Naked and Assimilated

27

Back in October, singer and actress Selena Gomez gave an in-depth interview with the website refinery29.com. She talked at length about transitioning from what the magazine describes as her “safely PG” Disney days to a young adult artist who’s now shedding the restrictions and prohibitions that come along with the Mouse House mantle.

Selena’s latest album, Revival, features the 23-year-old posing completely nude. Regarding her unapologetically sensual presentation of herself, both visually and in many lyrics on the album’s songs, Gomez said, “I think I have a very healthy perspective on my sexuality.”

Selena Gomez is hardly the first young star to go from talking about her faith in Jesus and wanting to be a role model as a teen to stripping off all her clothes in the name of adulthood, independence and putting her “authentic” twentysomething identity on full display. Her peers Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus have done exactly the same thing.

I was thinking about how Selena has taken this road more traveled when I came across this quote in the article insisting that she, Demi and Miley had actually taken very different paths.

Everyone has found their identity in a really interesting way. We didn’t come out as these robots that looked and dressed the same,” she said. “We had to go through our own s—. At the end of the day, it’s respecting every female artist’s choice in how she expresses herself, because that’s what she wants.

I’m saddened by the choices that Selena, Demi and Miley have made as they’ve majored on presenting their sexuality as a key component in their public identity. But I found myself even more discouraged by what this quote unintentionally reveals about Selena Gomez’s understanding—or lack thereof—of the entertainment culture she participates in and represents.

It’s true that she, Demi and Miley have taken different paths. They’re not exactly the same.

And yet …

They’ve all ended up reaching exactly the same conclusion at more or less the same time: The only way to be “authentic” and “adult” is to be … naked. Selena seems genuinely unable to recognize that troubling similarity, which has practically become a stereotype.

Which leads me to my primary point in this blog: When female stars grow up in the entertainment business, the vast majority of the time they’re eventually assimilated into that business’s worldview. They start out starry-eyed, innocent, earnest and determined to be positive role models for their throngs of young fans. With rare exceptions, they usually end up talking about how empowered and adult and healthy they feel about exploiting their own bodies for financial gain.

As if it were their idea instead of the industry’s.

So not only does the entertainment industry exploit these young women, along the way it executes a breathtakingly clever triple con wherein these girls believe that a) they’re not being exploited, b) they’re the ones making the choices to take their clothes off and c) doing so is a statement of personal empowerment rather than conformity to an industry that’s predetermined to reduce them to this lowest common denominator.

Sometimes stars come out the other side with some perspective. Alanis Morissette seems to have done that, trading sexualized self-objectification for deeper musings about motherhood and marriage. More often though, performers get stuck in this sexualized trap, and that identity becomes the only one they know how to project. (Fifty-seven-year-old Madonna comes to mind here).

And what makes the trap most pernicious is the way these stars eventually insist that it’s what they’ve chosen. They’re unable to see how they’ve conformed to Hollywood’s ironclad insistence that a woman’s primary worth is how she looks. It reminds me very much of the alien enemy known as the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation, who utterly assimilate everything in their path: “We are the sexy Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

If we hope to help young fans of these stars veer away from imitating this self-destructive sexual objectification, we’ve got to help them conform to a different ideal. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 12:1-2: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

I especially like the way Eugene Petersen paraphrases this passage in The Message:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Did you catch that phrase right in the middle? Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. That’s the key to what I’m talking about here. I suspect some may think I’m scolding or even shaming Selena Gomez here. I’m not. I’m actually rooting for her to clearly see what’s happening to her. Because conformity is what happens almost automatically when we’re not thoughtfully, intentionally scrutinizing the values of our world and seeking to sift out those that are in conflict with what Scripture reveals as truth.

And in this case, the truth is this: What we do with our bodies matters. It’s a key component of our discipleship and our growth toward God-pleasing spiritual maturity.

That’s why when young stars shed their clothes and insist that it’s a positive, healthy expression of their independent, grown-up sexuality, we have to help young fans understand and internalize the truth that there’s so much more to their identity and their worth than trying to please others by getting naked.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Elisa Kim More than 1 year ago
Modesty applies to men.  It's a lie that women don't lust.  They are just more discrete about it.  And maybe more self controlled at times than men.  But men also need to learn self control as part of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which is for both genders.

We need to be renewed by God's Word, not conform to only human understanding of holiness.  Both men and women need to choose purity and modesty.

Not fall into permissiveness or condemnation.  Which sadly, happens often, everywhere there are examples online.

Grace and conviction in Christ to break free indeed from the lies of satan, his flaming arrows, standing in the whole armor of God.  Biblical truth in love, discerning by the power of the Holy Spirit, to know how to choose to have healthy boundaries against the influence of the lost world system.  And choosing to leave the old sin nature at the cross and walk in newness in Christ.

So much real need for healing, refinement and freedom in the world.  It grieves me to know it grieves God's Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus.  So many people in bondage to lies.  Not just females.  But males, too.  Even though it seems less "bad", so much male chest baring is not purity, it does lead to lust, it's ridiculous that the world pushes equality via saying there should be more male nudity.

There should be more real talk about modesty for both genders.

So many christian ministries and the books by Joshua Harris revealed a lot of truths about lust been an issue for both genders.
Rhoda Cormier More than 1 year ago
Mainly I think it's great to see an article that doesn't glorify in the sexual objection of woman, but instead trys to show that a woman doesn't have to shed her clothes to be respected and instead that's more to our identity ie our mind and personality:) Kudos Adam for writing a very well written and respectful article :)
Randy Tercero More than 1 year ago
Just my $0.02 i think at the end of the day, because of size of the platform you stand on, you must be cautious of your actions and not appear as a hypocrite.  While it's awesome that these female artists donate to charity work, they have to keep in mind who their audiences are. As for me and my daughter, I don't let her listen to anyone who's not on KSBJ (our local christian radio) or Air1.  if she does, i really pay attention to the lyrics to make sure  they are in line with what I'm trying to teach her.  I don't judge these ladies by any means I just don't expose my daughter to their behavior and me and her mother need to portray to her how ladies should and should not act.  I raise my children and try not to let the WORLD raise her (stepping off soap box).
Rhoda Cormier More than 1 year ago
Very good article!!!!
Cj .J .R. More than 1 year ago
Profound Truth  >>>>>>>
Antilles58 More than 1 year ago
Really great article. You're absolutely right - these people are victims as much as anyone else - they've been duped into thinking they're free and truly embracing their true selves. They've been sold a lie and they've bought it, thinking it was their own choices that brought them there. When you consider that the highly sexualized lyricsthat these young, 20-something women are singing are written by middle-aged men, it gets that much creepier.
JeffD503 More than 1 year ago

I don't disagree with the idea that a lot of pop culture stars have really gone off the rails, but in reading the comments (and I know I'm going to be blasted for this), I think that it's not really fair to say everything in culture is trash either. Now, is there a lot of trash and filth in this world, especially in music? Yes, I say. But there are also some gems in there. Case in point, Natasha Beddingfield. If you haven't heard of her, that's okay, but she's a pop singer herself, and actually her music really doesn't have a lot of if any sexuality in it. And I really haven't heard anything about her that's negative, although I don't really look. Now, I don't know how mainstream she is, but she's one of those gems to me. Even PI really likes her stuff, based on the music reviews I've read.


Labeling all of pop culture as trash, to me, is like saying all video games are to blame for every school shooting or violent act that comes around. Now, I've played a lot of video games, including some fighting ones (I mean official fighting games) and I have no desire to kill someone or deliver a roundhouse kick upside someone's head.


Now, am I supporting these pop stars and they way they act? Of course, I'm not. What I am saying is let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater either.


Okay, now that I've painted a target on myself, fire away. *puts on blindfold and backs against the nearest wall*

Antilles58 More than 1 year ago
I'm with you dude, there's plenty of beauty and GOOD stuff in culture. But it's certainly not all good.  How to tell the difference between what is good and what isn't is all part of the process.
Marissa More than 1 year ago
Yay, a blog post just for me!

I actually don't disagree with the main point being made here. "Empowerment and fulfillment through sexual attractiveness and availability" is a lie that culture and the media sells to women--all women, not just famous ones--in order to make money. "Sex sells," as they say. And the idea that strange men staring at your naked body is empowering makes little sense. Being respected is empowering. Making a difference is empowering. Of course, it's certainly true that in our sex-obsessed culture, a woman who's not traditionally attractive will have a much harder time gaining respect or making a difference, because men don't care what a woman thinks or does; they only care what she looks like. But the catch-22 is that if an attractive woman shows off *too* much, then she's not respected either.

So yes, you're not wrong that empowerment through sex appeal is a lie. What you don't say, however, is that the church is just as Borg-like in the narrative it pushes on women. It just goes in the exact opposite direction--which you do hint at here with your bit about Alanis Morrissette finding fulfillment in "motherhood and marriage." I imagine none of the writers on this blog would ever think of it that way since there are no female contributors to this blog (why is that, by the way?), so none of you have experienced it firsthand. But as a woman who grew up in the church, going to youth group meetings and Bible studies and attending a Christian college, I can tell you the narrative for us was everywhere like the Borg: stay "pure" so you can be a "gift" for your future husband. And the most interesting part was that it wasn't just "don't have sex before you're married"--it was always, "don't let your boyfriend pressure you into sex." As though a woman would NEVER actually *want* to have sex of her own volition. 

Because that's the church's narrative: teaching women that their sexuality shouldn't exist, and that they don't want and can't have physical sexual pleasure. "Men want sex, women want love," is a line I still clearly remember hearing in a junior-high sexual purity conference held at my youth group. The church is overflowing with support groups and resources for men with lust addictions, but for women? Nada. I once attended a women's Bible study where one of the supplemental books we studied was about avoiding "sexual brokenness" before marriage (note that the church never uses the term "sexual brokenness" to describe men who have had extramarital sex, only women. Just think about that for a second). In a moment of frustration, I told the group that I sometimes experienced lust and didn't know how to deal with it because the church doesn't even acknowledge that it's a possibility for women. Every woman in the room--some of whom were married--looked at me like I'd grown a second head, and the subject was quickly changed. That was the first and last time I ever spoke of it out loud. 

Of course, the ideal is a happy medium between the culture-Borg and the church-Borg: a woman who isn't defined by her sexuality, but also isn't ashamed of it, denying it, or suppressing it; a woman who, within marriage, confidently enjoys the gift of sexual pleasure that God gave to her and to other women just as much as he gave to men.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thanks for this post
Antilles58 More than 1 year ago
Awesome.  Well said, Marissa.
milhistorian More than 1 year ago
"because men don't care what a woman thinks or does; they only care what she looks like."

And you just lost me. Sorry. Guy, Can tell you that's not the only thing I care about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And Taylor Swift wasn't mentioned? She's the worst offender
Jim Perkins More than 1 year ago
Labeling all of Pop Culture as "trash" completely denigrates those who use their fame to help others. Generalizing culture is very single minded. 
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Jim Perkins More than 1 year ago
Demi Lovato, uses her platform to speak out against the stigma of mental illness. Miley Cyrus, founded The Happy Hippie foundation which rally's young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations. Why do you bring up Selena "waltzing around with no clothes on" which has never happened. Next time read into the background's of these individuals before putting them all into the category of "trashy" Pop Culture. 
Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago
You say liberal like it's a bad thing.

 I can't say I'm familiar with this young woman's...ahem...body of work, but that's neither here nor there. This entire website has an overarching theme. "Just look at this naughty ____ (film/album/book/game/celebrity)!"  The parents reaction? "For shame...my kids will NOT consume that entertainment product!" The kids/teens/young adults' reaction? "But mom...!"
and then they go seek out the entertainment product in question behind the parent's back. 

 I think PI would better off using the contributions they receive to develop an algorithm that automatically counts swear words and bare flesh percentage of each entertainment product and posts a tally rather than pay their employees to repeatedly write the same reviews and blog posts with only the names, titles, release dates, etc. changing. This would also save the same handful of readers from having to retype the same comments every few days in response to the redundant reviews and blog posts, thus saving everyone time and money.


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Jim Perkins More than 1 year ago
Bringing up my faith is very immature. Having an adult conversation doesn't require one to criticize another's character. I'm not talking about politics. Demi Lovato has never stated she is "bisexual". The song lyric that you're referring to "Got a taste for the cherry / I just need to take a bite" does not outright mean she's bisexual. Looking at one song or a single lyric and judging her is very small minded. I am not willingly blinding myself to filth, again another judgement. There are many uplifting qualities within Pop Culture. Looking for the bad further prevents you from seeing the good, these three celebrities have done. 

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milhistorian More than 1 year ago
Err...all of it?