The Sexualization of Child Stars as They Become Adults By: Troy Hunter

The Sexualization of child stars as they become adults.

Media and pop culture are dependent on sexuality and promiscuity in today’s society. Child stars however are a rare commodity in culture today because they have the ability to escape the sexual virus that engulfs entertainment. Child sexuality is severely looked down upon, adolescence is kept sacred and when it is corrupted by sexual aspects it is looked at as abnormal and even a perversion. This sanctity cause issues when previous child stars try to break out of their childhood careers and claim a more adult cultivated audience and fan base. This process leads to a sexual liberation and even an oversexualization. These previous child stars have to take drastic measures and go farther than a normal entertainer would so that they can shed their prior selves and be accepted as someone new. Through this pop culture playlist we will look at famous child stars and explore their journey to adulthood and the measures they had to take to be rid of their adolescent skin. We will focus on the sexualization of these 5 child stars as they take on more adult careers and the importance that Disney plays in their beginning stages of fame.

Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus

Hannah Montana was a “tween” phenomenon. She not only captivated youth with her hit Tv show about her alter ego but also had a duel career as a musician and had merchandise beyond belief. In the first artifact we see a representation of who “Hannah Montana” was and what she embodied. She is fully clothed with barely any skin showing. Her Dance moves are modest and obviously directed at a young demographic. Her lyrics are clean and motivational. Hannah Montana is represented here as more than just a musician but as a role model. Toward the end of the video she even stops to give an inspirational speech. Miley Cyrus is represented from her wardrobe, to her music, to even her behavior as a perfect modest respectable Young Girl who possesses no sexual appeal.

In the second artifact we can see that there is little to no similarity to the previously described Miley. In this performance that Miley gave at the 2013 VMAs, we are introduced to a sexual being who demonstrates that all the way from her lyrics and dancing to her wardrobe, or lack thereof. We no longer see the role model for young girls or even see her as a young girl any more, but now through her choices and behavior we are forced to look at her a woman, and a sexual woman at that. Miley takes this drastic leap in her sexuality to forever rid herself of Hannah Montana and claim her sexuality where she is accepted and viewed at as an adult.

Selena Gomez

In the first Artifact we are introduced to Selena Gomez in the prime of her Disney career singing “Magic”, she plays a Wizard on a family friendly oriented series on Disney. In this video Selena is fully clothed her movements are children friendly and her lyrics are clean and wholesome. We also see flashes to the series that she was in and are shown the wholesomeness of her career.

In the second Artifact we meet a much different Selena in her music video “Come and Get It”. In this video we are exposed to less clothing and more skin , much more provocative dancing and more adult content of lyrics. She wears much more make up and shows much more skin to help herself break away from character on “Wizards of Waverly Place”. Now we can see her as a woman and all of the things that come along with that. Her dancing is much more sexual and suggestive to corespong with her more mature lyrics that have an underlying reference to sexuality and more importantly self worth and respect of oneself. Selena takes these steps to become an adult and embodies them in this video.

Vanessa Hudgens

In the First artifact we see Vanessa in her most iconic role, Gabriella on the hit Disney movie “High School Musical”. We see a very modest girl , wearing modest clothes and singing a very clean song with her Movie boyfriend Zak Efron. The most sexual interaction is a slight touch of hands and in the movie a small kiss. The relationship is portrayed as a clean , earnest , innocent relationship and in the video we are exposed to a very non sexual healthy interaction between two adolescents who care about each other.

In the Second Video we are introduced to a very different Vanessa. This is a clip from the 2013 movie “Spring Breakers”, in this video we see a naked Vanessa having a three some in a pool with a drug dealer and her friend. This a dramatic sexualization of the previous Disney star. This character holds no connection to the prior and completes breaks Vanessa away from her trademark portrayal of Gabriella in high school musical. Between the nudity and the vulgar language in the movie Hudgens has definitely drawn a line between past and present. Previously mentioned Disney star Selena Gomez also stars in this movie but has a much less sexualized character and isn’t as indefinitely raw as the one Hudgens plays.

Britney spears

First we meet Britney Spears in the beginning of her career in the famous “Mickey Mouse Club House”. In this video we see a very young girl singing and dancing in the most wholesome manner imaginable.  A Sweet ,young girl completely free of any sexual depth or appeal.

We then see her a little later in her career in artifact two. Here we see an older but still relatively young Britney in her music video “Baby One More Time”. She is wearing much more scandalous clothing and her dancing is very suggestive and sexual. Her lyrics are also much more mature than the first artifact, This is where Spears first starts to become sexualized and break from her prior career as a child star.

In the last artifact we See the adult form of Spear’s career In her music video for “Toxic”. Here she has claimed her adult identity and become completely sexualized to accommodate the sexual culture we live in. She is practically naked, sexual dancing and very sexual lyrics and there is no trace of the little girl who sang on MMC.

Justin Timberlake

In this video we see a young Justin Timberlake performing on Mickey Mouse Club house like previously mentioned Britney spears. We see a young boy singing earnestly with no sexual lyrics or suggestive dancing.

In the second artifact, Justin’s music video “Sexy Back”, we are introduced to a man. Justin escapes his boyish representation given by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse by being much more sexual through his dancing and lyrics. Because Justin is a man his sexuality isn’t exploited as if he were a female. He isn’t exposing his body or dancing as promiscuously as if her were a girl but he claims his sexual power as a man being more powerful  than women and being over them. This Sexual power helps him rid his previous career and as his song suggest bringing “Sexy Back”.


All of the texts above demonstrate the drastic sexualization of child stars as they become adults. The contrasting content emphasizes the transformation that all of these individuals went through to become adults. We can see the brand that Disney built is very apparent and the measures all of these Stars took to escape it, the exploitation to Women sexuality, and the difference between the sexualization of  women and of  men. All of these comparisons produce a dramatic difference from when the entertainers were emerging as childhood stars and their sexual identities that they claimed as they became adults. The important thing to consider is why and how they made such a transformation.

One of many things that all of the subjects of observation in this playlist have in common is their affiliation with Disney. Disney is famous for the brand they have built centered around family friendly, clean, wholesome entertainment. Disney basically created all of these entertainers’ careers but with this comes a price. Association with Disney brands a career in a certain category and makes it very difficult to escape. That is the problem a lot of Disney Stars have is breaking that brand and being taken seriously as a performer. More mature entertainment is centered around sexuality and the Disney reputation that these artist accumulated makes it very hard to embrace said sexuality. Disney is centered around the idea of the “Cult of Virginity” that Jessica Valenti discusses. This is the idea that Virginity is held in high regard and breaking that makes you “damaged goods”. Valenti states how there is no medical definition of virginity and how it is a social concept. Disney does not deliberately come out and say that is what they stand for but their production of Entertainers, especially girls, is centered around being a “Virgin”. This explains why it is so upsetting to society to see these artist embrace their sexuality. Children and Adolescence represents innocence and purity and any form of sexualization of this is highly disregarded, However no one can stay a child forever. Miley Cyrus makes a good example of having to dramatize sexual liberation to be considered an adult. Disney built her career under their brand making her a house hold name for the “virgin” concept. Now that she is older she can no longer fit into the child star label Disney created for her. To be taken seriously and save her career Miley had to be able to compete with the sexuality of other entertainers. Society is upset with this but it is less about what she is doing and more of who she used to be.

This Dramatic sexualization that occurs when breaking from the reputation they build as child stars gives access to media and society to exploit their sexuality. Society and media hold on tight to the prior forms of these entertainers and are reluctant to let go, but when they finally do they not only embrace the newly found sexuality but revel in it. Britney spears for example became an icon for sexuality and became consumed by it. In cases like these, artist sexuality supersedes their art. This is especially true for woman. Now that these Performers are showing more skin and dancing in promiscuous manners media focuses on their sexual identities and less on their identity as an artist, this soon leaks into their music and lyrics. This is why we see Hannah Montana going from singing about having a bad day to Miley singing about partying and doing drugs. This ties into the whore/virgin double standard where if you aren’t one you are the others. If society can no longer see these performers (mostly the women) as Disney Branded Virgins then they make them into sexually consumed “whores”.

The Subject for observation that differs a little from the rest is Justin Timberlake. His male identity causes his sexual reform to be a different process. Men are expected to become sexual beings as it is a part of culture. In “the Cult of Virginity” the author talks about how virginity is mostly a concept use for girls. This is why their isn’t a media uproar when Justin Timberlake becomes a sexual being opposed to when Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears do. Justin Claims his sexuality in a different way, instead of being half naked and suggestive he forms into the expected sexuality of a man and develops an aggressive approach. Men are looked at differently then women. John Berger talks about “the gaze” in “Ways of Seeing” and how the power is in the person looking. Since Timberlake is a Man he is the one looking at women which gives him the power. This carries into his sexuality where he has more power sexually than women by the way he looks at them,

Through comparison of these artifacts and further investigation of how they relate we are able to understand the sexualization of child stars as they become adults. To be taken more seriously and to be able to compete in the industry they must be able to transform from their reputation as “children” to become adults and do this through their sexuality. We can see that through sexualization they escape the brand that was built for them, are exploited sexually and how their sexuality develops and its dependence on gender. The transformation that all of these entertainers make through their sexuality represents growing up and losing innocence, which all of us do. Culture molded them into who they are just like it molds everyone else in society. The sexualization correlates with the sexualization of all children in society.

Works Cited

2013 MTV VMAs. “Miley Cyrus VMA 2013 Twerking & Robin Thicke – MTV Awards Performance (FULL).” Online video clip. YouTube, 27 August 2013. Web. 7 October 2013.

Berger, John. Ways of seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972. Print.

BritneySpearsVEVO. “Britney Spears-… Baby One More Time.” Online video clip. YouTube, 24 October 2009. Web. 7 October 2013.

BritneySpearsVEVO. “Britney Spears- Toxic.” Online video clip. YouTube, 24 October 2009. Web. 7 October 2013.

Changpricecom. “Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake MMC I’ll Take You There, Disney- More Videos.” Online video clip. YouTube, 20 July 2009. Web. 7 October 2013.

Cozmeesah. “JT Ryan Gosling Marque Lynch MMC Always in My Heart” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 October 2006. Web. 7 October 2013.

DisneyChannelIUK. “Selena Gomez- Magic Music Video.” Online video clip. YouTube, 5 October 2009. Web. 7 October 2013.

Elamordule95. “Zak Efron Vanessa Hudgens Breaking Free (Official High School Musical).” Online video clip. YouTube, 14 October 2011. Web. 7 October 2013.

HannahMontanaVEVO. “Hannah Montana – Nobody’s Perfect.” Online video clip. YouTube, 10 December 2010. Web. 7 October 2013.

JustintimberlakeVEVO. “Justin Timberlake- SexyBack (Director’s Cut) feat. Timbaland.” Online video clip. YouTube, 2 October 2009. Web. 7 October 2013.

SelenaGomezVEVO. “Selena Gomez- Come & Get It.” Online video clip. YouTube, 7 May 2013. Web. 7 October 2013.

Tu, Lily. “Spring Breakers Pool Scene Part 1 (Vanessa, Ashley and James Franco.” Online video clip. YouTube, 27 July 2013. Web. 7 October 2013.

Valenti, Jessica. “The Cult of Virginity.” In Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Susan Shaw and Janet Lee, eds. 2011. 5th Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill. 181-185. Print.

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