“Okay, kids–who here is SEXXXY!??” shouted the face painter as she hovered over my 3-year-old son and shook her booty. The DJ had just finished playing this summer’s hit and very grown-up song, “Blurred Lines”–apparently mistaking the community-wide carnival with numerous young children in attendance for a nightclub–and now, we were all being treated to LMFAO’s ubiquitous song about being sexy and knowing it. This woman was very excited.
My son didn’t really register the woman’s question, but the young girls assembled around the booth tittered and blushed like she had something illicit (which, to them, I think she had). “Me, me! I’m, um, sexy,” replied a girl, uncertainly. She couldn’t have been more than 7 years old.
Calculating the over-two-hour line I had just waited on so this woman could make my son’s face up like a football player only to have it come off 10 minutes later during his bath, I didn’t want to risk her vengeance if I decided to say something like: “How about let’s not sexualize little girls and boys at a family event or hey, anywhere, ’kay?” But mostly because I’m allergic to confrontation, I kept quiet.
Sex itself is nothing shameful, as Jewish law consistently affirms, and I’m not a total prude, so I can excuse the risqué songlist, but it was completely inappropriate of the woman to ask little children if they feel sexy. Children do not understand or grasp the concept of being “sexy,” nor should they, especially when they don’t even fully comprehend what sex itself is. Our society has a creepy fixation on youth to the point of fetishization, and I certainly don’t want my children, or anyone else’s, to have other people’s perceptions of what’s sexy projected onto them, or to be taught that being sexy is necessarily a good thing or some kind of goal to work towards.
It’s confusing enough to figure it out as a grownup. We live in a world that sends conflicting messages about sexuality, where breasts are publicly celebrated in Victoria’s Secret ads and runway shows but then subverted into something shameful and to be put away in private when mothers nurse their children, and where products like peek-a-boo stripper poles are sold in the children’s toy section and Abercrombie & Fitch markets push-up bikini tops for 7-year-olds (to push up what, exactly?).
I don’t know where exactly you draw the line, but it’s probably somewhere between bikinis for babies and crotchless panties for 9-year olds (yes, that was a thing). To add to our overwhelming job as parents today, kids have easy access to these contradictory messages through their savvy use of computers, tablets, and social media, a growing trend that is only driven home to me when my toddler nimbly navigates his way around an iPad better than I can.
Recently, Kveller asked readers what they think of the YouTube video of a bar mitzvah boy making his grand debut to the party in a starring role of a dance number by a troupe of Burlesque-style dancers.
It was nice to see a young boy so confident in himself and his talent, and I’m not against less traditional ways of celebrating a defining occasion in a person’s life. However, when a young boy marks his passage into manhood with scantily-clad women gyrating around a stage, perhaps it serves as a chance for parents to re-evaluate exactly what kind of cultural messages and values we are passing onto our children.
So, face painter woman, wherever you are, I wish I had said this to you last night: “You know, you’re really doing a wonderful job painting these children’s faces, but instead of asking them if they feel sexy, which is kind of a grownup idea, let’s ask them, instead, how they’re enjoying the carnival, and how they feel when they’re dancing or being flung in the air from the trapeze, or jumping exuberantly on the moonwalk or eating the barbecue food which, by the way, is so overpriced, don’t you think?”
I’m all for bringing sexy back, but to the clubs, not to children’s carnivals.