Gomez’s Nude Photoshoot Reveals Far More Than We Should Be Comfortable With
In a week when sex offenders have made the news in California and Texas, and paedophile John Rudd hit front pages in Britain after being entrapped by a group of vigilantes who duped him into thinking he was meeting a 14-year-old girl for sex, it was quite a surprise to see Selena Gomez’s recent topless photoshoot for V magazine in which she poses semi-nude, styled as a child-pageant beauty star.
The shoot seems to be attempting to follow the mantra of a slue of other female stars famed for their childhood roles in Hollywood of ‘get naked, get credibility, alter perceptions, destroy past, alienate child fanbase, outrage parents’. Think Miley Cyrus humping Robin Thicke’s leg or shedding her clothes in Wrecking Ball in order to put the nails in Hannah Montana’s coffin. Cyrus’ public persona is of course an enormous source of ongoing controversy and debate over whether she is empowered or pandering to tropes of ‘sluttiness’ to raise her profile; however, in comparison to the brazen simplicity of Cyrus’ hyper-sexualised image, Gomez’s photoshoot seems to have something more perverse and disturbing about it. It is little short of a paedophile luring, Lolita fantasy celebration of the attractions of jailbait. If you haven’t seen the shoot already then you can see it here.
The contextual repositioning of the lyrics to Gomez’s song, ‘The Heart Wants What It Wants’ takes on an altogether more sinister hue when placed next to her topless photograph on the cover of ‘V’. The magazine has cast her as a figure of what theoretically – and morally – should be an incompatible dichotomy of innocence, youth and sexual allure, her polka dot Disney style hair bow, child beauty contest perm and hooped earrings jarring with the tight-to-the-point-of-paint-on jean shorts and her naked torso.
The disturbing message seems to be, if a sexualised minor is what you want, or if a Lolita style role play fantasy is what you desire, then so be it: ‘the heart wants what it wants’ just act upon your impulse – and you can take this philosophy as testament because it comes directly from the model’s mouth. It seems like an ethically questionable decision from the magazine to try and appear clever, ironic or satirical, attempting to play with Gomez’s well documented past as a whiter than white Disney channel child actress. However, as is patently clear from the soft focus shots used on Gomez’s face for the black and white images, and the childish props ranging from Minnie Mouse bows to child pageant cowgirl hats, great effort seems to have gone in to making Gomez’s face and hair appear as young as possible.
This isn’t a forty five year old model looking to have every line and wrinkle airbrushed, every stretch mark glossed over, in order to stay ahead in Hollywood’s incessant race for immortality, this is a twenty two year old woman in the prime of her youth, who needs no help looking any younger than she already does. So, the disturbing question is why has this been done?
The first (and most troubling) explanation is that V somehow thinks that there is something edgy or cleverly subversive about condoning a link between sexualisation and girls under the age of consent. Gomez, facially at least, doesn’t look any older than most of the thirteen and fourteen year old girls I teach and the lurid juxtaposition of objects with obvious connotations of childhood, with the overtly adult signifier of Gomez’s exposed body, intimates innocence and vulnerability climbing into bed with sexual readiness and willingness – representing the creation of a blurred line between two incompatible worlds that most certainly didn’t need drawing. It all feels a bit too Nathan Barley to be true, another abortive postmodern joke funny only to the person telling it, and just as the eponymous dick head from that show would have his shallow scenester mates believe, apparently the passive endorsement of statutory rape is cool now.
The shots in V’s feature article seem to ape what we could imagine are the sordid by-products of sexually predatory casting directors or modelling scouts promising stardom to minors in exchange for cheap thrills and a pervert’s peep show. Indeed the shots tap into a wider male sexual obsession, and a lucrative niche within the porn industry, with the corruption of innocence – something that many advertisers, most notably Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein have not only exploited before, but passively (or actively?) glamourized. Apparently nobody can see anything wrong with sexualising a school uniform, a child star or objects and clothing emblematic of childhood and then placing them in contexts constructed specifically for adults. Even the most absent minded or weary-eyed of media perusers could surely see that a principle such as ‘schoolgirl = hot’ is condoning the objectification of female children and desensitising us to the inherent deviance and wrongness of having a schoolgirl as a masturbatory fantasy.
Dismemberment and the sexual glamourising of school-wear, such as that in the eventually banned American Apparel ads, also adds a layer of dehumanisation and voyeurism to the problem, making it seem that the female form – regardless of the age – takes precedence over the human occupying the body. Stripping a girl of her humanity is exactly the kind of quick and easy excuse that a sexually deviant degenerate would use to disassociate themselves from the intrinsic evil of grooming, or sexual assault. These adverts are essentially doing the same, providing the socially degrading systematic desensitisation of a portal to statutory rape and paedophilia.
Equally, British tabloids have been happy to publish the names of paedophiles on the sex offenders register on their front pages, instigate witch hunts that have resulted in angry mobs burning down houses and assaulting released offenders, only to go on in the same editions of the papers and publish softcore porn pictures of topless glamour models with secondary school ties dangling between their bare breasts and school skirts hitched up to reveal their underwear free behinds. Again, as well as being an example of the gross hypocrisy of the press and disjunction between media driven moral outrage and the vile realities of the prevalence of sexualisation in media and advertising in mainstream culture, if this isn’t encouraging the establishment of a link between the quintessential signifiers of childhood and sexualisation then I don’t know what is.
Looking at these ad campaigns, it is clear that the jailbait-as-sexy archetype is not a modern phenomenon, yet conversely the Gomez shoot feels even more perverse than some of these. It’s bad enough to use a digital medium to accentuate and glorify the sexual vaunting of a teenager who is actually a teenager, as in Britney Spears’ ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’, but infantilising grown women to make them look like juvenile minors takes the exploitative practise to a new low, seemingly encouraging readers to draw a causal link between physical attraction and looking younger than is legally permissible to engage in an adult relationship. Not only is there a lack of basic respect for women/girls here, but a fundamental disrespect seems to have been done to Gomez in recasting her as a child, suggesting that her natural appearance and beauty are somehow not enough. Are we at the stage where even twenty-two is too old for Hollywood now?
A second explanation for this big bowl of wrong could be linked to the blurb introducing the article, explicitly stating Gomez’s desire to disassociate herself from her wholesome child actor image. She, in her own words, wants to be appreciated as a grown up and to ‘move on’. Perhaps V thought they were lampooning public perceptions of Gomez with their shoot, tacitly criticising anyone who considers Gomez a ‘child’ by showing her clearly adult body alongside the kindergarten dress-up props. But, with the make-up and photoshopping causing Gomez’s already youthful looking face to look even younger, this half-baked idea falls flat, resulting in a distastefully shot feature with confusingly mixed messages about age, beauty, sexuality and gender. This editorial failure has led to us perceiving someone who doesn’t so much look like a woman playing dress-up, but rather a sexualised child fulfilling some old man’s Lolita fantasy.
Somewhere or other Vladimir Nabakov is laughing in his grave.