FYI – We All Seek Attention
Pretty girls…have pretty voices
Pretty girls…preserve their youth
Pretty girls…know all their choices
Pretty girls…don’t tell the truth
And love…love is not…the question
Cause if you wanted…you could love someone to death
Love…them straight into…the closet…afraid to draw
Afraid to draw…afraid to draw a breath
After the initial uproar surrounding the whole Miley Cyrus VMA show, the general vibe I gathered from social media, was “why are we still talking about this? This is yesterday’s news.” That attitude bothered me because the issues of slut-shaming and modesty culture that accompanied the discussions of Miley’s performance are not topics that should just be brushed aside as if they are not important enough to demand our sustained attention. Then came fellow Austinite and Wheaton grad Kimberly Hall’s viral post FYI – If You Are A Teenage Girl further shaming girls for tempting young men by posting sexual selfies on Facebook. As a mom and as one who grew up in the guilt laden modesty culture, this is something that I believe matters and needs to be discussed no matter how over it Facebook and Twitter seem to be already.
There have been some great responses to Hall’s post (see here and
here), I encourage you to read them. Although I cheered as I read those responses and the discussion they sparked, I still felt like something was lacking. It was in listening to Cary Cooper’s song “Pretty Girls” this morning that I realized that even in telling girls that you are not a slut for posting your sexy selfie and that it is not your job to make sure boys don’t stumble, we are still sending the message that sexual embodinesness is wrong. They can be lovely , intelligent girls who don’t have to believe they are at fault for how men respond to them, but they still are not allowed to be embodied in how they seek attention.
The line “Pretty girls have pretty voices … Pretty girls don’t tell the truth,” is about how as girls we get told that to be considered acceptable in this world we have to present ourselves in ways that the culture already deems acceptable. Have a pretty voice. Don’t argue. Don’t speak up. Don’t speak out on controversial issues. Abide by standard definitions of beauty, but also know that you will be shamed as a slut if you embody that beauty too much. To be a pretty girl I have to be controlled enough by another that I only reflect back to them the image they want to see in me. It is permissible to seek attention through my achievements, my hobbies, my wittiness, and even by embracing the “flaws” in my body (i.e. I love my plus-sized/disabled body), but not as a whole person embracing positive sexual embodiedness.
The original FYI post asserts that although a girl may be lovely, interesting, and smart, the posed sexy selfie isn’t who she is. And many of the responses seem to agree with that assertion. They encourage men to see past the body and see the real person as if the body is somehow separate from what makes us real people. Don’t get me wrong, I love the responses encouraging girls to be themselves and to take the time to get to know themselves. What I don’t like are the mixed messages of -
“The idea that young girls feel the need to take glamour shots of themselves in the first place makes them the most vulnerable cog in the warped beauty machine. Ideally, parents of girls should be filling them up with so much love and worth that they won’t feel the need to get compete for attention by posting racy photos online.”
So either you are a loved and complete person or you like posting sexy pictures of yourself in a bid for attention. Pretty girls don’t do that. Pretty girls conform to other images.
Here’s the thing, while I’m not exactly a duck-face in my pajamas selfie kind of girl (although I do think my TARDIS and Wonder Women pjs are pretty damn awesome), I still seek attention. I’m more the ironic raised eyebrow conveying “stop talking, you’re lowering the IQ of all of FB” sort of selfie girl. But whether our projected self-image is that of us with our kids, of us visiting some awesome place, us engaged in a favorite activity, or of a cause we support, we are inviting others to gaze upon us and know us by that image. We all desire to attract the attention of others with the images we present – we just seem to think that impressing others by presenting ourselves as a caring parent or as an accomplished writer is more appropriate than presenting ourselves as persons who also enjoy and embrace our physical embodiment. But we are all seeking attention because that is what we as relational creatures do. We want to be in the gaze of another. We want to be seen and known for who we are. And that’s okay.
So instead of freaking out about girls wanting attention, let’s admit we all want attention and address the hyprocrisy in what we deem are appropriate ways to do so. And, gasp, that might even mean having positive discussions about sexual embodiment. I want girls to be able to be themselves. Not be shamed. Not feel embarrassed for not conforming to the imposed expectations of others. To not be told that to be a “pretty girl” they must toe certain lines. To not be loved into the closet afraid to draw a breath.