Anyone who knows me well knows that Ariana Grande is my jam. She has an impressive four-octave and a note soprano vocal range, she’s a feminist and she produces great bangers like “Let me love you.” So, what’s the problem then? Why have I insinuated that there is something problematic with Grande? Because there is a problem with Grande, and it’s not entirely her fault.
A former Nickelodeon star and a soulful songstress, Grande has been repeatedly criticized for her image. You know the type: cute, but sexy, dressed in pastel colors and with a penchant for fluffy things. It doesn’t help that she has a young-looking face, even with the heavy contouring and sharp winged-liner.
If you scroll through Tumblr as much as I do – and, trust me, I’m on there for hours – you’ll notice that people are pretty split on what they think about her look. Some accuse her of infantilizing herself to take advantage of society’s obsession with young girls, while others tell her “you do you, boo.”
Grande isn’t the only person to face this kind of criticism. Baby-faced Selena Gomez, 24, has also been accused of looking too sexy for her face and the singer has repeatedly lashed back by asserting her right to wear what she wants when she wants because she’s a grown woman.
I am all for self-empowerment and body autonomy, but, on the other hand, I don’t want to encourage celebrities and the media to feed the ever-growing beast of a problem. That problem is the oversexualization of young girls by society, which, ironically, also blames them for it.
You see this problem everywhere: from the ever-popular “School Girl” or “Just Turned 18” tags in many porn websites, the strict school dress codes that bans girls from wearing skirts that are “too short,” to Indonesia’s unwillingness to raise the minimum marriage age for girls from 16 to 18.
The latter is especially harrowing. The Constitutional Court’s decision not to raise the minimum marriage age for girls shows that the justices believe that the only requirements needed for a girl to turn into a woman ready to be married are a pair of breasts and period blood.
The Court claimed that the existing 1974 Law was in line with our 1945 Constitution and that raising the minimum age does not guarantee a solution to social, health and economic problems. By rejecting the petition, the Court pretty much tells us that girls as young as 16 are mentally and sexually ready to be married because their bodies are biologically ready to bear children, when, really, they’re not.
Is it any surprise that the panel of justices only consisted of one woman, who was also the only justice willing to grant the change? Such thinking has also led to excusing the behavior of full-fledged adults who date high school girls because girls are “more mature” than boys and grow up faster. Really, they’re only growing up faster because society thinks they should.
More “down-to-earth” problems include the clothes people wear to walk around in Jakarta. Teen girls are often ogled at when they decide to hit the pavement in anything that shows off their legs, cleavage, shoulders or midriff, and when men of all ages are confronted about this, they often reply with: “Well, I can look at them if they’re on display,” no matter how young the girls are.
As much as society likes to sexualize young girls, however, it does not like it when the subject decides to sexualize herself. Much like Grande and Gomez who took charge of their own image after many years at kid-friendly Nickelodeon and Disney, Instagram celebrity @Awkarin was suddenly swept up in public controversy due to her skimpy clothes, party lifestyle and public displays of affection for her former boyfriend.
Many of my own acquaintances criticized her and despite my own efforts to come to her defense, most of my male acquaintances agreed that they would never marry a girl like her. If it was a guy’s Instagram account and he was doing all this stuff, it would be fine”.
This kind of mindset should really be scrubbed clean out of society, not only because it leaves our women and girls vulnerable to being seen as mere objects, but also because it excuses the predatory behavior of adults who think it’s okay to take advantage of young girls. While providing sex education from a young age is the long-term solution to this problem, it seems a long time coming from a society that remains fairly conservative.
Instead, it may perhaps be best to keep this discourse open among our peers, in real life and online, in order to make some tiny change and to stop society from normalizing the sexualization of young girls. Go talk about it with your guy friends, and your elders or younger sisters and brothers. A step forward is better than no steps at all.
Fedina S. Sundaryani is an energy-sector journalist who has travelled all her life and is trying to find some place called home. She graduated with a degree in the ambiguously named Asia Pacific Studies and spends her spare time side-eyeing meninists, reading and watching makeup videos on YouTube.