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Katy Perry: The Best Role Model for Young Women?

Katy Perry: The Best Role Model for Young Women?

Eva Rinaldi

Kim Scharfenberger - published on 11/08/13

A mother has written an open letter to Katy Perry on The Huffington Post thanking her for giving "new hope for the young women of this generation." I think we can do better.
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Recently, the Huffington Post published an open letter to Katy Perry written by a mother named Magnolia Ripkin. Ripkin took this opportunity to thank Perry for her latest song, “Roar,” and its positive message to young girls everywhere. “In a few minutes of bopping along to your tune, your lyrics gave me a new hope for the young women of this generation,” she writes.

After the Miley Cyrus VMA performance debacle, it’s understandable that parents are casting about in desperation for respectable role models in the entertainment industry. Whether Katy Perry is the ideal entertainer to fit that mold remains to be seen. After all, this is the woman who gave the world the “cupcake bra” in her 2010 party anthem, “California Gurls.” Has it really come to the point that wearing nothing but a cupcake bra is considered “role model” material?

Actually, yes, when you take into account Miley Cyrus’ latest hit, “Wrecking Ball.” Clearly dissatisfied with the demureness of her twerking-heavy performance with Robin Thicke at the VMAs, Miley took to the headlines once more after her explicit music video for “Wrecking Ball” emerged. The music video features an entirely naked Miley riding on a demolition ball. Other scenes include her suggestively sprawled on debris and performing provocative actions with a sledgehammer, of all things.

As for Perry’s “Roar,” it’s pretty average as far as pop songs go. The melody is simple and the lyrics aren’t anything particularly empowering other than old-hat phrases such as “I went from zero / to my own hero.” Ripkin praises “Roar” as “the beacon of ‘anti-Miley,’” but upon closer inspection, are the messages these two entertainers sending to young girls all that different? The music video for “Roar” indicates that despite this mother’s enthusiasm for Katy Perry, she might be preaching the same mentality to her daughter as Miley is, albeit in a less obnoxious form.

The music video begins with a plane crash in an uncivilized jungle. Perry plays a terrified survivor who relies on the help of a narcissistic man to protect her in the wilderness – at least until he gets vanquished by a tiger. The rest of the video focuses on Perry becoming more “empowered” by proving she’s capable of protecting herself, reflected in the accompanying lyrics of “Cause I am a champion / and you’re gonna hear me roar.”

It’s Perry’s wardrobe choice throughout the video that is of most note, because at the beginning (when she was “scared to rock the boat / and make a mess”), she’s dressed the most conservatively. By the end (when she’s empowered and a “champion”) she’s wearing a leopard-print bikini top with a mini-skirt made of grass. It’s an interesting message to bring to young girls, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with immodesty. The point that’s being expressed here is that if you’re “strong” and brave, your sexuality is what sends that message best. The women who you want to look up to are the ones who are most attractive and who have their sexuality on display.

And how else can all of Miley’s hijinks be explained, except through a mentality like that? Empowered women are sexual women who aren’t afraid to expose themselves. That’s the message that the entertainment industry teaches to young girls. Miley clearly falls prey to it in almost everything she does. She knew that her VMA performance had to be memorable and intimidating, so she relied on the only way she knew how to express dominance – overt sexual actions. She knew that “Wrecking Ball” had to stand out, so she stripped down completely to cause the most amount of reaction.

There’s a psychological term known as “desensitization” that seems to be in effect here. The more exposed we are to scandalous behavior from people in the public light, the more forgiving we become of those who are less scandalous. No, Katy Perry isn’t suggestively riding a wrecking ball while naked – but that’s not saying much, is it? Just because she’s not naked in her music videos or twerking onstage with men twice her age doesn’t mean she should be emulated. If you want a good role model for your daughter, you’re better off dismissing the entertainment industry completely.

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