The Daily Fail has uploaded an article today applauding the “blossoming transformation” of actress Ramona Marquez who plays Karen in Outnumbered. Who just happens to be 12-years-old. On a side note: the website has since removed the word ‘blossoming’ from the headline… if even they know they’ve gone too far it must be bad.
Whilst I’m all for ‘Look what they looked like when they were kids’ posts about celebrities, this one has an undertone of creepy. The word ‘blossoming’, when in conjunction with a 12-year-old girl, is just wrong. And even now it’s been removed, the rest of the title still has an air of queasy about it: “Growing pains! Ramona Marquez displays her transformation from little girl to young lady as Outnumbered prepares to bow out”. Despite the fact that the article is about all three of the Outnumbered children – all three who have ‘transformed’ and grown up since the show started in 2007 – the headline focuses specifically on Marquez.
This is where the creepiness comes in. They didn’t focus on the other children because they’re not female, and it’s only the ‘blossoming’ of the girl they’re interested in. A reader has asked in the comment section “how is children growing up news?” It’s not, but a girl growing up is. Remember when Emma Watson turned into a teenager and suddenly she was fair game? The ‘all grown up’ narrative still follows her now, despite the fact she’s in her twenties; and rather than an innocent commentary on the fact that she has – shockingly – aged, it is instead a comment on the changes in her body. She is now legitimately adult, and ‘fanciable’, and that significantly changes her media representations. She’s gone from child to sex object.
The use of this narrative on 12-year-old Marquez is a new low, and is one of many examples of the continued sexualisation of children. From training bras to mini high heels, the media continues to treat young girls as trainee sex objects, sat in wait for the day they turn 18 and can be legally called ‘sexy’. There are all sorts of debates about this right now in popular culture, with everything from music, magazines and merchandise being blamed. Do the videos of Rihanna and co writhing around the stage in their underwear affect young girls? Should scenes like this be screened on primetime TV?
But this isn’t really about the sexual antics of consenting adults. What it’s really about is the appropriation of this for children, and this goes far beyond music videos. Peggy Orenstein comments on this in the brilliant Cinderella Ate My Daughter, where she observes American beauty pageants:
“Any sane mother would find the pageant world appalling, right? They would feel queasy, as I did, at overhearing a woman advise her six-year-old that ‘one of the judges is a man, so be sure you wink at him!’ or a father telling a TV reporter that he enjoys getting a sneak peek at what his four-year-old daughter will look like when she’s sixteen”
The most comprehensive account of the sexualisation of children, however, is in Durham’s book The Lolita Effect, defined as “the distorted and delusional set of myths about girls’ sexuality that circulates widely in our culture… that works to limit, undermine, and restrict girls’ sexual progress” (2008:i). It’s not about repressing anyone’s sexuality or sexual practices, or being prudish about sex: children need to be educated about sex in an appropriate manner. Rather, it’s about the harmful and exploitive manner with which young girls are treated, caught up as they are in cultural ‘beauty myths’, limiting discourses of acceptable femininity and postfeminist makeover sentiments. In a post-feminist culture, standards of beauty are prescribed by (amongst many other influences) the media, and young or not, these children are not exempt from such pressures. They recreate what they see in the media, often naively and unaware of the true meaning, and there is no ‘choice’ involved. They are not choosing to wear that mini-skirt for any other reason than they think that’s what’s ‘cool’.
Whilst saying that the sexualisation of young girls is attracting pedophiles is bordering on saying women who dress provocatively are ‘asking to be raped’, it is appropriating sexual discourses involving young girls, which is drawing them into a culture they are too young to be involved in. Marquez’s “blossoming transformation” is The Daily Mail’s way of saying she is almost a woman, and is almost ready to be thrown head first into the heady mix of slut-shaming and sexualisation projected onto female bodies. Can we just let her have a little bit longer as a child before she’s subjected to objectification?
Chester, J (2014). ‘Outnumbered’s Ramona Marquez displays transformation from little girl to young lady’. Daily Mail Online, 29 January. < http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2547993/Ramona-Marquez-displays-transformation-little-girl-young-lady-Outnumbered-prepares-bow-out.html> [Accessed 29 January 2014]
Durham, MG (2008). The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualisation of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It. New York: The Overlook Press
Orenstein, P (2012). Cinderella Ate My Daughter. New York: HarperCollins