Is It Really “Fashion” If They’re Not Wearing Clothes?

Victoria’s Secret has parents tossing the tube.

Oh, darn. I missed the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

Actually, I “missed” it on purpose. I’m really appalled that their little “special” made it onto the airwaves at all. 

Ironically, I was traveling the day this year’s show aired, giving talks on chastity. (Trying, I suppose, to put a dent in all of the damage that stupid “fashion show” was inflicting.) That particular day, I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin, speaking at Notre Dame High School. (A school, incidentally, which impressed me very much. The students listened attentively and – more important – laughed in all of the right places. I could tell they were great kids.) Over the lunch hour, I met with a group of mothers. And, of course, the discussion turned to TV. With nearly naked women strutting across the catwalk in prime time, how can parents possibly protect their children’s innocence?

It’s not just Victoria’s Secret. On Friends, a single mom lives with her baby’s father while each of them dates other people. On Will and Grace both gay Will and straight Grace sleep with virtually every person they date. Flipping channels in a hotel room the other night, I saw two nearly naked women groping each other. This wasn’t on the “pay-for-porn” channel. It was on the “Starz” movie channel.

Then there’s the violence. And, of course, let’s not forget the commercials. It’s easy for me, as an adult, to start believing that owning all of that “stuff” will make me happy. What do all of those Saturday morning toy commercials do to our kids? And then there are the beer commercials, where men learn that drinking Coors Light will automatically bring beautiful, buxom twins into their lives.
Which all brings us back to Victoria’s Secret.

Some parents just throw out the TV. I think that’s a good idea. They can’t be exposed to what they don’t see. It really is amazing, the difference I see in children who don’t watch television. I have friends who are TV-less. A few years ago, they asked their kids to write letters to Santa. Their seven year old couldn’t think of anything he wanted. He wound up asking for a desk. 

But believe it or not, just throwing out the TV doesn’t solve the problem. After all, the chain is only as strong as the weakest parent. When they’re at other kids’ houses, it’s hard to control what they see. I know that because I was a kid once. We had a TV in those more innocent times, but I wasn’t allowed to watch Love, American Style. (Okay, I’m showing my age. Does anyone else remember that show?) But I had friends who were allowed to watch it. So, when I was at their houses, guess what I watched?

So what’s a parent to do? 

I told those moms in Green Bay that I divide bad media messages into two categories. The first is where people talk about bad, immoral or unethical things. The second is where actual images – violent or sexual – are shown. The first category would include most of today’s TV sitcoms and dramas, where they it is made clear that people are having sex, but the sexual activity itself isn’t shown. The second would include actually seeing sexually stimulating images – partial or full nudity, sexual activity, teenaged girls groping each other on “Starz”, etc. 

To me, category two is the “hill you die on.” Sexual images stay with us in a way very few other images do. Our brains are wired to “hang on” to those images, to keep them and play them back when we least need them. (Like when we’re trying to be chaste, or trying to live loving marital sexuality.) Those images foster a sex drive intent on selfish satisfaction instead of self-donating love. They create unrealistic expectations for men, and unrealistic role models for women. (My sister told me that a European man, commenting on the first Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, said that the women looked like “ironing boards with bowling balls attached.”) You don’t want sexual images in your kids’ heads.

Which is not to say that you want your kids to have a steady diet of attractive TV characters talking about sex, either. Filter that as much as possible. But also know that your kids are going to see it sometimes. They need to know how to watch it critically, how to process what they’re hearing instead of just soaking it in. So, every once in a while, you might want to watch one of those shows with your kids. Talk about it. Discuss why Ross and Rachel’s arrangement on Friends wouldn’t work, why it would be hurtful to both of them, and to the baby. Show them why TV characters who have sex with everyone they date probably won’t find real love in the end.

Just make sure everybody keeps their clothes on.