“Check out my daughter’s butt!”

My purse still stinks of the cigarette smoke that clouded the air at a bar on Friday night.

There, one of my brother’s bands played (he’s in two). I brought cupcakes (true story), sipped water, sat alone while they played, and watched people.

One woman wore a blue sweater and a big smile with jeans and black boots. She danced the slow songs with her husband and the fast ones with her daughters.

Between songs, she spun a daughter around, whose back end she pointed toward the stage.

“Check out my daughter’s butt!”

It is unusual, in my experience, and mildly awkward for a proud mother to invite a band and bar patrons to gawk at her daughter’s body.

Our bodies are under critical spotlights enough.

The commercial that boasts the cure for “embarrassing” stretch marks illuminates our stretch marks. How thin our lashes are is magnified by the product the promises thick ones. The fastest route to freedom from unwanted facial hair implies something is wrong with the people who have it.

I have a problem with this.

I have a problem with a mom’s decision to compare one butt with others, and with makeup manufacturers making up problems and making the products that “solve” them. With advertisers telling us there’s something wrong with us when the inevitable happens (like wrinkles or gray hair). With our culture’s complicity in perpetuating the longstanding myth advertisers have created: one kind of body is better than others.

Who says butts have to look a certain way (except for the maker of Spanx, who is now a billionaire)?

Who says legs on female bodies have to be hairless? If the rumor I’ve heard is right, women in the US don’t shave because God wants women to be hairless. We shave because Bic created a razor for women, said body hair isn’t ladylike, and put an ad about in a magazine.

Think critically.

Would we be embarrassed by stretch marks if commercials didn’t call them embarrassing?

Would women be desperate to rid their faces of hair if ads didn’t call it unwanted?

Would women be motivated by what other people think of their bodies if their parents (or significant others) didn’t encourage it?

Would women be devastated when their bodies don’t fit the right mold, the right bra, the right pants?

Our worth doesn’t depend on how we look, or on what other people think of it. We don’t have to stand under critical spotlights, but we hold daughters and sisters and mothers and wives there when the only compliments we give them are about their bodies.

There is nothing wrong with bodies, but we thankfully are made of and for far more than bone and flesh.

Media literacy.

“Even very young children can be taught important lessons about the media: that they are produced by people anxious to communicate messages; that these are often messages to do something – to buy a product, to engage in dubious behavior – that is not in the child’s best interests or in accord with moral truth; that children should not uncritically accept or imitate what they find in the media.”

Know who said it? Pope John Paul II, in a message he delivered on May 23, 2004 on World Communications Day. Who knew JP2 promoted media literacy?


In my childhood, I looked forward to November for three reasons: birthdays (mine, my mom’s and my grandma’s), Thanksgiving dinner and the arrival — via our mailbox and newspapers — of toy catalogs, which I’d use to make my Christmas list.

So this morning, when I stumbled upon a toy catalog in the newspaper, I had to have a look, for old times’ sake. I didn’t figure I’d find the Play-Doh and crayons and board games of yore. But I have one word in response to what I did find, like Bratz and Monster High dolls (the latter of which I had never heard of). That one word is this:


Of all the things one could buy for kids to play with, “the fun toys” — according to the ad — are the ones in short skirts, tight shirts and pairs of fishnet stockings (which they wear on their anatomically impossible legs).

The “fun toys” are these:

And these:

And if you like how fishnets look on your daughter’s doll, you can also buy them for your daughter:

We wonder why, when a four year old girl is asked what she wants most in the world, it’s to look like Hannah Montana (1). We wonder why little girls look (and act) like teenagers, why teenagers look (and act) like adults. But then, when the impact of dolls dressed like the ones in this ad is questioned, parents say, “Please… every girl plays with this stuff. It’s what they like!”

And why is that?

“When you don’t think critically about what is being consumed, you will throw up your hands and say ‘this is what everybody wears!’ (or ‘this is what every kid plays with!’),” said my human sexuality professor — Dr. Dae Sheridan (2) — in a class over the summer. “You won’t realize this is an industry designed to take your money … you can change the demand.”

She added, “We’re pushing our children into these little boxes based on what’s available to purchase. Be a savvy consumer. Think about Bratz dolls. They have large lips and boobs, tiny waists (and are) dressed in fishnets and belly shirts … Parents say ‘this is just what kids wear’ (and ‘this is just what kids play with’) but it wouldn’t be … if parents stood up and (stopped buying it). We have to question it.”


– – – –

1. It’s Time to Reshape Our Beauty Standards

2. Dr. Dae Sheridan

Actual song lyrics.

On my drives to and from work and school, I tend to scan Tampa’s radio stations, most of which play the kinds of songs I only started to like when — last year, at my cousin Frankie’s wedding — I realized how fun it is to dance. And almost a year later, I have to get the following of my chest: If I always tell my friends and family not to listen to the lyrics when they’re in my presence while I’m listening to music (and I do), I probably should find some new music. Just sayin’.

Anyway, as I’ve come to this conclusion over recent weeks, I realized how little I actually listen to the lyrics when I’m scanning for songs fun for dancing and/or driving. So, I started paying attention. Here is some of what I found:

1. “Girl, please excuse me if I’m coming too strong / But tonight is the night we can really let go / My girlfriend’s out of town and I’m all alone / your boyfriend’s on vacation and he doesn’t have to know.”
(“I Like It,” by Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull)

2. “He ain’t even gotta try to put the mack on / He just gotta give me that look / When he give me that look / Then the panties comin’ off.” (Superbass by Nicki Minaj)

3. Male voice: “Tell me what’s next, alien sex / I’ma disrobe you, then I’ma probe you / See I abducted you / so I tell ya what to do / I tell ya what to do, what to do, what to do.” Female voice: “Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me / Infect me with your love and fill me with your poison / Take me, ta-ta-take me / Wanna be a victim / Ready for abduction.” (E.T. by Katy Perry, feat. Kanye West)

Know what those are? Actual song lyrics from songs that are actually popular on radio stations to which actual children listen. I don’t know what bothers me more: the songs, or the fact that hardly anybody ever bats an eye about them, like the anonymous commenter who responded last time I blogged about bad music:

“I think u guys are making this more than it has to be. It’s a song with a good dance beat!!!!N no disrespect, but if it is offensive or you don’t care for it just switch to another station. Stop takin things so serious!!! If I took things so serious I would never leave my house, watch television, or listen to music.”

I don’t disagree entirely. Take Enrique’s “I Like It.” It is, in fact, a song with a good dance beat. Just a song. But the anonymous commenter doesn’t realize his or her point proves mine: What has music become when it’s something we’d feel obligated to shun if we analyzed it? What have we become when we know that and choose not to analyze it anyway?

Well, I’ve analyzed. And one fun song with bad words — like “I Like It” — isn’t a very big deal. But it isn’t one song. It is most songs, and they send messages that call relationships dispensable, sex trivial and rape glamorous (Though these are just the aforementioned three. But if you don’t think there are more, turn on your radio.). And when most songs send messages like that, messages like that are normal. It’s just music. Just a song.

But is it?

This reminds me of the time a friend of mine expressed concern when I told her why I choose not to consume caffeine. Why don’t I drink coffee? Well, my body’s response to it is fun, but only until my friends start questioning my sobriety. And when the hyperactivity turns into anxiety, and my resting heart rate reaches 150, and my colleagues want to take me to the hospital (true story), the caffeine becomes completely not worth it.

“Um, that’s not normal,” my friend said. “Most people don’t have that reaction.”

True. But most people are desensitized to it. Immersed in it, if you will. It’s like horror movies. Some of us jump or scream at what we see on screen, and others sit silently with straight faces. How we react depends on how desensitized we are to it, or how immersed in it we’ve been. The more immersed we are, the less it bothers us. And maybe, in our culture, it isn’t normal to strike other people as drunk after you drink coffee. But look at what is normal:


Sexually transmitted infections.

Sexual violence.

None of us like those things. We should be bothered by those things. But when our songs are about dispensable relationships, casual sex and encounters that sound a lot like rape, our songs are about those things.

Are they still just songs?

Or are they songs we hear so much they’re normal? Songs to which we don’t even react, we’re so desensitized. Songs that teach us to be less and less bothered by things that should never cease to bother us.