Sexualizing Girls? Toddlers & Tiaras

I just read an article that really irritated me. Enough for me to say, "That's bullshit," out loud. It was titled "Toddlers and Tiaras' and Sexualizing 3-year-olds" and described TLC's show about beauty pageants for young girls. Frankly it disgusted me.

The socially conservative folks in our country would have us believing that there are threats to "our children" at every turn. And yet the blatant sexualization of young girls in beauty pageants is supported by many parents. Yes, they are too young to understand the sexual humor and innuendo. No, they are not too young to learn that their value and worth apparently comes from looking sexy, being attractive, and flaunting their bodies. I'd like to check back with these parents when their girls are teens, and see where they stand then.

I think that as girls, what we are taught brings attention and worth from a young age, forms a strong foundation for self-worth and self-esteem in life. Learning to base self-worth on appearance and sex appeal is a slippery slope, from teenage girls who are getting physical attention without the emotional maturity to handle it, or adult women whose bodies are continually aging and changing, and therefore betraying them. That's a sure recipe for body hatred, which has a significant impact on self-esteem, self-expression, respect of one's body, and sexual satisfaction.

I can't wrap my brain around the motivation of parents with beauty pageant girls. Attention? Fame? Value? Self-importance?  Yes, these are things we all strive for, to make us feel whole and worthy. But, please don't use your little girls to battle your personal demons. And that goes for you too, TLC.

If you'd like to read the article that incited this rant, visit CNN's "Toddlers & Tiaras' and Sexualizing 3-Year-Olds."

(Regarding the photo, the article states: "A placard opposes a child beauty pageant organized by the U.S. "Toddlers and Tiaras" in Melbourne, Australia, on July 30.")

Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus

San Diego - Sex Therapist, Marriage Counselor, University Sexuality Speaker

Being Naked & Body-Image

I took off my sunglasses and beach skirt. I then removed my bathing suit and placed in on a picnic table. I walked to the edge of the water, stepped over the wall, and lowered myself into the pond. All the while, I was pretending I wasn’t self-conscious about walking naked in public in the bright afternoon sun. Of course I'm used to walking around naked, comfortable in my body in front of strangers and friends. Who isn't?! At least I knew no one would stare at me and judge me, because it was natural to be naked and everyone around the pond was naked. Oh, but I was staring at them. Where else do I get to observe so many random naked bodies in person? In so many shapes, genders, sizes, colors, and ages?

Last month I flew to San Francisco for a camping festival weekend several hours north of the city. It was hosted by a music society, so dance and thumping music were the norm amidst the gardens by day and blazing stars at night. As well, there was a beautiful manmade pond, lotus flowers and all, offering respite from the 95 degree heat. It was around this pond that all the campers were naked. And it was because of this pond that I agreed to go on this trip with some friends.

Most of us are not used to being naked around strangers, and many of us aren’t used to this around friends either. This has always made me feel nervous as my body-image concerns flare up and I worry about being judged for not looking perfect. I decided it was time to tackle this issue head-on when invited to attend the camping trip.

It sounds cliché to say that the experience was freeing…but the experience actually was freeing. I loved the warmth of the sun on my whole body. I loved swimming underwater with no clothing resistance. I really liked being able to just be me in my body with no pretenses. It was a gentle reminder that I’m fine, my body is fine, and that I may as well appreciate and enjoy what my body has to offer because there’s always something for which to be grateful. Although awkward at first, I was calmed by how easy it could be to be around a group of naked folks who were just being who they were. So I was just who I was. And I enjoyed it tremendously.

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego

Bodily Pleasures - Swaying to My Own Beat

As I mentioned in an earlier blog about "Spirituality & Sexuality - Why Such a Split," pursuing and experiencing pleasure has gotten a bad rap. It's immature. It's superficial. It's selfish. And oddly enough, for a society with such a focus on individualism, selfishness (particularly for women, I'm wiling to claim) is condemned. Although we are constantly pursuing pleasures of the body, to say that you're doing it for its own sake, as an end in itself, seems to be a problem. This perspective is understandable to some extent, as a hedonistic approach to life could include feeling out of control or mis-prioritizing.

But like so much else, I look to apply a holistic perspective to pleasure and reframe it as a self-nurturing activity. Yesterday I experienced a session of movement therapy with musician and dance/music therapist Draza Jansky. We sat on the floor for awhile, discussing my relationship with my body, my experience of my physical body needing to "catch up" to my emotional and spiritual growth, and what it is to be in tune with and honoring of my body. I then stood with my eyes closed and just moved however I wanted as my friend observed. Despite my expectation of feeling awkward in being watched and my assumption that my inner critic would be full throttle, within minutes I felt peaceful yet inquisitive.

I was curious by my movements. I was appreciative to have the time devoted to a calm and gentle exploration. I was shocked that I felt thoroughly at home in my body and in a rare space of nonjudgment. I forgot I was being watched. How long I moved, swayed, stretched, and expanded, I do not know. What I do know is that I experienced pleasure. Holistic pleasure. I felt mentally and physically energized, emotionally and spiritually peaceful, and socially exempt. I was listening to my inner wisdom. And I was OK in each moment. This holistic pleasure, by way of my physical body, was nurturing and balancing and honoring and freeing. And felt damn good.

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego