Every morning, I cajole my kids into their car seats and we head for preschool and kindergarten, grooving to Top 40 for most of the way. We listen to whatever’s on, and as long as it has a good beat and a catchy tune, we’re happy. I don’t spend time policing lyrics; my kids are so young that they miss innuendos and get the words wrong half the time anyway. At home, our dance party playlist contains some suggestive songs (Katy Perry’s “Peacock” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It” are favorites), and one time, I even made a CD for the day care without realizing that the songs I’d burned were the explicit versions rather than the radio-friendly ones (admittedly, not one of my proudest parenting moments).
Since I don’t get hung up on lyrics, I’ve been surprised that one song scaling the charts makes me bristle whenever I hear it, which unfortunately, seems to be every time I touch any of my radio presets.
Gonna wear that dress you like, skin-tight
Do my hair up real, real nice
And syncopate my skin to your heart beating
Cause I just wanna look good for you, good for you
I just wanna look good for you, good for you
Let me show you how proud I am to be yours
Leave this dress a mess on the floor
And still look good for you, good for you
–“Good For You” by Selena Gomez
How is it that I can shrug off songs about partying and promiscuity, but I get upset about this? Because while those other songs may not promote great ideas, at least they depict the singer as self-assured.
If I place myself in the role of the singer, “I just want to look good for you” implies the following:
– None of the effort I’m putting forth is for myself.
– How I look matters a whole hell of a lot to you, and I’m not only going to accept that, but I’m also going to cater to it.
– What I think about how I look and how I present myself isn’t nearly as important as what you think because—and here’s the real kicker—maybe I’m just not enough as I am.
For the rest of her life, my 5-year-old daughter will be bombarded with messages and opinions, sometimes really unhealthy ones, about what constitutes beauty. She already loves getting dressed up in frilly clothes and pretending she’s older than she is, and I’m OK with that as long as she maintains her feisty attitude and willingness to pair her frilliest princess dress and tiara with bedhead hair, jelly-smeared lips, and the dirt and Band-Aids that come from climbing trees and playing in the mud. If she sees getting dolled up as pure fun rather than a feminine expectation and the dress-up play isn’t limiting her other activities, I think she should have at it.
In contrast, the Selena Gomez song encourages molding yourself to fit someone else’s ideal. The lyrics paint a picture of the singer as an ornamental entity and place such importance on what others think of how she looks that it de-emphasizes the value and worth of her own opinion. It suggests that her desires, thoughts and ventures aren’t enough and that she needs to look to another person to direct and then validate her efforts. To me, the repeated refrain of “just wanna look good for you” sounds a lot like the singer is really crooning, “my own opinion is subpar and doesn’t count.”
This concept, so prevalent in media today that I had to hear it sung in my daughter’s high-pitched voice before it really sunk in, is not a belief I want my kids to internalize. I’m not boycotting Selena Gomez, and I’m sure her concern was probably just to make a hit song. My concern, however, is to make strong children who are confident enough in their own skin that they only change their appearance when it truly suits them to do so.
So what’s the takeaway? For me, it’s the need to notice and question demoralizing messages and teach my kids to do so too. I want them to understand that self-confidence is more powerful than physical beauty.
I want my daughter to learn that if she chooses to invest energy in her appearance, it should be for her own enjoyment, and anyone else who derives pleasure from it is happy collateral. I hope she will question the character of anyone, friend or romantic interest, who thinks she needs to be something other than what she already is in order to be appealing. And I hope my son will grow into the kind of man who thinks a woman who is confident, bold and true to herself is the sexiest kind of woman there is.