Our own worst enemy

I don’t think I would get too many people disagreeing that the over-sexualization of women and girls is a big problem. Even Good Housekeeping magazine had a major story on this topic. The report in its August issue focused primarily on the fallout from shows such as TLC’s “Toddlers & Tiaras,” along with the climate in our culture that goes out of its way to persuade women of all ages to “look and act like sexual bait.” But I wonder how many of us are willing to admit that we women often do more to hurt, rather than help, our gender regarding this sad situation. 

This became painfully obvious to me at a recent visit to my nail salon. There is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves and putting our best foot — or, when it comes to pedicures and manicures, our best feet and hands — forward, so to speak. But there is something terribly wrong when we not only accept but embrace other women who dress and act in ways that make Madonna look like Laura Ingalls of “Little House on the Prairie.” 

So there I was in the salon, trying not to notice the TV set tuned to the ABC network and the ever-so-annoying program, “The View.” One of the guests that morning was pop star Lady Gaga, and I was stopped in my tracks by the conversation that began soon after she appeared on the TV screen. A woman was sitting in the chair next to me; she had her little granddaughter with her and the woman suddenly started talking about what a great voice Lady Gaga has. Her manicurist then began to also rave about the singer and how it takes real “courage” to dress so provocatively in public. This manicurist has a daughter about 2 or 3 years old. “She has a lot of guts,” the manicurist proclaimed. That was about all I could take. After all, the word “guts” is not the word I would choose when describing performers who don’t use their public positions wisely and hurt, rather than help, women. What impact do these women think someone like Lady Gaga has on girls when they see her dressed like a stripper? And have they ever listened to the lyrics of any of her songs? I also don’t have enough space in this column to explain the “causes” Lady Gaga gets behind, but suffice to say they don’t line up with the Catholic faith in which she was raised. 

I couldn’t let their comments go. Given what I do for a living and given the impact the media had on my life as a young girl who struggled with an eating disorder because I wanted to look like someone in my favorite sitcom, I had to speak up. 

“It has nothing to do with guts and everything to do with marketing and money,” I blurted out. “Sex sells, and she knows exactly what she is doing. She’s Madonna on steroids and she is adding to the ever-growing problem of the over-sexualization of girls. I think it is very sad and she is making a bad situation even worse.” 

Talk about silencing a busy place in 60 seconds or less. I now seem to have developed that ability into an art form. But I couldn’t keep silent. 

I left the salon that day thinking about the little granddaughter who overheard her grandma raving about Lady Gaga and about the daughter of the manicurist. Does her mother have any idea what she is up against in today’s over-sexualized culture? And why, I lamented, are so many of us so willing to buy into what society and the mass media are selling regarding images of women? 

Maybe the words I used weren’t the most effective, but I hope the lack of response means they’ll think twice the next time Lady Gaga shows up, if not for their own sake, at least for the sake of their daughters and granddaughters. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.