When I was growing up my grandmother used to say: “behave or I will help you meet your maker”. A powerful warning coming from a fierce Sotho woman raising 2 granddaughters. I invoke this memory of my late grandmother because it reminds me of a time when children were children and adults used to care and nurture them, guide them in their growth and reprimand them in their deviant behaviour.
Today I watch my six-year-old cousin growing up in front of the TV and listening only to what she sees on the TV set. She shakes her little body along to music videos, sings along to most songs on MTV and Trace, dances to all the dance moves on Jika Majika and can name most celebrities. She wears make up and will walk the whole day in high-heeled shoes because it’s part of the outfit. Similarly her 16-year-old sister is addicted to the small screen. She watches Gossip Girl, Teen Wolf and Pretty Little Liars to name but a few. The 16-year-old calls herself a clothes addict and a Fashionista, whatever that means. She sleeps with make up on, just in case there is a fire in the middle of the night and has to suddenly run outside and be seen by people.
In watching a few episodes of Gossip Girl and the other teen series out there, I have become “schooled” in what young people are consuming. These days to be “cool” or the IT girl, you have to be mean-spirited, devious, fashionable, a reckless binge drinker and use whatever means you have to get what you want. At times sex is used as a commodity to achieve social status and to prove one’s worth.
What concerns me is not that they both watch TV and are blessed with the ability to imitate and parrot off all the songs they hear. I am concerned about the content that they are exposed to, the images they aspire to and the language that they now use. They watch videos of girls clad in next to nothing, the songs contain messages about sex and the TV series are mainly about sex and competition for status.
The media has sexualised the female body for decades, even with the advances made by many women. The female body is still a commodity and treated as a blank canvas used to sell sex and particular lifestyles. The human body, particularly the female body, is more of an advertising space now than ever before.
South Africa as a nation has fallen privy to the influences of international media and programmes, our music is internationally influenced, our music videos are girls in bikini’s shaking their booty, our shows are based on international formats and more recently our local SABC’s air mainly international programmes. Images of sex are found in magazines, advertising campaigns and drama series, we are bombarded with sexual images every day. We subscribe to pay channels, buy magazines and leave them lying around where children can access them.
In the changing climate of parenthood and the ever-increasing “new age” parenting styles, children have become more vulnerable than ever to the influences of the media. Young girls aspire to these sexualised images they see on TV and parents sit helplessly as their children are raised by the media.
Little 6-year-old bodies now wear skinny jeans, fashion blazers and ankle boots, carry hand bags and own cellphones.
16-year-olds have strong opinions about everything; do what they want, when they want, go to school in tiny little skirts and cyber-bully each other on social networks. Parents have become helpless spectators in the shaping and growth of their own children. This to the detriment of children who are the custodians of the future. We are raising future generations that are conceited, conniving, materialistic, superficial, insecure and sexualised.
I am sick and tired of watching our children become sexualised beings with no sense of their worth in the world. Their self definitions have turned into what the Serena’s and Blair Waldorf’s are dictating. Their bodies are taking strain from being shaken like the Beyonce’s, Rihanna’s and Shakira’s of this world. As for my cousins, in the absence of strong women like my grandmother in their lives, I worry about the type of women they will become. I am a pissed off sister, aunt, future mother and I choose to ACT and intercept this sexualisation of our children.