Friday, July 5, 2013

From infant hairband to stripper: Pimping our daughters

“…according to [Mary] Douglas, just as misplacement and inappropriateness is the essence of defilement, the sacred would be that which fully complies with the corresponding categories. That is to say, sanctity in itself is the ability to fit into categories. The purity / defilement dichotomy so fundamental to religion and culture is determined by an individual’s / object’s (in)ability to comply with or to fit into precise categories.

Therefore, elements that appear in the wrong category or that don’t fully apply to any existing category disturb the social order, even being viewed as threatening by entire societies or individuals. When encountered with such displacement or ambiguity, society will try to avoid it or eradicate it"

The obvious example that the above brings to mind is of course homosexuality: Gays, and to an even greater extent transgenders, and intersexuals, do not fit into our binary categories, as explained by Kiel [“Binary oppositions such as good / evil, pure / profane, myself / others, raw / cooked and so forth, are fundamental to human thought and to formation processes of societies (Douglas, 1966; Hall, 1997; Lévi-Strauss, 2008; Turner, 1969).”]

Hence the felt need to label our infant children as girls or boys, leading to the associated practice of (girl) infant hairbands (Goddess save us). What makes my stomach reflexively seize up when I see these monstrosities is how uncomfortable it looks. Of course: As early as infancy, we’re already sending our girls the message that they’re expected to undergo discomfort in order to be accepted into society’s ideal of feminine beauty.

Disturbingly, notice that we don’t mark our infant boys correspondingly. This is because male = default, and female = Other, as well as imperfect, flawed. The hairband, therefore, is a signal to the world, telling it, “I’m a girl, so use your ‘girly voice’ when you talk to me and treat me as disabled — an invalid.” So parents who put hairbands on their girls are, from their first moments, grooming them to be weak, fragile, and dependent, the extreme of which is a prostitute or a stripper. The prostitute is subjugated by her pimp; while the stripper is not much better off: Accounts of women earning their way through grad school by stripping or posing for Playboy notwithstanding, what makes the stripper titillating is her very abjection, which endows those who paid to watch her (men and women alike) with instant power over her.

Which brings me to Little Miss Sunshine, which I happened just to have watched yesterday (I know; I’m seven years behind the times…at least). In it, atypical (bespectacled, slightly roundish) seven-year-old child beauty pageant contestant Olive “upsets the order” by performing a spoof striptease to explicitly sexual music for the talent competition, which lands her and her family in the police precinct after a complaint is filed.
Before Olive’s act, each of her fellow prepubescent contestants, slathered disturbingly with makeup and fake tanner, perform “acceptable” routines, i.e., hinting at (or even dripping with) sex, yet not explicitly sexual as Olive’s routine is. This prompts the question in my mind: Would Olive’s routine have been considered acceptable if she had been “pageant-typical” in appearance, like the other contestants? While we’ll never know since the story is fictional, there’s no shortage of real-world examples thereof.

The Little Miss Sunshine pageant opens with the nauseating emcee caressingly crooning “America” “to” the posed, lined-up contestants, a not-in-the-least-subtle message that the pageant contestants are the very embodiment of what America worships and aspires to as the feminine ideal: In addition to having been born whole and perfect (any disabled kids – or adults – entering beauty pageants?), they’ve just emerged from what is basically a Beauty Conveyer Belt that has ejected them straight onto the stage, sequined, made up, waxed, and sculpted within an inch of their little lives and radiating an unattainable female ideal…like strippers.

So followed to its logical conclusion, what begins as a seemingly innocuous and frivolous accessory is actually the first warped expectation she internalizes about being female. Instead of having to unwarp this garbage, wouldn’t it make more sense just not to engage in it in the first place? Parents, I implore: Let’s not pimp our daughters. They’re worth more to us than a tiara and a sash, are they not?


  1. Why belabor it? We are animals, collections of genes; however the genes congregate and whatever they evince should be accepted as natural.YYbYZhL

    1. Well first of all, regarding belaboring, I prefer to think of it as analyzing and commenting on a social phenomenon. If no one bothered to "belabor" these, we'd still be stuck with slavery, Jim Crow, etc. So I say, belabor away.

      As to "collections of genes", I hope we're more than that. And if we aren't, then there's this thing called socialization that's there to civilize us so we can live together relatively harmoniously in this thing we call "society". Otherwise why bother to question the status quo?