Growing up: Girls, Take Off Most of Your Clothes


Growing up. Instructions for girls: Take off most of your clothes. Look up through the hair falling in your face, wriggle and sway your hips, and writhe around on a bed, then in a club. Simple.

“Miley Cyrus: Too hot to handle?” asks the headline of a clip on  On YouTube, those frustrating people who think they need to capitalize everything yell, “YOU GO MILEY! MILEY IS ALL GROWN UP NOW AND DOING HER OWN THING!”

Miley is seventeen. She’s reached that point in every girl’s life when a deep desire to wrap her naked body in an enormous snake overpowers all other needs or considerations.  Her new song/video is called “Who Owns My Heart,” and the daring transformation of her image that everyone (all of the same people who said these things about Britney Spears) is talking about is most definitely not “her own thing.” As people run around yelling, “Look at Miley! Isn’t that crazy? Can you believe she’s stripping in a cage while hundreds of men wearing black masks and spike armor pet her?” I keep thinking, “Um. Yeah.” Because, for a young, innocent, adorable pop star, this is exactly what I expect.

What makes me angry is that the theme of the transition is so ubiquitous. OK, they’re pop stars. They don’t count. They aren’t real people. They haven’t eaten in years. They’re made out of synthetic materials from distant planets that enable them to bend their bodies into impossible positions while lip-synching perfectly. And they can do this from the time they are twelve or so. But the thing is, tons of little girls believe that they’re real. They scream and scream when they get anywhere within a mile of their idols. They emulate their fashion choices (or the fashion choices of the stars’ managers and stylists). Little girls everywhere hurt their eyes, trying to look more like Lady Gaga with giant, terrifying contacts.

And so tons of little girls think (or believe subconsciously) that growing up means learning how to seductively dance, nearly naked, in heels so high you need a ladder to access them. And they’re taught, repeatedly, painstakingly, that this type of nearly naked dancing is called “embracing your own sexuality,” and “being bold and free,” and “owning your look,” and “being your own person.” It’s rebellious, even though everyone is doing it. It’s daring, even though everyone is doing it. It’s original, even though everyone is doing it.

I tutored twelve-year-olds for about five years. The boys dressed forgettably. The girls sometimes came to their lessons wearing skintight shirts that proclaimed “Juicy” across their non-existent breasts. They wore little, expertly assembled, tight outfits with matching makeup. But that was in a rugged, backwoods kind of place called New Jersey. Here in the big city, girls are even better equipped for adulthood. At twenty-four, I don’t have any of their conscious sexiness. I can barely function in two-inch heels. I am still working on the whole dancing seductively thing.

The point is: We need more popular examples of how to move from girlhood to womanhood. We need more appealing suggestions for different ways this might look and sound. Instead of heavy breathing into the microphone and flashing boobs on a Diesel poster, we need quick-witted lyrics and funky, interesting fashions that include, you know, clothes, rather than skin. We need some hipster chic to cover up the pop babes. Some skinny jeans and big, baggy plaid shirts that all the girls and boys wear exactly the same. What’s wrong with that? Not that girls shouldn’t be able to look different, but the difference shouldn’t have to mean a striptease and softcore porn dancing and posing. There’s plenty of porn to be had, softcore or otherwise. It doesn’t need to be a part of the definition of becoming a woman.

Lady Gaga is at least ironic, but she took a lot of diet pills and trained extensively to gyrate as effortlessly as she does, wearing as little as she is often wearing. Sure, there are some sunglasses made out of pork chops and shoes made out of Great Danes, but there’s plenty of even more sexual sexiness to accompany it. Because, after all, she is a woman.


So enough. Let’s stop talking about Miley being shocking or unique. We said the same thing about every female pop star before her. When all the shock is sexy shock, how much farther can these teenagers and young women go? Rape fantasies with Lady Gaga. Sexual violence. And then what? What’s left? We’re already there. And we’re still pretending it’s a revelation. Violence against women is an ancient tradition. The display of women as sexual objects is just as old. So let’s stop imagining that it’s brand new. That it’s exciting, or even very interesting.

Growing up is fascinating. You learn how to think in more complicated ways than you ever could. You start to make more of your own decisions. You experiment with the relationship between freedom and responsibility. I cut my hair off and wrote a lot of music about living in a dorm room. My friends fell in love with feminism and classical singing and philosophy and earning a living on their own and making sense of the world. We fell in love and had sex and got our hearts broken and broke people’s hearts and worked really hard to pass tests and slacked off and felt guilty and wore jeans and ate crappy food and tried sexy shoes for a day and danced in the practice rooms and ran around in the rain and went to job interviews and were very serious and laughed hysterically and tried and tried to figure our lives out. We didn’t need any snakes. Or a cage to dance in. Or even a club, really, to wear jeans and a sequined bra in. In my opinion, there’s still plenty of time for me to learn how to dance seductively. But I’d rather not learn how from a seventeen-year-old. And I’d rather that I already know that my womanhood is not about seduction, by the time I learn to dance.

*  *  *

Un-Roast: Today I love how when I try to do a sexy pose in front of the mirror (who doesn’t do this constantly?), I automatically stick my stomach out. I think it’s in order to arch my back, but it’s cute that my stomach is always such an important part of the sexiness.

P.S. This post was inspired by a discussion thread on Daily Break, a community sponsored by Daily Living and hosted by Blogfrog, where I am a community leader. The community just launched today.

P.P.S. This post was syndicated on Huffpo here.


Kate on October 13th 2010 in beauty, body, feminism

24 Responses to “Growing up: Girls, Take Off Most of Your Clothes”

  1. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday responded on 13 Oct 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    I don’t know if the examples of how to move from girlhood to womanhood need to be popular. I get that these girls may think that their favourite popstars are real, but they’re also smart enough to know that women in their own life are real too.
    If a girl has enough women in her life that can be role models then she’ll soon realize that growing up doesn’t actually mean doing a strip tease with a snake because even though Britney’s doing it, no one else she knows is.

  2. Kate responded on 13 Oct 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    I don’t really think it’s a matter of “smart” or not. I wish it was! But when you see incredibly successful young women displaying the same tendencies over and over, and you’re taught to think that they’re cool, or at least good at what they do, then I don’t think you can help but be influenced. Doesn’t mean you’ll do a striptease with a snake! But it does mean you’ll be under the impression that being sexy in that way is a (maybe integral) part of womanhood.

  3. Jillian responded on 13 Oct 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Those role models are very real to very little girls. My sister, bless her, didn’t do a lot of monitoring of what my niece had access to on television as a young child. MTV was on in their house on a regular basis. I was babysitting my niece when she was about five years old (this was seven or so years ago) and one night I walked into a room to see her with her pajama shirt (one of my t-shirts, it swallowed her like a dress) held up high enough to expose her panties and midriff and she stood in the middle of the floor, shaking her little tush and even managing to gyrate as much as five year old hips can. I observed her for a moment, horrified, before she realized I had walked in. I smiled when she turned to me and giggled. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Playing Britney Spears!” was her answer. How do you even respond to that, especially when you’re only 17 yourself and still trying to figure everything out? Years later, that event still haunts me.

  4. San D responded on 13 Oct 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    I have been disturbed over the years by young girls cheerleading (where it is considered ok to gyrate in front of everyone), and doing beauty pagents dressed like….well you know….Some dance recitals I have seen have been questionable as well. Heck, ever see how young people “dance” nowadays? Now that I am in my 60′s I think this is exactly how my mother, and most probably HER mother thought when they saw young people. Things like the Lindy, and the Jitterbug were probably considered riske as well. I think the only way young women will understand that these seductive activities are inappropriate at a young age is if their mothers, aunts and grandmothers explain sexuality to them. That said, having taught in a high school for many years, on Back to School night I have been known to wince at some of the mothers’ outfits!

  5. Rachel responded on 13 Oct 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    Amen. From my own experience I can say that even smart girls who grow up watching MTV and the like think that becoming sexual, in looks and in deeds, is the way to prove their maturity.
    One thing to add: instead of all of the attention and criticism around pop stars we need to focus on why our culture makes teen sexuality seem so attractive. Why does Miley need to transform if she wants to stay economically viable? It’s about industry pressure, but it reflects on larger cultural issues.

  6. Laryssa responded on 13 Oct 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    Kate, I love this post! You definitely read my mind; I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot this week, especially since I’ve been shopping for Halloween costumes. I wonder, why does every young woman feel the need to wear the skankiest costume possible? I wrote a blog post about it, if you’re interested: Thanks for all your insight!

  7. Two Girls on a Bench responded on 13 Oct 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    We are in love with so many things about this post, just saw it on Huffington Post. This reminds us of all the feminist theatre we did in college and so much more. Yes, eat the damn cake. Please. And we’ll save a piece for Miley when the dust settles several years from now.

  8. TacomaRogue responded on 14 Oct 2010 at 4:15 am #

    You are brilliant! These pop stars are doing nothing new, but it’s about damn time they did! I am so glad to have grown up with a mom smart enough to not allow MTV or scantily clad pop stars in our house. Sure we could still listen to the music but we had to do it else where. My rolemodles growing up were my hard working, not at all sexy by today’s standards (but the most beautiful woman in my child eyes) mother and the bad ass characters in the books I read who were never worried about being sexy. I grew up in a very blue collar area so the only women who were “sexy” were the women who were… less than respectable. I wish more young girls would learn that while yes, their body is beautiful in any shape it’s in, half of what makes you sexy is the mystery.

  9. Wei-Wei responded on 14 Oct 2010 at 9:00 am #

    TacomaRogue: I think what you said is so, so, true. Half of what makes you sexy IS the mystery! My sister’s always saying that I wear clothes too tight. Tight jeans, tight t-shirts, tight tank tops – I didn’t find anything wrong with it, but since then I’ve scrutinised myself a little. I’m only 15, I don’t know anything, nor do I have anything to flaunt or anything to be proud of, so what am I trying to show? Just because it’s tight doesn’t mean it fits properly. So it comes down to that again – be mindful and show character. Please and thank you.

  10. Kate responded on 14 Oct 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Absolutely. Guest post?

  11. Olivia responded on 14 Oct 2010 at 10:38 am #

    I loved reading this, mainly because I think it’s one of those “it goes without saying” conversations that just sort of automatically gets dismissed.

    One of the truly disturbing parts about all of this to me is that young women find their sexuality co-opted at such a vulnerable point that it often takes them many painful years and lessons to reclaim it. Sometimes this conversation gets distilled down into black-and-white, “Should they or shouldn’t they?” perspectives about provocative clothing and implied promiscuity.

    We forget that it’s perfectly healthy and wonderful for 17-year-old girls to be exploring their own sexuality and what that means to them. But they should be able to do it in a safe environment where they are allowed to define it for themselves and their own happiness, not what others expect or want from them.

    I’d really like to see us help younger women create that path. Perhaps if they felt strength in their own definition of their sexuality, they wouldn’t go looking for affirmation by gyrating in front of cameras in skimpy tank tops.

  12. Bob Keteyian responded on 14 Oct 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    We need lots of strong voices speaking out on this subject, which you’ve done exceedingly well. I have four granddaughters and I see their impressionable eyes absorbing the images you speak of. I’ve also counseled many girls over the years and observed their confusion because of what the popular cultures is teaching them about “growing up.” It is damaging to their emerging identify as women. Thanks for a great post.

  13. R.M. Levitt responded on 14 Oct 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    AMEN. I was putting off reading this article because I knew I’d get really upset about it, because it bothers the hell out of me too. If you think it’s disturbing what’s happening with Miley, you should see what her 9-year-old sister is wearing. They’re already grooming the next wave of inappropriately sexualized little girls, and now they’re targeting an even younger demographic. Why is it that child exploitation is perfectly legal and socially acceptable as long as people are making tons of money off of it? Because let’s not mince words: that’s exactly what it is.

    I don’t know what kind of bizzaro world we’re living in anymore, when I go to the mall and I find myself doing double-takes at girls who can’t be older than 13 or 14. Hey, it isn’t easy to tell anymore! When I was growing up, little girls looked like little girls. Now they look like, well, you said it: Mini-Britneys in training. And they post videos of themselves on YouTube and “sext” naked pictures of themselves to their middle-school boyfriends, and needless to say, predators are salivating over them. I’m 27, and I always thought I’d be a lot older before I started feeling like such a dinosaur.

    So this is apparently what’s “cool” now, in the good old U.S. of A. This is the culture we export to the rest of the world. What, you don’t feel proud of what America stands for nowadays? Let’s face it: our society is sick, sick, sick, and there’s no denying it. Anybody who does this to children is SICK. So we don’t make our women cover themselves from head to toe, and we don’t mutilate their genitals. Instead we encourage them to bare it all, and we mutilate them emotionally and psychologically; all in the name of the almighty DOLLAR. May God continue to “bless” the USA.

    I think it’s bad enough that clothing companies pay fashion designers millions of dollars to come up with this stuff, but parents who buy clothes for their little girls that say “JUICY” (or anything suggestive) across the crotch/ass/chest/whatever, should be lined up and SHOT. They watch Oprah and Montel Williams and get themselves worked up into a tizzy about sexual predators, and this is how they send their kids out into the world? Seriously, what is their major malfunction?? I’m not even some kind of religious fanatic or Bible-thumper, but there’s something SERIOUSLY amiss!!

    It upsets me so much, because I have friends with young daughters: kind, happy girls who are just starting middle school, and I love them, and it makes me want to cry and punch things to think about how they will be pressured and degraded and objectified and made to feel badly about themselves by basically everything and everyone around them from now until they reach menopause, trying to make them give up on themselves and become these awful, fake plastic sex-creatures, even though they know in their hearts it’s wrong, but they might do it anyway because they just want to fit in and be accepted and yes, “loved”.

    And I can’t do anything about it. There’s nothing I can say to them, because they’re just kids and I’m not their parents, and so it would be “inappropriate” for me to talk about these things with them! (Yet it’s “appropriate” for them to watch Miley Cyrus dance in a cage, apparently.) And I can’t fix the world, or I would have done by now. So I can only watch. Makes me want to vomit, honestly. I can’t imagine trying to raise a child (either male or female) in today’s world. There’s just too many bad influences, and how do you counter all of that without sheltering them completely, and causing them all the problems that go with that? There’s no way to win. It’s obviously time for the human race to stop procreating. The writing’s on the wall.

  14. Claire Griffin Sterrett responded on 15 Oct 2010 at 2:46 am #

    Great Post Kate! I agree – we need more popular examples for how to move from girlhood to womanhood. And yes, it would be wonderful if some of those examples had nothing to do with sexuality.
    At the same time, I would argue that when it comes to sexuality, we need BETTER examples for how to move from girlhood to womanhood. Most of what popular culture teaches young women today is how to “act sexy” rather than how to be in touch with their sexuality. Many young women confuse their own sense of desire with “Does he/she want me?”. They are cut off from their bodies and, as a result, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing what they want and don’t want sexually.

  15. Tiara the Merch Girl responded on 15 Oct 2010 at 11:18 am #

    The ending of the post rubs me the wrong way. It implies that sexual violence happens “because you wore something sexy” – that you brought it onto yourself by how you dress. When it is NEVER the case. Also there’s some unconscious slut-shaming happening – I do burlesque, I dress sexy sometimes, does that make me less smart than the average person?

    What needs to happen is more education about sexuality, about how to own yourself. I find that in today’s world societies there’s a lot of mixed messages about women and their bodies, but one thing that stands out is that your body is apparently not your own. Everyone has an opinion on it – dress more! dress less! don’t be a slut! be more sexual! tan up! be fair and lovely! etc.

    Girls and women need to get the message that their body IS indeed their own, and they have full ownership and responsibility and rights over it. It is their right to make a conscious choice over what they wear and how they express themselves. If they want to fit in, that’s their wish; if they don’t, no biggie. That they have a right to say No and be respected for that, that NO ONE ELSE has the right to harm or abuse them no matter what they wore or what situation they are in.

  16. rachel responded on 15 Oct 2010 at 3:27 pm #


    I don’t think Kate mentioned rape to suggest that women who display their sexuality are in any way responsible for being raped. (Of course, a lot of the talk around Cyrus and pop stars like her does have implications of slut shaming.) But, there is a very real relationship between sexualizing womanhood and rape culture. That is, men don’t rape women because of low cut tops or sultry dance moves. Men who rape women do so, because they think – and are taught to think – that women should want to have sex with them, that even when women say ‘no’ they are really enjoying it, that exercising virility proves their masculinity, that it puts women in their place, on and on. Rape is a productive of sexism, and our culture encourages sexism both by overvaluing sexualized, young female bodies and by shaming women who dress and act sexy.

    I agree that the ideal solution would be to allow girls and women to chose for themselves. But that seems naive as well. Especially, when we’re talking about teenage girls and young adults. We know that 18-19 year olds’ brains are not fully developed (prefrontal cortex) and that they lack the kinds of long term decision making ability required to truly exercise choice. I’m not saying that the solution is to police young women’s behavior, but I am leary of arguments that attribute agency to decisions that are over-determined by our culture and circumstances.

    PS. I love burlesque! One of my close friends is in a troupe. My favorite part about the experience is how by the second or third performance sexuality becomes sort of secondary to humor and parody.

  17. Kate responded on 15 Oct 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    Oh, wow. Sorry I gave that impression! Definitely didn’t mean to imply that. I don’t think that on any level, and think it’s really tragic if anyone thinks that. I just meant that the performance of sexuality has become more violent (as demonstrated by Lady Gaga).

  18. Ana Marai responded on 15 Oct 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    As for Miley, and the other popstars trying to change their image, she’s just trying to break free of the Disney death grip. It’s like when you grow up in a conservative household, and the first thing you do when you get out is get your tongue pierced or something, similar. People rebel, but mostly the same way everyone else rebels. It’s not original at all, but most people still see her as Hannah Montana. And as she said, “life’s what you make it so let’s make it ROCK!”

  19. Noel responded on 16 Oct 2010 at 11:43 am #

    My boyfriend and I talk about having children someday, and every time we see these kinds of things on TV, we say to ourselves, “Goodness. How hard will it be to raise daughters someday.” And I hate that we have to think that way.

    But to all the readers of ETDC and the rest of us who see how tragically wrong this is, there is a ray of hope. For every misconstrued sexual image our daughters/nieces/sisters are exposed to, there is a Connecticut cheerleader standing up and asking for less skimpy uniform:

  20. Noel responded on 19 Oct 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Also, one more lighthouse in the darkness:

  21. jolynn responded on 22 Oct 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Kerry from fancy notion just introduced me to your blog via the wedding recap (which made me cry, btw) and this un-roast is my favorite so far. You are awesome and I’m excited to read more!

  22. Jen responded on 25 Oct 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    Thanks for writing this.

    Its a huge and important topic and I totally agree. Just because we are smart does not mean we are immune to societal pressures. I totally fell victim to the pressures before I figured out that I could choose other options.

    I wish someone had explained it to me when I was younger.

  23. On the (Rest of the) Net. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm responded on 28 Oct 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    [...] Britney Spears, now Miley Cyrus: Eat the Damn Cake writes about how growing up = “Girls, Take Off Most of Your Clothes”. [...]

  24. morgaine responded on 08 May 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    I’m very late to this party, but I have to jump in.

    Maybe, for some, dancing in a cage *is* embracing one’s own sexuality. It shouldn’t be compulsory, but that doesn’t mean it’s not empowering for those who do choose it. For someone like Miley Cyrus, who was raised very religious, I’m sure it’s incredibly liberating to shuck off a modest, sheltered upbringing.

    I think a lot of feminists make the mistake of seeing women as a monolith, of talking broadly about what’s “good for women” and “bad for women.” Making the conscious choice to be a sex object, to dance naked or pose for Playboy, is no less valid than pursuing a corporate career. The argument that women don’t actually choose such things has always seemed very patronizing to me: it writes off a large segment of women as brainwashed and not worth listening to.

    Feminism is about giving women more choices, not shaming them for the choices they do make. Olivia wrote above: “Perhaps if they felt strength in their own definition of their sexuality, they wouldn’t go looking for affirmation by gyrating in front of cameras in skimpy tank tops.” Gyrating in front of cameras in skimpy tank tops IS some people’s definition of their sexuality. We don’t need new strictures on women’s behavior to replace old ones, and we definitely don’t need to pity those we see as unenlightened.