Though this letter is addressed to pop star Katy Perry, I'd like the woman behind the popstar persona to open it. I write it with hopes that she'll read it, but I realize that's unlikely.
So, my second hope is that moms will read it and consider what they are allowing their daughter's to listen to and the kinds of concerts they buy tickets for them to attend. Some of the photos below are the tamest I could find that still communicated my concerns. Be warned that this content may be offensive to some.
Dear Katheryn Hudson,
From the Pentecostal pews of Santa Barbara to the center stage of the Superbowl halftime show, you've come a long way on your journey. You've wielded your talent and have mastered the art of attention, leveraging your way through seasons of being both America's scandal and America's sweetheart. You donned sexy sparkling candy costumes, shot fireworks out of your chest and skyrocketed to fame. And with the glittering crown of pop princess came the power of influence.
Your influence has made you a role model to young girls everywhere. And they certainly look up to you. In 2014, Girl Talk Magazine (the UK’s longest-running girl’s magazine) asked 376,000 readers (most of whom are ages 7-10) who they would most like to become when they grow up. And you, in your pizza swimwear, metallic spandex, and pin-up bustiers, were selected as their inspiration. The up-and-coming generation of women chose you as their model of success. And while you are a wildly successful cover-of-Forbes businesswoman, the same survey found that 80% of those girls aspired to be seen as “pretty” or “funny", while only 20% found “clever” “brave” or “strong” to be the important attributes they wanted to exhibit. It seemed that your stage personality was missing the mark of the ethic you practiced personally. Knowing your history of speaking out on women's issues, I know that we'd both probably like to look each of these girls in the eye and let them know that who they are is not defined by their looks, and that they are capable of being so much more than just eye candy or talent. Their worth is not defined by these things.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that does not tell them that. The world we live in glorifies women for their looks, and overlooks the rest. It tells them that they need to start wearing makeup at 8 years old. Everything in our culture tells them that they need to look and act like pop princess Katy Perry and the rest of the California Gurls with their daisy dukes and bikinis on top. In fact, it was during your rise to fame that a study from the NPD Group revealed that mascara and eyeliner use doubled for girls ages 8 to 12. These girls were buying what the media was selling, including your image. And the beauty industry was floored as they banked on their dream of nurturing grave to cradle customers. This was the cultural environment from which our daughters watched as you blurred the lines between CandyLand and pornography, showing nothing but everything. But your playful soft-core hit our culture hard, and continues to have a lasting effect on women. A study from the American Psychological Association task force on the sexualization of girls found that girls who were exposed to sexualizing and objectifying media later struggled more with body dissatisfaction, depression, and lower self-esteem. I know this is not the message that you meant to send, but unfortunately it was the result.
“I used to be scared of intimacy, I used to use my sexualization as attention, I used to oversexualize myself because that was the only way I knew how” -Katy Perry
In your most recent feature in the New York Times, you address your "former" hypersexualized image, citing some of your own insecurities as its fuel. Like all the girls who look up to you, you were raised in a world that did not tell you that you are capable of being so much more than just eye candy or talent. You attribute some of that to our culture that objectifies women and some of it to your upbringing in a legalistic Christian church that you felt objectified women. From the bottom of my heart, I'm sad that you have been the victim of both of these very real, very dangerous environments. I have long taught that the polar opposites of a sensualizing culture and shameful legalistic churches both create the same result: objectification, though by different means. Both can result in a girl being overly body conscious. (I do think it's important to note that just because much of culture objectifies women sexually, not all members of society are guilty. And just because some churches overly focus on hiding the female body, not all Christians do. I’ve worked really hard to be a Christian woman of intelligent faith, who seeks to teach Biblical modesty and beauty without failing to celebrate the beauty God created in womanhood.)
Here's the big thing: many of us grew up in the same environment and did not choose to contribute to the harmful messages. You did. You chose to take on the title of role model and lead little girls and young women down the same path of sexualization that has harmed you. And now you are bravely admitting it.
As much as I am grateful for this admission, I am concerned that some will look at it as entirely good news. This admission paired with some of the still highly sexualized lyrics in you newest songs like Bon Appetite send girls an even more confusing message: that the world sexualizes women, but it's ok to contribute to those objectifying messages. In the Bon Appetite music video you literally pose as a piece of meat for men to eat, call yourself a "cherry pie", and pole dance. Is that congruent with the message you're trying to send with your recent confessions?
The irony of your confession is that you are still sexualizing yourself, but you say it is for you instead of everyone else. You are doing the same thing, but for a different reason. Somehow this legitimizes your behavior in your mind and excuses you from culpability in our objectifying culture. In your interview with The New York Times you are quoted as saying "Intention is everything."
You can have good intentions and still harm someone. It happens every day, and I think you are harming young women when your actions don't match your intentions.
So I'd like to humbly request that you reconsider the message that you are sending now that you have found some healing. Because America's girls may not be sitting in your counseling sessions where you are refining your intentions, but they are seeing your music videos and hearing your lyrics and interpreting them for themselves. And your "sexual liberation" may leave them with a lot of misinformation: the type that results in body image issues and health struggles in the future.
In your position of influence, your search for freedom can be such a light of encouragement for others. So, bravo for taking the initiative to begin to work out your brokenness. I hope that as your journey to healing continues you find fulfillment and are able to lead others in finding theirs. But I'd like to ask that until then, you take your role of influence seriously and take care that your intentions match your actions.