Welcome to the digital age of a sexual generation raised on the ever-expanding Internet where objectification has become self-inflicted before outside influences can gain the upper hand. By posting photos, videos, and comments on Facebook; sexting friends; dressing provocatively; and projecting an image of desire whether one is actually game to hook-up with whomever is close by or not, America’s children are no longer in the dark. Some accidentally stumble upon porn—images or movies—by the age of 9 depending on parental restrictions and by 12 have cultivated their own unique, quasi-alternate persona through social media all but guaranteeing their next exposure is intentional. And for most parents there’s nothing to be done except making a conscious effort to become a part of the conversation or simply ignore it altogether.
This is Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus‘ documentary Sexy Baby: a journey through three different cities following three different girls as they traverse a freshly naked sexual landscape. Whether it be 12-year old Winnifrd Bonjean-Alpart, 22-year old Laura Castle, or 32-year old Nichole Romagna, the world wide web has become an integral tool in deciding what it means to be a woman of the 21st century. Inhibitions have all but disappeared, pressures on whom they should be and what they should look like are being pushed from all angles, and the ability to comfortably live in one’s own skin has become impossible without a consumerist, materialistic outlook on meeting fantasy-like expectations. Loving someone for being beautiful on the inside may now be nothing more than a cliché few if any of us can truly admit possible.
What makes this film relevant and important, however, isn’t in its telling what we already know. Yes, kids are more sexually active than ever. Yes, young girls are more inclined to call Lady Gaga and Britney Spears a role model than Susan B. Anthony or Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Yes, boys are so inundated with pornography and false examples of sexual prowess and orgasmic enterprises that their attempts to copy an industry acting for money ruin all chance for pleasure, healthy relations, and love. When Castle’s first long-term boyfriend’s disappointment at the size of her labia being unlike those he saw online forced an image in her mind of not being sexy or appealing enough, it’s obvious a problem exists. The fact it appears to exacerbate as the years go by shows there is no turning back.
Bauer and Gradus infuse many vignettes of high schoolers and co-eds candidly discussing topics from their first experiences to crude name-calling and generally unattainable molds they’ve been brainwashed into believing exist on the streets of their small towns. They don’t. The speeds at which young people’s lives are led are exceeding safe conditions, putting girls on the fast track to situations they aren’t prepared to experience. Not everyone can be like Nichole, so confident in her body that she invited her entire high school class to watch her participate in an amateur striptease competition. Not everyone has her fortitude to turn into a different person—porn star Nakita Kash—with a talent like pole dancing to possess the potential of once again becoming Nichole.
Instead we wonder and worry about the Lauras of the world, so wrapped up inside their heads with becoming a fabricated version of ‘desirable’ that they travel out of state to find a surgeon like Dr. Bernard Stern for a labiaplasty. Sexy Baby gives us the statistics on how prevalent such a procedure has become, shows a doctor who seems to be one of the good guys making sure his patients understand the ramifications and still agree for the right reasons, and never panders or turns the cameras away from seeing the pain, turmoil, relief, and joy cosmetic enhancement can provide. An adult who has tried all options and truly wishes to do this in order to better her personal image of herself, however, Laura’s is a completely different story than the prepubescent Winnie.
With this 12-year old we’re still able to see a cognizant approach in her evolution towards womanhood. A highly gifted young girl able to verbalize her opinions of friends, porn, and sexualized messages in art, it’s easy to both blame and laud her separated parents Jennifer Bonjean and Ken Alpart for not sheltering her and yet finding a way to stay hands on. Does it work all the time? No. Do you have moments where their 4-year old Myrtle is on camera grinding on the floor while singing Lady Gaga? Yes. But in an age where our youth is going to be exposed to such things with or without you, it becomes your responsibility as a parent to take a stand and inject your voice into a conversation no longer under your control.
The best message to come out of such an uncensored look at sexuality’s sprawling reach in today’s society is relayed. We all have the ability to control our destinies and not ignore what’s happening around us. Winnie has had a strong, powerful woman in her life to teach that while being sexy feels good it is not what will make a difference in this world. Laura has experienced her fun modeling and has found a cause to do something more purposeful through teaching without neglecting her sexuality or ignoring what must be done to appreciate her own body. Nichole has settled down to find her voice away from the dictatorial industry she has slaved in for so long to get married and start a family without restrictions.
Sex is a big part of who we are today and while many choose to let our environments and the media tell us what we can be, who we can love, and how we can look, it isn’t the only way. There is a lot of stimulation out there to reconcile and learn to cope with on our own terms. It isn’t going to go away—it will probably only increase in exposure and outrageousness. We must adapt as individuals, as parents, and as role models to make sure our values don’t get lost in the fray. These women here show us it’s not only possible but also already in practice. It’s time to be proactive.
Sexy Baby is now on VOD and available for select eucational screenings around the country. For more details visit the film’s website.