Let’s Talk About: The Sexualization of Children

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A disturbing trend seems to be rearing its ugly head in Hollywood and its environs. People are forgetting that childhood is a thing and seem to be skipping ahead to calling incredibly young people “all grown up.” An example of this is the recent comments about Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown, and her co-stars. Brown, who began working on the series in 2015 when she was only 11 years old, is now 13. Comments have been making the rounds in which it is suggested that the young girl has ‘grown up before our eyes.’

Last year, after attending award shows and premiers in her newfound Stranger Things fame, Brown found herself subject to the comments of fashion journalists. Her outfits at these red carpet events were torn apart by the media, who called them ‘shapeless’ and hoped that Brown would wear something more ‘flattering’ next time.

Brown was nominated for a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama, and a Primetime Emmy for OutStanding Supporting Actress in a Drama, and won, along with her castmates, the Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble Cast in a Drama Series SAG award for her role in the show. It is a bit on the mature side. If you haven’t watched Stranger Things (you should), her character, called Eleven, goes through some very harrowing experiences, as do her castmates. However, the maturity of the characters they portray does not translate to instant adulthood.

That didn’t stop W Magazine from naming her one of the year’s ‘sexiest’ stars. She’s a child. Finn Wolfhard, one of Brown’s castmates, has also been subject to comments about his ‘hotness,’ when a 27-year old model suggested he give her a call when he turns 18 — which won’t happen for another four years. What excuse can anyone possibly have for this kind of behaviour? These actors may be in the public eye, but they are still just children. Commenting on them in a sexual way is pedophilia. That’s not really up for debate.

There is a reason that people in their twenties are cast to play teenagers. The dramatic, mature and often sexual situations that the characters in these shows get into are not appropriate for children to portray. Even though the characters themselves are meant to be children, the actors who are playing them are clearly not and nobody is really supposed to think they are. Shows like Dawson’s Creek, The OC and One Tree Hill are not even really intended for teenagers to watch even if they do. University aged people and grown adults are the real audience for these dramas, people who know that being a teenager is rarely that dramatic. When these adults are calling these young people ‘hot’ they are talking about other adults. Suggesting the same about Millie Bobby Brown, or any number of Disney channel stars however, is just plain creepy.

This is not the same as young people talking about other young people. When Justin Bieber first made the rounds as a singer of sickly sweet pop songs about girls he probably just wanted to hold hands with, he was met by a small army of 15 year olds who would have loved to have been the girl he was singing about. When Harry Styles and his One Direction bandmates ran around a beach singing about a girl who didn’t know she was beautiful, teens swooned and wrote their names in hearts on their school notebooks. But a 15-year old calling another 15 year old ‘hot’ is not weird. Young people are supposed to like other young people. It’s not even that weird when those young people have crushes on the not-really-teenage stars of teen shows.

The opposite of that seems to happen far too often. It’s even cultivated, like on Selena Gomez’ 2015 V magazine cover. The singer, who was 22 at the time, was styled in a way that many  argue emphasized youth and innocence. Her hair was styled in child-like ringlet curls and pulled back with a polka dot bow, and her makeup was done in a way that emphasized her mouth and was clearly intended to give her a look of wide-eyed innocence. Then, the childlike image that was clearly being portrayed was combined with the former Disney star topless with her arms thrown over her chest as if someone had burst into the room while she was changing.

So, what’s wrong with the sexualization of children, aside from it being gross, creepy and maybe illegal? These children are having their childhood stolen. Even if the young men and women in question think the attention is cool now (and I doubt they do), they’re being forced to deal with situations far above their maturity level. There’s a reason the age of consent exists — that is to protect people who are not capable of making decisions like that from having to make them. Innocence is not sexy. Innocence is innocent. Adding sex into the equation takes the innocence out. Let these kids hold on to that until they’ve actually grown up. Looking at them sexually is a violation. Let them be kids.

 

 

‘Let’s Talk About’ is a weekly column about major social issues affecting Brock students and the community at large. We seek to hear from everyone in the community about the issues that affect them personally.  If you have an issue that you’d like to write about, including feminist issues, LGBTQ+ issues, racism, sexism, ableism, etc., please send us your opinions. For submissions and guidelines for publication, please inquire at opinion@brockpress.com.

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