TRIGGER WARNING – Discussion about whether Sia’s music video for Elastic Heart sexualizes relationship between an adult male and a pubescent girl.

Recovery Starts Here

STATEMENT: I do NOT condone the sexualization or abuse of children. The question is: Does this video? Do not view it if you believe it may trigger you.

FFFRAIL from disillusioned graduate to functioning adult wrote Controversy versus Art about the recent scandal regarding Sia’s music video for Elastic Heart, in which Shia LaBeouf and Maddie Ziegler perform in flesh-colored dirt-covered leotards. Honestly, I really enjoyed this video as a work of performance art, but I was not a childhood victim of sex abuse. For those who were, their reaction may be quite different.

FFFRAIL‘s commentary on the controversy surrounding the video:

At the ages of 28 and 12 respectively Shia is a much older male performer than his female counterpart; and both are wearing neutral dance costumes… In reference to the nude costumes, I agree – initially it does look like they are naked in a cage together – however this is not the focal point of the video, there is nothing erotic about it. They are performing an interpretive dance and so their costumes are neutral so that we focus on their movements and expressions to understand the story that they are telling.

In my opinion I see these complaints as the sexualizing of a non-sexual video. It has an animalistic vibe to it, the two performers represent one person battling against themselves, with this struggle expressed through the choreography.

My comment to FFFRAIL in response to the video and FFFRAIL‘s analysis was, unlike this post, brief and to the point:

Incredible dance performance. I can see how it may trigger a survivor of sexual abuse, but is not necessarily sexual. Thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

Honestly, I found the performance moving and emotionally, not sexually, provocative. That said, the video could easily trigger someone who has been sexually abused. Our past experience colors how we perceive, react to, and interpret art such as this video.

The controversy surrounding this video reminds me of how my own views about the sexualization of young women have changed over the years. I’m not speaking of prepubescent or pubescent girls. Maddie Ziegler is clearly still very much a girl, albeit an extremely talented one.

13 year-old me sunbathing in Kauai

When I was thirteen, my family went on vacation to Kauai. On that trip, men whistled at me. I thought they were perverts, whistling at a 13-year-old girl. Years later, looking at pictures from that trip, my father pointed to a photo of me and insisted that it was my mother, arguing that she had my mother’s legs. I countered that I inherited my legs from my mom. Thanks, Mom, for the long legs. Maybe a leggy 13-year-old looks more like a woman than a girl.

Later as a high school student, I wore my hair in a bun and brought a textbook or play to study while sunning on the beach. I thought I looked under-age, but I probably resembled a college student. When men approached me and said hello, I would curtly inform them I was jail-bait and to go away. My husband believes that he spoke to me once when he was a college student. He recalls me giving him the brush off and pointing to my father to make my point and scare him away. He even remembers my father wearing his distinctive straw hat as he sat on our second-story deck overlooking the beach.

Flash forward a few decades: As a middle-aged mother of a 13-year-old boy, I was shocked at how physically mature his female classmates were. Unlike Maddie Ziegler, they appeared physically mature. Those girls looked like women, even though they most certainly were not. This is where laws, morality, social taboo, reason, and impulse control come in. As adults, we must protect those who may LOOK ready for what they are NOT yet ready.  This is where the village – society – comes in. We must STOP and PUNISH those who take advantage of those younger and less mature.

I realize many adolescents are sexually active. Over twenty years ago, I counseled pregnant and parenting teens and provided psychotherapy to adolescents in residential treatment. Based on my experience as a clinician, the younger an adolescent becomes sexually active and the greater the disparity in age between sexual partners, the greater imbalance of power in the relationship, the more abusive the relationship, and the more likely that the younger partner had been previously sexually abused.