One of the things I’ve always loved to do is dance. I would learn all the moves I could in the music videos that played on VH-1 and MTV. Back then, they only played videos. And my cable service didn’t carry BET until I was a teenager. So mainly I would emulate the black music videos that incorporated dance, such as Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Salt-N-Pepa, and so on. This was from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s.
My favorite dance video of all time is Janet’s “The Pleasure Principle.” I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about in the song, but the video had me mesmerized. It was just her dancing in an empty warehouse, full of passion, but not wearing anything revealing or suggestive– just a cinched tee shirt, jeans, and sneakers, with her hair bone-straight. You couldn’t tell me anything when that video came on, and if I did have a friend over talking to me or playing with me, it all stopped as soon as that song came on. The coffee table got pushed to the side, and before long my glasses would fly off across the room doing those moves. The only thing I couldn’t do was the back flip off the chair. And even now at 32 years old, I have no problem with it if I ever occasionally see the video again. And I don’t own a coffee table.
But we all know that sexually suggestive music videos and songs were around even then, way before the heat in recent years from the blatantly violent, misogynistic hip hop videos came along. Being that MTV used to play a lot of rock videos, I would constantly see images of white women with hoses, or lying around on cars, even though rap and hip hop had not yet started to become popular there. So this stuff didn’t start with hip hop.
Nonetheless, videos and songs were either played or banned. There was not all this with edited versions, or sounds or bleeps to mask certain phrases that refer to cuss words, sex, or violence. And I’m sure you’ve noticed that only SOME of these words are edited out. The first time I heard a cuss word on TV other than “damn” or “hell” was on the Roseanne Barr show. Again I was young, and I saw this as a sign that it’s OK. Same for some of the elements in these videos. Yes, I was taught to carry myself a certain way, but there began a tug-of-war, or a pull between what was popular on TV, popular with friends and at school, and what I knew was right and wrong.
I wish I could say that this media doesn’t affect us much, but it does. Over time, seeing these images and singing these words to a good beat desensitize the best of us. We do the latest dances from the videos, pick up slang from the songs, and absorb messages from these videos about how young women should look, dress, act, or be treated by the opposite sex. Only women or certain shades, hair textures (even if it is weave), and sizes appear in these videos as being glamorous and desirable. Now that I’m older, I realize that many things contribute to a person’s self-esteem, and that media cannot be blamed for everything. It’s meant to be entertainment, right? But I think there is still a responsibility we have to uphold. We know that, like models, video girls do not represent the mainstream of women, but just an ideal or fantasy. We know that they are often airbrushed and manipulated visually to keep that standard of beauty. But does that resonate with the kids watching these videos? I don’t think their thought processes go that far. But back in the day, I wanted to be a video girl! I wanted to be one of the ones dancing, not one of the ones walking around as eye candy, or frolicking in a pool, or being sprayed with alcohol.
I have countless VHS tapes of videos and awards shows that I’ve collected from about 1985 to 2002. I haven’t gotten around to converting them to a digital format yet, but it doesn’t matter, because I can still see the images in my head. If I hear any, and I mean ANY song that I saw a video for more than once, it plays back in my mind (especially any dance scenes). Music videos made an indelible mark on my brain. And like most kids, when I was in jr. high and high school, I sometimes tried to copy my friends and some celebs, emulating elements of those that I admired in small ways, such as my hair, clothing, and jewelry. But in recent times, I hear about sexual games being played in school, school buses, etc., and that shouldn’t be so for young people. How did this get started? Where is the pressure coming from?
Some celebs and athletes have denied or ignored their influence on youth by denouncing their title of “role model”. But you can’t pick and choose whether you’re a role model for anyone. Whoever sees you in their daily life has to decide if there’s something about you that they admire, or that they want for themselves. Charles Barkley made one of the most famous statements that he’s not a role model, but others have also made comments that didn’t exactly add up. For example, I recall a few years ago a TV interview between Barbara Walters and Beyonce. Barbara asked B to address the criticism that she is too sexy or does too many things onstage and in videos that go against what a person who believes in God would do. B’s response was that she does have a relationship with God, that it’s no one else’s business to say whether she does, and that she dresses and acts as she does because she’s a pop star, and that’s how pop stars dress and act (she did not name Sasha back then, lol). I understand her response in a way, but what if I had been watching this interview at 9, 12, or 15 years old? Would I have the proper perspective to analyze her response in the right context? I doubt it. And then another example: Lil Kim. In a magazine a few years ago, she said that she has denied posing for Playboy because of her relationship with God. I’m not denying that she has one, but I think it’s funny.
On the flip side, Tyra Banks has been pushing positivity for young women with her talk show and her reality show. And Essence magazine brought awareness back to the forefront with their campaign that they launched about 2 years ago.
I would love for girls to be able to look to teachers, parents, and people in their communities to find real role models. They need to be told that they are smart and push education more so than be influenced by looks. I want to teach my daughter that it’s what SHE thinks about herself that matters, and what GOD says about her that matters– not what a boy says to her, or if her favorite singer does things a certain way. If you have young people in your life, and we all do (nieces, nephews, friend’s kids, and ours), talk to them about what they’re up to. What are they looking forward to next? What’s been going on at school, and with their friends? What are the things they are confused or conflicted about? Listen for clues as to how they feel about themselves and those they are talking about. When they talk, they are revealing their perceptions about themselves and what they think of others. These perceptions are subjective, so they may not make much sense to you, but be careful to stay positive and not to judge them. Their world today is very different from yours, even if you have felt some of the things back then they are going through now. The whole “How are you?” “Good.” “How was school today?” “Good.” is not a productive conversation– it’s just being polite, and it doesn’t show concern. If you care, dig a little deeper and let them talk. Create an environment where they feel free to express themselves and share their feelings without being condemned for it. Remember, even if you’re not famous, someone is always watching you, and looking up to you, so you’re a role model even if you don’t know it.
What are some of your thoughts about media influence, role models, and young people? I may be able to use some of this in my book. Thank you for reading.
This blog was originally posted by Daree Allen at dareesinsights.wordpress.com (C) 2009.