Ana Grossman has a theory about the raging success of Britney
Spears - the ubiquitous teenage pop queen who always seems to be
performing or posing in one provocative, midriff-baring top after
another. Ana's critique comes down to this: "If she wore jeans and a
normal-size shirt, then she would probably not be as popular as she
It's a pretty astute comment for a 12-year-old - a girl who's
part of the adolescent age group that has helped propel Ms. Spears
to stardom, even as critics have questioned the sexual overtones of
the young singer's image.
And with the release last week of her second album, "Oops ... I
Did It Again," the 18-year-old pop-culture phenomenon is raising
more eyebrows than ever as she continues flaunting the kind of sex
appeal once associated with far older stars.
As Spears splashes her way across the media spectrum - from MTV
to the cover of Rolling Stone (in a tiny, American-flag-type top) -
many media observers and feminists worry that girls are getting the
wrong message about what it really means to be female as they grow
from girlhood to womanhood.
"For the demographic group of 12- to 17-year-old girls, Britney
Spears is the biggest role model there is," says Tina Pieraccini, a
professor of communication at the State University of New York at
Oswego. And the message conveyed by Spears "says you have to be
pretty, you have to be thin, you have to have fashionable clothes."
Not all girls buy into that image, of course. Ana, for one, is
doing her part to counteract it: As a member of the editorial board
of New Moon magazine, a Minnesota-based periodical run by girls age
8 to 14, she helped create an issue featuring "25 Beautiful Girls."
In a direct response to People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful
People," Ana and the other editors did not look at pictures of
candidates, but chose them instead for their accomplishments and
"We're sending out a message that you don't have to fit in a
mold," she says. "You are who you are, and you're beautiful."
But Ana also knows that despite the efforts of girl-powered
'zines like hers, the mainstream media send a much louder message.
And that's what worries experts. Although recent decades have
seen women breaking through traditional stereotypes and limitations,
the media still tend to hold up two kinds of women: successful
working women or beautiful celebrities. Rarely are women presented
as complex individuals, capable of more than one kind of success.
"The role models still often depend on very old stereotypes,"
says Pam Nelson, who runs Girl Press, a publishing company in Los
Angeles. "You can either be Grace Kelly - beautiful, talented, and
thin - or you can be Janet Reno, who's perceived as very masculine,
really competent, and almost completely identified with her career
rather than her family.
"It's time for the media to start holding up role models of women
who are multifaceted people," she says. …