In today’s society, we are presented with images, videos, TV programs and advertisements depicting children and teenagers in such a way that concerns arise regarding the innocence and purity of today’s children. In 1972, Stanley Cohen introduced the theory of moral panic, where a “problem” that is seen as a threat to social values and norms arises, and sparks alarm and anxiety among the public. Although the sexualisation of children is not a new concept, it is certainly seen as a moral panic in the 21st century. The panic is caused by the portrayal of children and teenagers, in particular girls, in music, television and print media.
Reality shows such as Dance Moms and Toddlers and Tiaras are televised world wide, and give the audience an insight into the world of entertainment, be it dancing or pageants. Dance Moms is an example of the panic surrounding the so-called “sexualisation” of children, following a team of dancers based in Pittsburgh, USA, aged between 7 and 14. The girls are coached by world renowned “she-satan”, Abbey Lee Miller, and the program documents their weekly routines and competitions which they attend all over America. This clip is an example of one of the more questionable routines the girls have performed.
The ‘moms’ described the routine as “risqué” and half-joked that if their husbands were to see the routine, they would no longer be paying for dance lessons. The element of sexualisation can be seen through the costumes and the style of dancing- a burlesque dance usually performed by women, not children. However, it is still a style of dance, and just because the girls are dressed in the equivalent of a bikini, does this mean we have to see them as sexualized? I’m on the fence for this one. From my perspective as a former dancer, the routine is quite well polished and choreographed, with the costuming complimenting the style. But I can see where a debate is sparked regarding the performance as a whole- the notion of sexuality is a main element of the burlesque style, and the girls are wearing crop tops and “booty shorts”.
Many young girls, interested in dance, watch the show and this is where the idea of corporate paedophilia (defined by Emma Rush as a marketing approach directing products towards children, and disregards social norms) comes in. The girls always look older than they are, due to makeup and costuming, and this produces a notion of fakeness. Through watching Dance Moms will girls accept that this is the way they should be acting and dressing at this age?
The factors influencing the acclaimed sexualisation of the Dance Moms girls are not only the media, but also, ironically (or not so much- after all it is called Dance Moms), the girls’ mothers. The moms condone this sexualisation implicitly, by not being opposed to their kids’ older appearances and costuming. Although they have on the rare occasion protested a costume or routine, it is part of the show, and it seems as though they will do anything to get their child in the spotlight.
It is a vicious cycle, really. The parents seem to want to live their own dreams through their children, and will do whatever it takes for them or their child to become famous. But without TV shows such as Dance Moms, would these mothers still willingly consent to the exploitation of their children? Although the parents may be behind the issue, it is the mass media that produces and broadcasts these shows, thus allowing the sexualisation and exploitation of these girls. Without the media, would this topic still be a major moral panic today?
- “Moral Panic”, Oxford Dictionaries, viewed 19/4/15, <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/moral-panic>
- Lyons, M. 2012, “What’s Worse: Dance Moms or Toddlers and Tiaras?”, The Joys of Parenting, weblog post, April 3, viewed 18/4/15
< http://www.vulture.com/2012/04/dance-moms-toddlers-tiaras-worst.html >
- LiveLeak, 2012, online video, March 31, viewed 18/4/15
< http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=bee_1333212336 >
- Rush, E. La Nauze, A. 2006, “Corporate Paedophilia: Sexualisation of Children in Australia”, Discussion Paper 90, The Australian Institute
- Lappin T. 2014, “Cover Their Eyes”, This Digital Age, Weblog post, September 29, viewed 18/4/15,