Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Celebrity: Talent vs Sexuality

One of the things that we’ve seen over and over is the fact that there is definitely a double standard when it comes to how celebrities promote themselves. In a study that I read recently that compared male and female singers in music videos, it was shown that the female singers tended to present themselves in very sexualized ways through the clothes that they wore, the dance moves that they made, and so forth. The males, on the other hand, didn’t do this.  You can see a very clear line of demarcation in the way that the majority of female celebrities present and promote themselves through their sexuality when compared to the way that male celebrities do.

In a study that my colleague Susan Lewis and I recently completed, we compared the websites of Miley Cyrus with that of the Jonas Brothers. We were replicating a study that was done in 2004 that compared the official websites of male and female adult celebrities in an attempt to see if females were more likely to use their sexuality to promote themselves. What we wanted to know was, had this clear use of one’s sexuality as a promotional tool drifted down to minor aged celebrities? At the time that the 2004 study was completed, it hadn’t. The minor aged female celebrity websites that were studied at that time were not representing the star through sexualized images or dress. So what about now? Would it be different?

We completed this study when Miley Cyrus and Nick Jonas were both 17 years old. We chose them because they had frequently toured together and were both promoted heavily by Disney. So, what did we find?

In contrast to the study done in 2004, the minor-aged female celebrity whose official website we examined was full of suggestive imagery. What I mean by that is that in photos Miley Cyrus would be wearing clothing that only partially covered her body. We didn’t see any of this imagery on the Jonas Brothers site.  So, we see that the trend toward females using their sexuality to garner attention has moved downward from adult celebrities to minors.

What I find disturbing about this trend is that now not only are adult women buying into the post-feminist idea that their power comes from their sexuality, but so are young girls. Instead of focusing on showing off ones singing voice or dramatic flair, female celebrities are increasingly showing off their bodies. This sends the message to young girls who emulate these celebrities that the way to get attention is by flaunting your body.

As we work to change the world, I hope that the message that we get out to both males and females is that your worth comes from who you are on the inside. Your power lies in your integrity, in your strength of character, in the talents that you have to share. I wish that these celebrities would turn away from this easy but detrimental way of getting attention through their sexuality and focus on sharing the talents that they have. Imagine that, female celebrities who use their talents rather than their bodies to get attention, that would really change the world!

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