how are certain attitudes and behaviors portrayed in these shows?

One of the shows I watch religiously is America's Next Top Model. The show is diametrically opposite to everything I value, and yet I find it entertaining. But I think my love affair with that show may be coming to an end. I used to think that Tyra Banks was all right and had some decent values and was certainly entertaining to watch. Now that I've seen her talk show several times, my opinion of her has changed. On the premiere of the new season of Top Model, her attitude came out full force. For their photoshoot, the women (who are all over 18 but are always referred to as 'girls'), were asked to wear costumes that made them look like little girls and pose in a playground. In the background of all of the shots were three other women who were meant to portray 'bad girls' - one of them was pregnant, one of the them looked like a junkie etc. The idea, they were told, was to show how girls are losing their innocence. Tyra Banks told them that this is an important issue to her because she did a survey on her talk show that showed that 1 in 5 girls wants to be a teen mom and that teenage girls are 'out of control'.

So let's think about this. Tyra Banks left home and went to Paris to pursue modelling by herself when she was 16. Is that an innocent childhood? And more to the point is the fact that she is touting this idea of perserving the innocence of young girls when she has made her fame and fortune in an industry that capitalizes on the sex appeal of very young women. To get a foothold in modelling, girls really need to start in their mid-teens. 21 is considered old in the modeling world. They want very young girls and women working in the industry but they make up the 16 and 17 year-olds to look much older than they are and much more sexualized than they probably are. Talk about lost innocence! All of these ads end up in magazines and on TV for young girls to look at. Yet, we don't hear Tyra mention that the advertising and fashion industries are a major driver in the desire of teenage girls to look and act much older than they are.

The innocence she is attempting to portray is so idealized as to be laughable. She had these women in pigtails and short frilly dresses. It's such a narrow view of what a 'good girl' really is. I don't think very many of us wore pigtails and frilly dresses and played hopscotch in the playground every day. Sure, we may have done that sometimes, but we also studied math, played team sports, played music, hung out with our friends at the 7-11, talked about boys, flirted with boys (and girls), stole chocolate bars from the 7-11, felt lonely and depressed, snuck a taste of beer at a party, and maybe we had family lives that were pretty crappy and childhood was rough. No one has that kind of idealized childhood so why do we try to force girls to act like 'good little girls'? It's a standard that is not based in reality. And through that lens, a lot of behavior that is actuall pretty typical teenage behavior becomes 'bad'.

Girls are sexual beings. Tyra Banks of all people should understand that. Why are we so scared to let them be a little sexual? We portray images of sexuality all around them and then when, in real life, they start to let that out a little bit and feel their sexuality, we label them as bad girls and send them to counsellors to straighten them out. The whole thing just baffles me and I'm not the least bit surprised that so many girls are confused about sex and sexuality. I think if we could just allow girls a little room to be who they are - and that includes their sexuality - they might not feel so restricted and needing to break out and prove they can be themselves. If we acknowledge that girls are sexual and give them opportunities to express and explore that, they can take ownership over their sexuality and make decisions that make sense for them. It's so past time for us to stop treating teenaged girls like idiots with scary demons inside of them. Because the problem there is, when that's what they are told they are, that's exactly how they act.