With the recent release of her album, another breakup from Justin Bieber, the kickoff of her tour and a confirmed appearance at the 2013 MTV VMAs, Selena Gomez has been in good company amongst other superstars on the covers of gossip magazines and celebrity sites. While she has always been touted as a “good girl,” her image in recent weeks has been pitted against Bad Girls Club reality star and Playboy Radio guest host Milyn Jensen in a sort of angel and devil scenario after Jensen told tabloids that she was the one who broke up the teen dream pair during a one-night fling. While we don’t know if that’s for certain (Bad Girls Club: Miami’s new season only just kicked off), one thing’s for sure: our culture has never been more wrapped up in the narrative of good girls who are going “bad”.
After a past littered with Disney shows, a surprisingly long stint on Barney and other innocent gigs since she was wee, this attention is to be expected. As of today, she has over 45 million likes on Facebook, 16.1 million followers on Twitter and a certified gold single off her debut solo album. Like every budding starlet, TMZ loves to splash on headlines “Bikini Clad Selena Gomez Parties with Brazilians” “Could Her Shorts Be Any Shorter?” and the cryptic clickbait “Selena Gomez Rings In 21st Birthday with GIANT BREAST CAN-SMASHING!!!”
Selena does understand that she is a role model for many girls, but she is growing up and wanting to take more challenging roles, a conflict she is very open about. “It's a very awkward transition to make. I want to challenge myself and [my choices] may not be appropriate for a young audience.” She explained in an interview with Reuters. What’s interesting about Selena and many of her young “good girl gone bad” colleagues like Miley Cyrus and Tayler Momsen is that the change is seen as more of a rite of passage than a natural progression; they’re scrutinized for every party they attend, every article of clothing they wear and, in Miley’s case, every hair and lipstick color they choose. Have women been trained to believe that they need to go skimpy to shed their honest images?
This is what her fellow Disney girls have experienced once their looks shifted from the G-rated mouse ear persona to PG-13 “bad girl” as they neared legal age. The transformation of Britney Spears, someone who Selena (depending on which tabloid you favor) looks up to, was splashed on many of the same magazine covers. Because it was so long ago, and the internet wasn’t as chock full of celebrity tabloids, we forget how the mainstream was taken aback by her triumphant return to fame in 2000 when she exclaimed “I’m not that innocent” in a tight red vinyl suit (save for the flared bell bottoms) on Mars. She was barraged with personal opinions by the American Family Association over her April 1999 Rolling Stone cover: a 17-year-old Britney on pink satin sheets wearing an open white blouse, black bra and polka-dotted boy short underwear, clasping a Teletubby doll (Tinky Winky, the controversial “gay” one). They called the shoot “a disturbing mix of childhood innocence and adult sexuality” and asked "God-loving Americans to boycott stores selling Britney's albums."
The early Spears years were carefully orchestrated press for her album, but that’s not to say it was done without her blessing. In regards to the Rolling Stone cover, Spears responded that if given the chance, she’d do it again (which she did, a lot). Even during the tour for ...Baby One More Time she was slammed for “racy outfit” changes that would pass for concertgoers’ fashions of choice today. To the dismay of the “God-loving Americans,” …Baby One More Time went on to be one of the bestselling albums of all time. Like Britney, Selena has been bombarded by those who believe the choices she has been making are hurting her fans and her career.
Every gossip mag is keeping tabs on or stirring up controversy over Selena. They’re chomping at the bit to get details on someone that seems to have it together, something that many child stars can’t say. But as Selena has said in numerous interviews, it comes with the job. This on-again, off-again girlfriend of pop star Justin Bieber has even been Photoshopped onto a cover of our own magazine, setting the internet ablaze with rumors of the actress baring it all for Playboy after her role in the latest Harmony Korine indie film Spring Breakers. The film could be called her major turning point in the social eye as the small indie film garnered media attention for its casting choices of well-known young actresses who were all viewed as “good girls,” mixed with the film’s explicitly genuine portrayal of sex, drug use, violence and alcohol.
"When I auditioned for Harmony, we talked about how he wanted to leave my lifestyle behind and have me go on this adventure with him,” Selena explained in her Reuters interview. “I knew it was going to be crazy, but I was comfortable with it. Harmony wanted an innocence because he thought it would be creepier. I agree with him…It was completely liberating. [Up until this film], everything I've been a part of definitely has been a bit more processed, like how many pieces of jewelry I have on, what my hair looks like. With Harmony, I never wore makeup and he never cared about my hair.”
Do women in the mainstream eye believe they need to go balls-to-the-wall naughty to shed their little girl past? Or is it that we would rather cast judgment on others than on ourselves? Or perhaps it’s that young women are still perceived as precious kewpie dolls waiting for their sexuality to be awakened at age 18. As Selena says, it is liberating to finally embrace a little bit of sass, to swap your ankle-length dress for a miniskirt and push-up bra. In the end we all grow up; some grow into their sexuality more quickly than others, but it should never be perceived as immoral.