(Photo courtesy of Thought Catalog)
Moving Away From Millennial Manipulation
My Thoughts On Growing Up In A Sexualized Culture
By Sarah Komisky
Like most who grew up in the early ‘00s, I can tell you firsthand why many now look back and facepalm their old photos. Leather pants, platform sandals, and probably way too much crop tops, bedazzle, and low-rise jeans. Thank you Y2k and technology for that futuristic fusion. But even more than my old fashion faux paws that I can actually laugh about, there are some things this ‘00s girl who still fangirls over boy bands. In fact, some of my revisiting as an adult, makes me wonder how the super sexualized culture left its mark for the worse instead of for the better.
Back up a bit to the late ‘90s (1998 and 1999) and many of us millennials were tweens. Culture was changing. We said bye bye to DJ Tanner and hello Spice Girls. Prime time family sitcoms on TGIF turned into the WB with casual sex becoming more of the norm on Friends, Dawson’s Creek, and Felicity. The lure of young celebs in popular teen films like American Pie were appealing even though they were overtly sexual. Interestingly enough, it just so happened that these were the faces that graced covers of teen magazines. And more than ever the cover girl was becoming more and more sexualized. Abercrombie & Fitch combined casual wear with sexy. Go to the mall and you couldn’t escape the messages on Billboard ads mannequins in slip dresses and tummy bearing tops – even at tween store, Limited Too. All we saw was trendy. Sexy was pushed on little girls to look like their big sister. Bullseye. We were the marketing target. All the while we were being manipulated. But we were also being indoctrinated. Sex education in health class was about safe sex. Abstinence was discarded as “Old-fashioned” and “naive.” Sixteen-year-old Brittney Spears singing “Baby One More Time” in a provocative school uniform was just sang the song on our portable CD players. We just saw a pretty pop star, but we wanted to be like her. Lesson learned, dress like Brittney and you’ll be pretty and trendy too. Boys however learned a different lesson: lust and objectify females. Sex sold and maybe more than we bargained for. Our innocence was now lost.
As we tweens matured into teens in the 2000’s, the sex saturated culture got sexier. But did we expect something else when we were fed these trends and now experimenting ourselves? From pop to hip hop, music, film, and dance got dirtier (Missy Elliot. Nelly. You get the picture). “The club” was a favorite pastime. We consumed MTV. Magazine covers flaunted the sexualized teens and young adult. The “Lady Marmalade” video featured pop stars just a little older than us in cabaret costumes. Christina Aguilera and Brittney Spears got raunchy and risqué. Teens everywhere thought nothing of showing off their pierced belly buttons, creating DIY low-rise jeans, and wearing lingerie as daywear just like their favorite emulated celeb. Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, The OC cast, and The Kardashians were ones to watch when reality TV emerged. Their rise to fame – sex. Eventually, the introduction to social media gave way to expressed sexuality in photos making pornography readily accessible, the competition for beauty fierce, the human being more broken and needing to be seen. As culture shifted from IM to DM, dating to hookup, Myspace to Instagram, E-Harmony to Tinder, sex in current culture being the expectation, the more explicit we became, the more we empty we were left.
In 2019 what once was thought to be embarrassing or shocking is now a part of our everyday. My mom and I had a conversation with a millennial guy who got upset when she asked if he was getting married soon to his girlfriend. He responded without a blush or bat of eye lash that “they lived together and just enjoyed each other” Yeah, not something you would tell a mom years ago. Millennials also don’t mind if they post a racy picture even if your loved ones see it. After all, didn’t it get a zillion likes? Today, it’s about competition and pushing the envelope.
As millennials have now become the parent, there is much to think about when it comes to the legacy we will leave. Thinking about the Gen Zers in my own life, I am saddened as I know the path we’ve walked on in culture has only steeped in sexual tension and I cringe at the pressure and competition this generation is currently facing to be sexier, to be enough, to be more than anyone ever before them. As I look back, I can only ask myself what am I leaving behind today? Answer: wisdom.
Today, I’ve seen many women and men who also love God fall in this same pit. I do not shame them. I get it. I too am not exempt from temptation and buying into the lure of culture. It can call our name every day. However, I’ve had a heart change. My head knowledge of God has turned into loving God and because of this love, I desire to honor Him with my life.
Many of us are totally unaware of the messages culture is feeding us. Some want so badly to be seen and loved. Some just want to be trendy. Some have bought into the lies and dubbed it “legalistic” to have any sort of boundaries. Others have given in the pressure of culture one step at a time or jumped right in hoping to find fulfillment and freedom. Either way, we bought the lies and despite the tidbits of fun, it isn’t all you hoped it would be.
Something is clearly wrong when we write on an Instagram post about how much we love God and show a photo with us half naked. Something is wrong when we look at each other as commodities and not a human being. Something is also wrong when we clearly don’t know how to relate to one another anymore by our sexuality. Something is evidently wrong when the lines are blurred and boundaries are lost, modesty is frowned upon, and purity is something we roll our eyes at. Something is wrong when we no longer respect each other. Something is wrong when we think we can dabble and nothing will happen to us. Meanwhile we team up with culture, ingest the lies, deceive ourselves, stagnate our spirit, and eroding our soul dulling our impact on the world. Not only do we confuse the world around us but we become a contradiction of what it means to love and follow Jesus. If we want say we love God, than we need to act like it. our sexuality cannot be separate from our faith.
When we compromise, we lose the distinction of beauty that marks us as sons and daughters of the King Jesus who is all together pure. The mirror that is supposed to reflect Jesus is dimmed and we lose our platform. Yes, God is good and loves us as we are, but grace doesn’t mean staying in that place. Love propels us forward to live totally set apart for Him. The cross was not cheap. We were entrusted with something extraordinary. Sexuality outside of God’s design will mar us – every time. But, if you love God, the cross should mark us indelibly. Otherwise, we risk making God Himself a joke.
Purity is not a one-time commitment. It is a lifestyle choice that I myself must chose daily. When temptations arise. When circumstances come our way, when culture screams at us, when we risk being unpopular and labeled legalistic, walking in purity means choosing Jesus.
Moses in the Bible said it best in Exodus 33:15, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” If God is grieved by my choices and if they would affect my intimacy with God, then I do not want to go there. I hope you wouldn’t either. Because if I could sit across from you now, I would say you are worth so much more. Were we millennials manipulated? Yes. We were spoon-fed sex our whole lives. But we can choose something better. The choice to walk in purity daily is in no way easy and we need God’s spirit to help us do what’s right. But, if we love God, we will choose purity and find what we have been looking for. We’re already given away too much, it’s time to redeem what was stolen. Innocence is lost, but God can make us pure again. We can turn the tide away from compromise and towards a commitment to leave a better legacy.
You are marked. You are distinct. Let’s look the part. Because we are. Instead of letting culture define us, let’s define it.
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
– John 17:14-19 (ESV)