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The Good News about Bodies and the Sexualization of Children

August 31st, 2011 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

My friend Joe has taken up the Overton window of late  as a way into explaining how cultures decay.

I know we are supposed to be beyond that fear-based narrative about the decline of society and our broken moral compass, but old habits die hard, and all that.

At any rate, two related stories highlighting both the Overton window at work regarding the sexualization of children.

Exhibit A:  the use of a 10-year-old model in the French edition of Vogue, and in some poses that were decidedly more adult in orientation.  Here's the party line for the defense:  such images are an ironic judgment on a modeling industry that exploits children.  Fair enough, I suppose, except let's not forget that the method of critique still requires the sexualization of a child and that the industry under scrutiny actually deserves it.

Exhibit B:  Jours Apres Lunes, a French firm, has created a line of "loungerie" for girls ages 4 through 12, and in the selling of it has made pictures that I simply will not link to.   The creator of the line pleads misunderstanding because, you know, there's a market opportunity there that needs to be filled.  And the clothing isn't transparent(!) and those kids in the photos are just playing dressup.  Just like mom in every way, right?

A few reflections, all tentative and exploratory.

Much has been made within the evangelical subculture about the death of manhood and the rise of the perpetual adolescence.  And with good reason.

But evangelicals ought to be speaking at least as loudly, if not moreso, about the way our totalizing sexualization has brought on the demise of childhood.  On one level, regardless of their motivations (profits, in both cases) or of their intentions, both stories make the unthinkable a little more plausible.

Yet more importantly, in corrupting the integrity of childhood by sexualizing their models, they inevitably undermine the female's distinct humanity by treating her as a sexual object.  The good news for bodies is that our identity lies not in our sexuality, but in our Savior ("for you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God").

While that does not leave our sexuality alone, it does make sense of why we should want to preserve a non-sexualized childhood.  Such a state reminds us that our humanity goes deeper than our sexual expression, and points to the fact that our self-conscious sexuality requires a corresponding awareness of that deeper humanity if we are to live out the sexual dimension of our lives well.


Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.