While Britney Spears is finally free from her conservatorship, is she and other celebrities free from the male gaze and sexualization? It is no surprise that young actresses (and actors) are put under a magnifying glass, closely observed and fetishized by the mass media. They face constant sexualization as a minor before they even knew what sexual power is. However, to make matters worse, these young artists, mostly being girls, were subjected to the countdown culture - where people would count down the days until female celebrities turn 18 and ‘allowed’ to be sexualized. TMZ captioned a photograph of Kendall in a bikini in 2013: “Kendall Jenner 53 Days”, which was 53 days until she turned 18.
Emma Watson (Credit: Telegraph)
Emma Watson shared at a HeForShe conference: “I remember on my 18th birthday, I came out of my birthday party and photographers laid down on the pavement and took photographs up my skirt, which was then published on the front of the English tabloid the next morning. If they had published the photographs 24 hours earlier they would have been illegal, but because I had just turned 18 they were legal.”
If you thought that things couldn’t get worse than this, unfortunately, you’re wrong. Female celebrities were literally children when they received the same, if not worse treatment. In Megan Fox’s first audition for leading roles in Bad Boys II and Transformers, her director, Michael Bay made her wash a car in a bikini to get the initial role. She was filmed, and let’s not forget about the fact that she was only 15.
Imagine being sexualized and then being laughed at by the crowd and the host on a TV show when you finally gathered the courage to open up - that was Megan on the talk show hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. She pointed out that she was sexualized way before the #MeToo campaign, but people blamed it on her ‘looks’.
The worse thing about this is the fact that there are young girls that practically grew up with inappropriate sexual harassment and insults. When Stranger Things star Millie Bobbie Brown was 13, she was put on W magazine’s list of “Why TV is sexier Than Ever” and grown men online have frequently commented on her looks.
On her 16th birthday, instead of focusing on birthday cakes and presents, she called out the sexualization she had faced by posting on her Instagram account. “There are moments I get frustrated from the inaccuracy, inappropriate comments, sexualization and unnecessary insults that ultimately have resulted in pain and insecurity for me,' the star wrote. Brown has been sexualized since she was 13, meaning that she has been sexualized throughout her rise to fame. Is that something nearly every young actress has to go through and ‘endure’ before being famous?
Megan Fox (CREDIT: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)
Celebrities have had enough and are reclaiming their power. BillieEilish is well-known for her oversized and baggy style for years, and when a fan posted a picture of her wearing a tank top during a meet and greet before a show in 2019, it became viral and memes sexualizing followed. Eilish recalled how her boobs were trending on Twitter and CNN even wrote a story about her boobs. She explains that fashion was her ‘security blanket’ and she wears oversized clothes to cloak her curves, and it ‘gives nobody the opportunity to judge what your body looks like. Redbrick commented, “Her bold fashion and deliberate decision to wear oversized clothes appear to be a reaction to and rejection of this type of sexualisation.” Her choice of wearing baggy clothes shows the underlying problems in this society.
Contrasting her trademark oversized and baggy apparel, Billie Eilish was pictured covered in silk, wearing latex gloves and corsetry of shades of rose gold in her latest internet-breaking vogue cover. Billie Eilish wanted “Billie Eilish wanted nothing short of a transformation”.
What if she wanted to show more of her body for the first time in a fashion story? It was time, she said, for something new,” said the Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue. As Billie expected, many sexualised her outfit. Through realizing she couldn’t express her art without being subject to this response, she took control and revealed her body on her own terms in the Vogue magazine.
With the surge of celebrities sharing their childhood sexual trauma at the hands of older actors and producers, there is no doubt that the sexualisation of young celebrities is an issue that needs to be addressed, and we must acknowledge that everyday sexualization exists and many have experienced this at the workplace.
In fact, we are all of these young celebrities. Sexualization can happen to anyone and everyone. UN Women UK shows that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed.
With these sexist, stereotypical models of femininity constantly being perpetuated in the media, the negative implications affecting the mental, emotional and physical wellness of girls are many.
Consequences for girls and women at large include anxiety about appearance and feelings of shame, eating disorders, lower self-esteem and depression. The study also found that the sexualization of women and girls can also have a negative impact on boys and men.
While the sexual objectification and hypersexualization of women and girls are rampant, there are many ways that you can help combat the media objectification of girls. Here’s how,
1. On an individual level, we need to seek out empowering women’s voices such as @emmawatson @reesewitherspoon @beyonce @oprah and many others on various types of media, such as books, articles and podcasts.
2. Provide mentorship, programs or activities that build self-esteem, access to mental health services, legal services and more across different age groups.
One such initiative launched by Emma Watson is legal advice line for those experiencing sexual harassment at work. This initiative aims to advise women about their legal options to help them make informed choices about next steps, including how to navigate the legal system with confidence.
The advice line number is 020 7490 0152.
3. Have conversations around sexual harassment, sexual assault, and consent to create more awareness, especially using social media to repost or share content.
4. Educate the new generation to understand the power of sexualization so they can mentally and physically protect their overall health and well-being.
As an individual, you still have the power to change the narrative and this has been perfectly stated by Reese Witherspoon,
“For all the young women sitting in this room, life is going to be different for you because we have you — we have your back,”
At Designerfriday, we are here to make that change to support and empower our next generation, so join us in creating awareness by educating everyone from a young age, the issues around sexualization and consent to ensure their experiences are different from that of their predecessors and their well being is physically and mentally protected.