Like most of the Western world, I’m a fan of Modern Family. I’m also a fan of Instagram. What happens when these two collide? Crazy hijinks? Insightful glimpses into behind-the-scenes larks? New season clues? Well, sometimes. But today it was a selfie of one of the teen stars in her bikini. Yep, Ariel Winter – who plays studious, bespectacled Alex, who is fifteen years old and has 120,000 Instagram followers – posted a picture of herself in a skimpy yellow bikini for all to see on the photo-sharing site. Now, as I write this about three hours afterward, it has been removed, along with all the comments that alternated between ‘You’re sooo hot’ and ‘You’re a whore’.
I was going to comment on the photo, I was going to write that by posting such an image she was perpetuating the idea that women are passive creatures to be objectified, and providing a pretty lousy role model for her fans, to boot. I didn’t because a) I didn’t want to get into an instawar with random teenagers telling me I was repressed, b) the girl is fifteen, she doesn’t need some 30-something mum in Wollongong dissing her, and c) I was caught in that murky land between a female’s right to wear whatever she likes and the idea that by doing so we can inadvertently add fuel to the fire that is our hyper-sexualised society.
Personally, for what it’s worth, I believe that whether we like it or not, we send messages with what we wear. Some of the messages might be unintentional and maybe it’s asking too much of a teenager to analyse every possible way a picture she posts could be interpreted and evaluate these possibilities in light of feminist theory. And I’m not saying the girl should cover every inch of her skin, either. But where’s the line? Where’s the middle ground? Where’s the thing that separates a fifteen year-old’s unrelenting desire to show off and impress anyone who’s watching from the fact that everyone is watching, including the weirdo guy with a thing for teen and preteen girls? And what about the fact that there are fifteen year-olds in bikinis on the beach and in every December issue of Dolly?
And what about the fifteen year-old who looks in the mirror and compares her body with the girl from Modern Family?
She’s the one I’m most worried about.
But after all of that, it’s never a debate about what a guy can or can’t, should or shouldn’t wear, is it?