On the cover of Vanity Fair’s February 2011 issue, Justin Bieber seems to agree with the magazine that he may be “the adorable, inescapable face” of the next year. The 16-year-old pop star has a smug cocky smile that barely detracts from the barrage of lipstick stains that run from his shirt to his lips. His hand pulls his black and white striped necktie to the side, loosening him up for more.
Yes, that’s right, Vanity Fair has done it again: They’ve created a sexualized image of a young teenager. Another picture from the photoshoot reveals Bieber with his shirt unbuttoned, nonchalantly playing checkers. In another, the singer casually lounges while the glass windows behind him reveal dozens of girls biting their nails, gazing at the singer. Bieber’s barely old enough to drive and has to work with a vocal coach to combat puberty. The girls look even younger.
You can bet that these girls are going to save their allowances to buy the magazine – and their parents aren’t going to think twice when they see the issue lying around the house. He’s a boy, after all, and it’s perfectly acceptable for him to show that he’s a sexual being no matter what age he is.
When the pictures for Miley Cyrus’ infamous Vanity Fair naked-back photoshoot were released, parents and activist groups were outraged that the 15-year-old would appear suggestively nude. Though she was covered in a bed sheet and was not topless, concerned citizens were so disgusted by the possibly sexual suggestion that the singer was forced to issue an apology. Cyrus, whose wholesome Disney image at that time is not so far away from the innocence that Justin Bieber claims to promote, was given our generation’s scarlet letter: She was blasted in the tabloids, damaging her reputation.
NewsFeed isn’t saying that Cyrus or Bieber – or the powers that make the decisions for them – made a wrong or right choice when taking photos in a sexualized situation. But our society is outraged at the mere suggestion that a girl might be desired, yet it is willing to say that the intentions are innocent when it comes to the opposite gender. It’s a double standard that far exceeds the teenage years, where women who are not depicted as chaste and pure are labeled promiscuous, while men who exhibit similar behavior are lauded as a mischievous flirt. Although we’re now 11 years into the new millennium, if the acceptance of Bieber’s photos tell us anything, it’s an attitude that isn’t going to be changing any time soon.