Talking to Karrine Steffans:
Teenagers today are influenced by celebrity culture like never before. "We're talking about what I call the 'marginalization of women,'" Oprah says. "We are bombarded [from the media] with titillating images of women degraded and on display—scantily clad, overtly objectified. There is no escaping it—women are being exploited. It's bad enough that women are allowing themselves to be used this way, but even worse, young girls are imitating them.
"I want us to start paying attention to what is happening to women in this country and the role models we are projecting throughout the world."
Former music video dancer Karrine Steffans used to be a part of a multibillion dollar industry that some experts fear is ruining an entire generation.
Karrine Steffans, author of Confessions of a Video Vixen, was 21 years old when she made her video debut. She danced in videos alongside some of the biggest artists in the industry, including Jay-Z, R. Kelly and LL Cool J. She quickly became a full-time booty shaking, breast baring dancer—but success came at a price. Karrine, who says she suffered sexual abuse in childhood and grew up with low self-esteem, admits to doing whatever it took to get the good gigs. In a misguided quest for riches, she says she allowed herself to be exploited and humiliated.
When Karrine finally decided to get out of the business, she found herself homeless and friendless. "My so-called famous wealthy friends that just loved me so much wouldn't lend a hand, because I was no longer the 'good time girl,'" she says. Despite her pain and hardship, Karrine, the mother of an 8-year-old son, says her biggest regret is sending the wrong message to young girls and boys. Being a glamorous music video star, she says,
During one of Karrine's many video shoots, she says she was taking a nap when she woke up to find the record label's CEO standing in her trailer. "[He] pulled his penis out and asked me to perform oral sex on him," she says. "I had never seen him in my life; I had no idea who he was. He said, '[Perform oral sex on me] or you can't do this video.' Well, I didn't do the video."
Despite her doubts and fears, Karrine went on to dance in other videos and continued to endure harassment. She says music video sets are hotbeds of sexual exploitation and abuse, and dancers are often doused in alcohol, sprayed in the face with champagne, verbally degraded and treated as objects.
"When you step onto that set, you sign over your rights as a human. You sign over your body to them. They grease you up, strip you down, sling you against a car and you are rented."
Karrine says the years she spent as a music video dancer taught her to value herself over money and fame. "I have me. I have God. I have my son. Everything else is extra," she says. "It's taught me who I am, and who I was meant to be.
"I am no longer in the business of making other people look good at my expense. And that's what I wish for the women who are in the industry."
Karrine says she plans to tell her son the truth about her experiences so that he can learn the importance of treating all women with respect.
Talking to Singer Pink:
Pink is making headlines for her hit song "Stupid Girls." She says there's an epidemic of mindlessness among teenagers today and America's obsession with celebrity is to blame. In her music video, she attacks modern-day role models like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson, mocking what she believes is their obsession with beauty, shopping and acting dumb.
Pink says striving to imitate the hottest celebrity squanders a young woman's own individuality and potential. "My definition of 'stupid' is wasting your opportunity to be yourself," Pink says, "because I think everybody has a uniqueness and everybody's good at something.'"
Some people have called "Stupid Girls" hypocritical because Pink has bared skin in her own videos. What does Pink have to say to that?
"I didn't write the song to win a popularity contest. I did it to spark a discussion. … My point is, sexy and smart are not oil and water—and that you don't have to dumb yourself down to be cute.
"I don't think any of these [young Hollywood starlets] are actually stupid. I think it's an act. It makes you less challenging as a female to act really cute."
Whitney, Maegan, Julia and Amber are four Florida teenagers who say they are obsessed with young Hollywood celebrities. The teens spend thousands of dollars to keep up with the celebrity styles they see in tabloids and magazines.
If hair extensions, designer fashions and makeup aren't enough to imitate their idols, they say they're willing to go to any extreme. Whitney says she's making plans to have a breast augmentation. "Celebrities get plastic surgery all the time, and I don't see anything wrong with it," she says.
The girls even call each other the same slang names used by young celebrities on TV. "Sometimes we say, 'Hey bitch, what's up?' or, 'Stop being a whore,'" says Amber. "It's not in a literal sense, it's more joking around."
Do the four friends think they are "stupid girls"? "We are really smart girls but sometimes we do dumb ourselves down around guys…not on purpose, just…it happens," Whitney says.
Dr. Robin says many young women who act "stupid" are actually smart girls whose obsession with imitating celebrities keeps them from being their true selves. "The word for me isn't stupid girls—it's lost girls, it's girls who are being defined by somebody else," says Dr. Robin. "[Pink's] video is calling forth for us to look at anything that makes me have to be small so that someone else is big—making me lose the essence of who I am."
Debbie says she's recruited girls to participate in the notorious Girls Gone Wild videos—a racy series featuring explicit images of young women on spring break. Debbie says she easily persuaded dozens of girls to flash private body parts or perform lewd acts in front of the camera—the more explicit the scene, the more Debbie says she got paid.
Debbie says she would say whatever was necessary to convince girls to participate in these videos. "I didn't feel like what I was doing was really bad. … I thought, you know what, it's their choice. If they're going to get drunk, I thought that's their prerogative."
Even though the girls themselves don't get paid to appear on tape, Debbie says most of the girls she talked to seemed excited to participate. "I'm sure that some of them regretted it," says Debbie. "The majority of the girls though, surprisingly enough, were pretty happy about what they did. Even girls I talked about it with afterwards [said] it was their 15 seconds of fame."
Citing the Girls Gone Wild girls as an example, Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture says that women are exploiting themselves and other women. "If male chauvinist pigs of years past treated women like pieces of meat, now we're doing it all by ourselves," says Ariel.
Ariel says the rise of the "female chauvinist" is partly generational. "Whether your mother is a right wing evangelical Christian or an old school feminist, if you're flashing on spring break, you're probably going to tick her off," says Ariel.
Teenage rebellion aside, Ariel says there's a much bigger picture. "This is a culture that is obsessed with consumerism," she says. "We think we can buy anything. We can reduce sexuality to something that can be bought and sold like polyester underpants and implants."
Ariel says young women are specifically imitating women in the sex industry, not just celebrities. "Those are women whose job it is to imitate real female sexual pleasure and power, so when we're imitating an imitation, we're getting pretty far removed from authentic experience."
Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth and Misconceptions, says there is a disturbing new genre of teen fiction targeted at millions of young female readers. She says most parents have no idea that these catchy paperback sets known as "chick literature" contain graphic, sexually explicit content. "One of the girl characters says, 'I've got to stop taking Ecstasy and seducing married men'—that's her character development," says Naomi.
With their two-dimensional portrayals of female characters, Naomi says the books send negative messages to young girls. "These books basically tell our daughters that their value comes from how high they are in the pecking order in their high school, whether they can afford all of the fabulous designer goods, and provide a hot sexual experience for the boys in their lives," Naomi says.
Dr. Robin says these books are dangerous in many ways. "[They] are defining for girls who they are, making them think they're choosing it, and then profiting off of the demise of a whole generation of girls and women," she says.
Oprah says she defines "stupid" as "anything less than what is your true self—any time you have to pretend to be something that you're not, around guys or around anybody."
Pink says that if she had compromised herself as a young girl by acting "stupid," she wouldn't be where she is today—a message she hopes to convey to other girls. "If you are going to be the future rock stars [or] whatever you want to be—then you're wasting your time trying to be somebody else because you'll never get to you."