Perhaps youthful celebrities like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are more to be pitied than blamed. Certainly, one branch of their education has been sadly neglected: No one has ever taught them how young ladies climb out of vehicles -- knees together, both legs lifted simultaneously, torso swiveled, feet placed firmly on the pavement.
In recent days, this oversight has evolved into something of a public spectacle. Websites devoted to celebrity gossip have featured plenty of pictures of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan climbing out of cars. That, in itself, isn't remarkable. But these are hardly the run-of-the-mill paparazzi shots of Lohan and Spears arriving at events -- in fact, the pictures are more suitable for a gynecological journal than glossy celebrity web sites.
To put it bluntly, the young women are shown out on the town, partying in short dresses -- without benefit of underwear. The photos themselves leave nothing to the imagination. In fact, some of the websites conveniently enlarge the "naughty bits" so that every random viewer can ogle every intimate inch of Lohan's and Spears' private parts.
It's easy to conclude that all of this is none of our business; after all, what's it to you if some empty-headed young starlets want to take "revealing" attire to the next level? The problem is this: Young women like Lohan and Spears are, in fact, serving as role models to girls all over the United States. A poll conducted last year by Teenage Research Unlimited found that Lindsay Lohan was the person most envied by teen girl respondents (Paris Hilton and Christina Aguilera also made the list).
Each generation defines elegance and allure for itself. And certainly, times have changed since the days when Bette Davis personified glamour by smoking a cigarette on screen. But whatever the dangers of smoking, there's something infinitely more exploitative in allowing girls to admire -- and emulate -- young women who see nothing wrong with exposing themselves (in the most literal sense) just to win some cheap notoriety.
What's most remarkable is the deafening silence from the larger culture that has greeted the antics of the young starlets. It may be that many adults take it for granted that flashing one's privates is so tawdry and declasse that a dignified silence is the only appropriate response. But perhaps that's because they've enjoyed the benefit of growing up in a time and with a culture that was unified in its disapproval of such behavior. Sadly, such a cultural consensus has long since eroded.
It's hardly admirable that adult males say nothing about the exhibitionism, but perhaps it's understandable; while they may not respect young women like Lohan and Spears, the visuals are doubtless intriguing. But older women who fail to speak out about why Spears' and Lohan's behavior is inappropriate and wrong become complicit in it on a much deeper level. By their silence, they are allowing little girls (like they once were) to absorb the destructive message that vulgarity is the same as sexiness, that exhibiting oneself to be stared at or drooled over like a prime cut of meat constitutes "empowerment," and that it's "cool" to flaunt one's sexuality indiscriminately, rather than sharing it with a man who's shown he's interested in more than just another female body.
Just as Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears need to practice a more elegant method of leaving the car, perhaps the adults need to learn their own lesson: That if the young women of America are going to understand the importance of behaving in a way that maintains their own dignity and self-respect, it's time for men and women alike to begin stigmatizing vulgar, exhibitionist displays. Reacting to them with nothing more than voyeuristic amusement or bored indifference allows the bottom-feeders to set the standard for what constitutes glamorous female behavior -- a thought that should strike terror into the heart of every parent (or aunt or uncle) in America.
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