Be Sexy, But Not Too Sexy, and Other Stupid Things We’re Telling Girls

culture and society

Maybe your internet looks like mine, and you’ve seen regular updates about the weekend’s happenings: someone uploaded a massive amount of nude photographs of female celebrities to the internet. Twitter blew up, Gawker blew up, Facebook blew up. Maybe, like me, you grabbed your iPhone and made sure that your photos weren’t automatically uploading to iCloud, as some suggest is what happened in this case. If your phone is set to upload photos to the cloud, you could take a string of photos, delete them all on your phone, but they still remain in the mysterious cloud.

Immediately I started seeing people call these celebrities unsavory names – people who deemed them hot/gorgeous/etc the week prior – and post sentiments like “If you don’t want naked photos on the internet, don’t take naked photos.” Which, sure, I suppose that statement is true. But also, “If you don’t want to ever get mugged, never leave your house.” That’s usually not the first thing we say when a friend calls us in tears because she was robbed for her phone and handbag. These sort of nonchalant statements – this victim blaming – always make me wonder what society will be like when my daughters reach their teen years. Women are the victims of a sex crime (not a scandal, as Scott Mendelson deftly put it), and we’re pointing our fingers at them.

Never mind that I *too* would be mortified if my photos ended up on the www. Never mind that I was swimsuit shopping and texted photos to my girlfriends from the fitting room. This one? How about this one? Are the straps on this weird? Never mind that I’ve texted a photo of the birthmark on my backside to my BFF with the caption “I think it’s starting to look like Alaska now.” Never mind that I think when we’re all 80 we’re going to be like “Hnnnnghh why didn’t I take naked photos of myself when I was 30???” Plus, a good chunk of these leaked photos were women sending sexy pictures to their husbands. Who can criticize that? IDK, go for it, spice up your life.

Be Sexy, But Not Too Sexy, and Other Stupid Things We're Telling Girls

Instead there’s a whole of lot victim blaming on the www, when maybe we should all be pointing fingers at the hacker, at TMZ for wanting to buy them, at all of these gossip magazines in general.

What would I say to my own daughters, if they were teenagers right now, with all of this info in their Twitter feeds? Girls, sit by me, let me tell you a story, and let’s hope it has a happy ending. Society sends confusing messages: women are supposed to be hot, but also puritanical. Be sexy, but in an unassuming way! Be sexy, but without knowing that you’re being sexy! Be sexy, but not too sexy.

You’re expected to wear a t-shirt to cover your swimsuit clad body at church youth group pool outings, but let’s talk about how safe and streamlined it is to be in the deep end with yards of heavy cotton fabric floating around your collarbone. Women are supposed to be sexy; women are supposed to age flawlessly; women can’t gain too much weight nor lose too much, either. In religious circles, it may get even more complicated. Women are supposed to be attractive, but not too attractive, but definitely not frumpy. Good luck finding a balance where you’re neither chastised nor pitied.

And then some men, darlings, will not care if you’re brilliant or generous or kind or accomplished or talented or warmhearted. They’ll still call you a dumb bitch after you ignore their catcalls while walking down the street. If a woman wins a Pulitzer, or ties for second fastest knock-out in UFC history, or is an accomplished chess player, there will still be someone commenting on her appearance. It goes beyond misogyny; there’s a lot of self-importance involved. Does anyone in the whole wide world care if @brianxyz or @cupcakeprincess989 on Twitter thinks a politician or an athlete or a celebrity is ugly? No, dear. No one does.

Please note that there are many men out there that are revolted by this sort of behavior. Many, so many. As you get older and establish friendships, make sure you choose friends wisely. Anyone (man or woman) who calls anyone a ‘dumb bitch’ is not someone you need to keep in your company. Anyone who reduces a person to simply his or her appearance need not be a friend of yours.

Choose friends of both genders that are kind and good, that listen to your podcasts about your research of life in the ancient 1900s, friends that cheer you on when you have a track meet, friends that discreetly tuck in the tag in the back of your shirt for you while you’re out in public, friends that will talk with you about ideas and dreams and goals, not people and their bodies and the way they look or dress. Be a good friend back.

I don’t have to have this conversation with my daughters right now, because they’re still quite young and they don’t have internet access. And I’m hopeful that in ten years, we’ll have changed enough as a society to not fuel the kind of discussion that TMZ so generously affords us (imagine if we all stopped visiting; who, then, would care about celebrities gaining weight?) and I won’t have to explain how weird and double-minded we all can be.

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  • Reply Lisa Frame September 2, 2014 at 10:39 am

    If I had daughters, I’d be sharing your advice with them. As I have a son, we’ve had this discussion. It doesn’t matter if a girl does wind up sending you a photo like this, it’s never appropriate to share it with anyone. Ever. Some things are meant to be private. Now, off to have an anxiety attack at the thoughts of someone sending him a nude photo.

  • Reply Tara September 2, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Great convo to have with your girls, Roo. I’ll be saving this for later for my own daughter. At first I had the thoughts if “well you took the photos celebrityXYZ, so your fault” …but really, come on tmz, and gossip mags, and just gross people who feel the need to break the law and expose people like that. It’s too bad nothing can be kept private anymore and everything is open to judgement.
    Hope you enjoyed the last few weeks of summer doing summery things with your family!

  • Reply Michelle September 2, 2014 at 11:00 am


    Thank you for focusing our attention in the right way. I think we have to retrain ourselves in how we view women, “beauty,” and all the subtleties in-between. Once we start seeing things in the correct light, it’s so difficult to un-see it.

  • Reply Heidi September 2, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I think you should give a convocation speech. I think you’d give a phenomenal convocation speech; I would have it transcribed in calligraphy and framed and hung on my wall.

  • Reply Kristy September 2, 2014 at 11:44 am

    THANK YOU Roo, for being so thoughtful about this. Victim blaming has become a huge issue to me, perhaps because I’ve just noticed it more (comments sections, woof) but it is so damn annoying. I even catch myself sometimes thinking “Oh, their car was broken into? *shakes head* — bet they didn’t lock their doors.” — which is an innocuous example, but that mindset leads to the mindset that a girl/woman who takes a racy photo and it is exposed is guilty, and furthermore even if a girl/woman is raped we automatically wonder if she had been drinking, if she had been too trusting of somebody she shouldn’t. It’s SO very wrong for so many reasons, but one of which is that it takes the attention off of the perpetrators that break into cars, hack into clouds to steal pictures, RAPE women (and men). Our attention should be on how to stop these people from victimizing others.

  • Reply Rebecca September 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    YES! I had to take a stand to this in comments flying about over the weekend.

  • Reply Marcy September 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks for this post. Loved it.

    • Reply Roo September 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks for reading it, Marcy!

  • Reply Adrienne Jones September 2, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Loved this. You are so good at articulating smart thoughts and stuff. :-)

  • Reply michelleLG September 2, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    “If we all stopped visiting” – YES and amen. Please for the love. Hope off the gosip train, let’s be ladies and gentlemen, lets speak to and about one another on the internet like we woyld to/about guests in our homes.

    • Reply Roo September 10, 2014 at 8:27 am

      Love that, Michelle. I want to come over to your house.

  • Reply michelleLG September 2, 2014 at 2:19 pm


  • Reply Sabrina September 2, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Yes! To all of this! I cannot wrap my head around the fact that it feels like the majority of people jump on the blaming bandwagon. People can be so quick to judge from behind their computers or phones or whatever, it allows such conviction to all the blaming and shaming. Why do these women (or any person for that matter) “deserve” to have their personal photos shared with the whole world? They don’t. Period. People need to learn some boundaries.

  • Reply Cheri @ Overactive Blogger September 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    I feel so badly for these poor women – thinking that they’re taking photos for their significant others, and then it being leaked ALL OVER the internet. What a horrible, horrible, horrible thing to happen for these girls, and I hope whoever did it gets some seriously karma points deducted.

  • Reply Sarah September 3, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Seriously, can we just stop visiting??
    I am scared to death of my kids needing to be able to navigate technology in a few years. I stopped sending *cough* photos to my husband when I realized the NSA was watching. That was about two months before I accidentally sent a TOTALLY inappropriate text to my (male) boss that was meant for my husband. Thank God I had already stopped sending the pics O_o. And I’m a mature, responsible adult…I cannot imagine the challenges my kids will be up against. Excuse me while I go lay my head on my desk and cry…

  • Reply Laurie September 3, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Very well put Roo! Thank you for articulating this so well.

    • Reply Roo September 4, 2014 at 7:18 am

      Thanks so much, Laurie! :)

  • Reply Chase September 3, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Roo- YES!
    I got hooked on your blog long ago because of your sense of humor/wittiness (and that you remind me so very much of one of my best friends), but my love for you has grown deeper as you’ve shared your “heavier things” with us…from the World Vision stuff to your trips abroad to this…yes! (Also, I swear it’s not a creepy kind of love that I have for you,a person I have never/likely will never meet).
    It’s so hard to marry some of the ideas about women around today- that one can be a feminist and be empowered by her sexiness, but that other women are weakened by their attractiveness due to objectification by others. But instead of shying away from the topic, we need to talk about it, we need to bring it out in the open, we need to recognize and call out the double-standards.
    Keep on writing, my friend!

  • Reply Heather September 3, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    UGH why doesn’t this post have a million comments?! It’s perfect.

    • Reply Roo September 4, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Haha, thanks, Heather!

  • Reply Taylor DuVall September 4, 2014 at 3:47 pm


  • Reply Kat September 4, 2014 at 4:38 pm


  • Reply Natasha September 5, 2014 at 12:08 am

    Slow. Clap.
    I agree with this wholeheartedly, and as we launch our oldest daughter into 5th! Grade! the fear is starting to creep in, how to instill her with enough confidence to carry her through. She’s got a good head on her shoulders and good friends, though.
    It’s scary out there, Roo.

  • Reply Alix September 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    This is great, Roo. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Annie Reneau September 5, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Awesome and spot on. Sharing with my readers.

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  • Reply jess @ fushmush September 8, 2014 at 4:29 am

    I LOVE this! Thank you for writing this.

    I’ve been replying to the “don’t take naked photos” reasoning with a similar analogy. I leave the house everyday and lock my front door. Someone breaks in and steals my big TV, my laptop and all my jewelry. But, this is my fault, right? Because I shouldn’t have nice stuff. If I don’t want people to break in and take things I shouldn’t own expensive things. It’s totally my fault that my house was broken into. I hope I’m making people think about it.

    Good on you for making people think about this too.

    • Reply Roo September 10, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Thanks, Jess! It’s sad that people are looking at it as anything other than a complete invasion of privacy.

  • Reply Anna September 8, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Beautiful article, but I have one criticism.

    “Choose friends of both genders that are kind and good…”

    Don’t say BOTH genders. There are more than two, so many more, and the members of those genders don’t like being marginalized. Say ALL genders.

    • Reply Roo September 10, 2014 at 7:57 am

      Thanks for the feedback, Anna.

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