Pop Stars Can Be Sexy Without Being Sex Toys

Source: BecauseIAmFabulous.com

If you’ve watched a music video or seen an actress on the cover of a men’s magazine in the past, say, 40 years, you’ve probably seen a lot of famous and scantily clad women. From Katy Perry shooting whipped cream out of her bra in her “California Gurls” video to Miley Cyrus licking a hammer in her video for “Wrecking Ball,” pop stars are no strangers to getting straight-up down and dirty. When Beyoncé dropped her visual album this month, complete with skin-baring ensembles and sexually graphic lyrics, cultural critic Tanya Steele wondered if Beyoncé could still be a feminist and sell herself as a commodity. Steele's question is one that resonates throughout 2013. With all the tongues wagging, butts shaking and grinding going on throughout the past year, a popular descriptor is getting slapped on to the way many female pop stars choose to portray themselves: objectification. As media consumers and critics it's time we think long and hard about when and with who to use the term “objectify.”

“Self-objectification is part of today's ritual of romance,” writes NPR's Ann Powers about pop stars such as Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. Sexual objectification is when a woman’s body is singled out and separated from her as a person, consequently she is viewed as a physical object of male sexual desire. To self-objectify is to then internalize this practice, taking the perspective of an outsider. “It’s more commonplace for pop stars to objectify themselves for the purposes of promotion,” reads a Feminist Music Geek article pitting the more demure singer Lorde against mainstream, sexualized pop stars.

If Beyoncé writhes around on the floor in lingerie, a look and action she has agreed upon and chosen to wear, I certainly haven’t forgotten her talents as a singer. If Mila Kunis poses topless on the cover of Esquire, she’s still an actress. These are women, with feelings and thoughts, not objects. If every time a woman acts overtly sexual, raunchily erotic, can we really say she is objectifying herself?

Objectification is not a word to use lightly. When someone says a woman is objectifying herself, one is essentially saying that a woman is ridding herself of the qualities that make her a human being. With objectification comes an obliteration of her talents and intelligence; the female singer is reduced to her body.


An important question to ask is who is the one who objectifies? “How can it then not be objectifying to have your entire public image revolve around the fact that you have breasts and a vagina?” writes writer Maggie Ethridge of Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” video. One may argue that it’s only objectifying because Ethridge thinks it is. Neither Rihanna nor any major pop star has a public image that revolves entirely around the fact that she has breasts and a vagina; they are singers! They are not simply their bodies, even if they flash them consistently for the world to see. A sexualized naked woman is still a human being, but the way critics talk about scantily clad women you would think they have forgotten that.

“[Proof] is out there that young women can be huge popular successes without turning themselves into sex toys for Terry Richardson,” reads an article on Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” video, which then goes on to uphold the (more clothed, of course) success of Taylor Swift. Can someone explain to me how Cyrus acting sexually explicit in a Terry Richardson-directed video suddenly makes her a sex toy? Is she having sex with Richardson, is she suddenly a toy?


Society demands that a sexually active woman, one who enjoys sex and her body, is not worthy of respect. The norm is that when a woman displays her body or her sexuality, she becomes reduced to just her body and sexuality. Using the term objectification to describe the acts of an aware and sexually independent person, pop star or not, only contributes to this problem. If we keep associating nudity and overt sexuality with women as objects, people will begin to equate the two.