Also: Bush's Truman Show; Hillary Clinton's spiritual mentor; an interview with Sandra Day O'Connor; death squads in southern Iraq; the San Fran Mayor's affair; poverty moves to the suburbs; the black Oscars; the Vietnam War memorial's 25-year award and a straighten out of your will.
Seventy-Seven Percent of Americans Say Young Women Celebrities Have Too Much Influence on Young Girls Newsweek Examines Whether There Are Harmful Long-Term Effects of Overexposure to the Celebrity Bad Behavior.
Like never before, kids are being bombarded by images of oversexed, underdressed celebrities who can't seem to step out of a car without displaying their well-waxed private parts to photographers, writes Assistant Managing Editor Kathleen Deveny with Assistant Editor Raina Kelley in the current issue of Newsweek.
In a recent Newsweek Poll, 77 percent of respondents say young women celebrities like Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan have too much influence on young girls. Eighty-four percent of those polled say sexuality plays a bigger role in American popular culture than it did 20 or 30 years ago and 70 percent say this is more of a bad influence on young people today than a good influence. In the February 12 Newsweek cover, "The Girls Gone Wild Effect," (on newsstands Monday, February 5), Deveny and Kelley examine whether there really are harmful long-term effects of overexposure to Paris Hilton and whether we are raising a generation of what one L.A. mom calls "prosti-tots," young girls who dress like tarts, live for Dolce & Gabbana purses and can neither spell nor define such words as "adequate."
Educators say they don't believe most girls in middle school wear short skirts or midriff shirts to attract the attention of older men, or even boys, Newsweek reports. (High school is, granted, a different story.) Sixth graders dress to fit in with other girls and for acceptance in social groups. "They dress that way because that's what they see in the media," says Nancy T. Mugele, who works in communications at Roland Park Country School in Baltimore. "They don't want to be different."
One-day marriages aside, why wouldn't girls be fascinated by Britney Spears and her celebrity pals? These 21st-century "bad influences" are young, beautiful and rich, unencumbered by school, curfews or parents. "They've got great clothes and boyfriends. They seem to have a lot of fun," explains Emma Boyce, a 17-year-old junior at Louise S. McGehee School in New Orleans. But fascination and admiration are two very different things. As they get arrested for driving drunk and feuding with their former BFFs, the Brit Pack makes it easy for young women like Boyce, a top student and accomplished equestrian, to feel superior to them. "My friends and I look at them to laugh at them," adds Boyce. "Our lives seem pretty good by comparison. We're not going to rehab like Lindsay."
As Deveny writes, our anxiety about girls and sex is growing just as the statistics seem to be telling a different story. Sex surveys are notoriously unreliable, but the best available data show that the average age of first sexual intercourse for girls is 17, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and hasn't changed by more than a few months in 20 years. The overall teenage pregnancy rate in 2002, the most recent available, was down 35 percent from 1990, according to the Center for Disease Control. And while celebrity idols stumble in and out of rehab, the rates of drinking, smoking and overall drug use among teenage girls have declined in recent years, says the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
That some girls dress like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan is empirically true. But it's difficult to draw a straight line between the behavior of celebrities and the behavior of real girls. "We certainly don't see our girls clamoring to get to downtown Chicago to the clubs," says Mark Kuzniewski, principal of Aptakisic Junior High in Buffalo Grove, Ill. And while girls may admire Britney Spears' clothes and dance moves, her students "can't understand why Britney would wear no underwear," says Michelle Freitag, fifth-grade teacher in suburban Chicago. Their verdict: Britney is a "hootch," which is a polite way of saying "slut." SOURCE Newsweek