Diego Costa recently pointed out to us the sexualization of Jaden Smith. In that post, I wondered if race played much of a part in this process; while non-White boys are often adultified, it wasn’t clear to me that it was a major factor in this case. Diego followed up by sending along some photos of White teen heartthrob/pop star Justin Bieber, who you may know better as that kid on the cover of magazines whose hair you desperately want to brush out of his eyes. He’s a bit older than Jaden, so the idea of him dating or talking about girls isn’t surprising, but the specific example Diego sent in is.
Apparently Justin Bieber, who is 16, met Kim Kardashian, the 29-year-old reality-TV personality and model, earlier this year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (and no, I didn’t know teen pop stars go to the Correspondents’ Dinner, either). Apparently after she Tweeted that she had “Bieber fever” and he joked about her being his “girlfriend,” Bieber fans flipped out and sent her death threats and such.
Following this, the two recently posed together for a fashion shoot for Elle, presumably making fun of and capitalizing on the earlier frenzy and publicity regarding their friendship. The photo shoot had them walking on the beach, in the water, holding hands, and in other ways hinting at romance; in some cases, Bieber’s light-colored shirt is wet and you can see his entire chest through it:
Diego asks how this would go over if the roles were reversed: if Elle had images of a 16-year-old female teen star in a see-through shirt walking on the beach with, or getting a flower from, a 29-year-old male celebrity “mostly known for…posing nude several times and making money off of his condom-free sex tape…” (after a sex tape of Kardashian with her ex-boyfriend appeared, she sued and settled with the company distributing it for $5 million).
I’m not trying to stigmatize Kardashian; I’m not interested in her, or why she’s famous, here. But I think Diego has a very good point: it’s unlikely many people will think this is an inappropriate sexualization of Bieber (though perhaps Kardashian will need some extra security guards when Bieber’s fans see these). As the reaction to Jayden Smith indicates, we accept the idea of boys being sexual, or sexually interested, at younger ages than girls, and any interest they show in older girls or women is a sign of their sexual precocity — and, of course, heterosexuality — not a sign that they are either in danger of being preyed upon or that they are tempting Lolitas (and thus dangerous to men). We simply don’t worry as much about a 16-year-old teen boy shown in a photo like this because we don’t think of sexuality being dangerous for them in the way we think it is for girls.
UPDATE: Sorry comments were previously turned off — some type of glitch.