A recent study about the hike in Child Pornography viewership during Quarantine makes us think about the fetishization of young women in pop culture. And by young women, we mean underage girls. The overflow of ‘petite, skinny teen porn’ and other graphic content which includes women who look like they’re barely over the age of eighteen points at something way more heinous than just a category of entertainment.
“It’s okay. It started when I was about 12. I’d go to dinner with my parents every Thursday night: Red Lobster. Every guy there would stare at me when I walked in.”
When Angela Hayes, an underage high school cheerleader spoke these words after her best friend, Jane, apologized about her father’s perverse behaviour towards her, a part of me went back to my own pre-teen self, and was reminded of the attention most girls my age received from older men. What she says next is no big of a surprise either:
Angela: And I knew what they were thinking, just like I knew guys at school thought about me when they jerked off. Jane [disgusted]: Vomit! Angela: No. I liked it. I still like it.
Media’s obsession with (mostly white) innocent looking, skinny, rosy cheeked, doe-eyed teenage girls is rooted in the notion that their youth is a commodity, a currency, a weapon to be unleashed. That girls on the verge of becoming sexually viable hold a seductive power that makes them a trophy to whoever can catch them first. Their ‘butterfly’ nature – “pretty to see, hard to catch”- just makes them all the more irresistible and worth running after, if only for the sweet, sweet catch.
The ‘Lolita complex’ has a damaging potential in not only how adult males see underage girls, but how underage girls see themselves too. In American Beauty, Angela knows that Jane’s father, Lester, wants to sleep with her and that adds another name to a long list of men, old and young, who want to do the same. For Angela, it was flattering – the fact that people who didn’t even know her wanted to have sex with her, and that it meant she really had a shot at being a model. Women start to attach their worth to how males perceive them as early as eleven, and for teenage girls, holding the attention of older men who tell them they are ‘mature for their age’ and ‘not like other girls’ is often something to be proud of, while the trauma hits them later on in life.
We have seen various tropes of teenage girls in adult movies and teenage movies alike, but the vast chasm between their respective portrayals hints at a dangerously damaging culture of sexualising young girls. In normal teenage movies like Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Clueless, The Hot Chick etc, it’s all about the highschool prom queen who is beautiful, is dating the cutest jock and has her life together. The crisis usually lays in her demeaning behaviour towards others, their attempts to bring her down, or totally different situations where the girls struggle with acceptance, delving into womanhood, ambitions and power play. On the other hand, adult movies portray teenage girls as fetus femme fatales whose charm lies in their ability to put a grown man in trouble. The sexy kind of trouble. What they don’t deal with is the real trouble when the police gets involved, but that’s a story for another day.
What’s interesting is the fact that society has vilified women and young girls into thinking that the former deals with catty and immature subjects and it’s better to watch movies with a ‘deep meaning’ rather than watching ‘chick flicks’- yet again, media portrayals of women reinforcing the idea that having an interest in anything remotely feminine is embarrassing. It also serves as a birth giver to the ‘Cool Girl Trope’, where the cool girl hates the shallow interests that the ‘other girls’ involve themselves in, and visibly seeks to indulge herself in something more ‘elevating’. Sadly, the cool girl trope stands to sabotage both the already existing notions of feminity and the cool girl herself.
Sexualisation of young girls in media pretends to empower them, while conveniently programming them to be an object for the male gaze early on in life. A win-win situation for them, and as media houses and the men get away with the money and the experiences, we sit as twenty somethings, thinking of a childhood where we hated being ‘like other girls’ and loved the touch of older men and, cracking a bittersweet smile, what can we do but say: “ I think I grew up too soon in life.”
Sania Ansari is a student pursuing English Honors from Jamia Millia Islamia.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.