Cuties” has been a highly criticized movie. But instead of criticizing, we must raise awareness. Children’s hyper-sexualization needs to stop.

Original screenshot from Cuties' trailer on YouTube.
Original screenshot from Cuties’ trailer on YouTube.

Since Netflix started its promotion, “Cuties” unleashed controversy. It seems like everyone has a critique of it. But why did it become polemical? Well, the controversy comes from the hyper-sexualization of young girls, and rightfully so. But this movie is just one more in a long list of content that promotes little girls’ hyper-sexualization. Children’s hyper-sexualization isn’t new. And the situation will continue if we don’t raise awareness about it.

Children’s Sexual Development

Understanding Children's sexual development. Original screenshot from Cuties' trailer on YouTube.
Understanding Children’s sexual development. Original screenshot from Cuties’ trailer on YouTube.

Adults tend to think children are asexual. It seems like when we grow up, we decide to ignore children’s sexuality. The truth is that sexuality is intrinsic to us through all the stages of our lives. The thing is that to protect humans that are at the most vulnerable stages, we’ve chosen to ban sexuality from them. But is this the best course of action?

Childhood is one of the most important stages of sexual development. So, children are sexual beings, like any other human being. The main thing to understand is that children experience their sexuality differently than adults. Unlinke adults, children’s sexual behaviors are based on curiosity and discovery of themselves and the rest of the world.

So, there are some natural sexual behaviors of children, depending on the age and stage of development. For example, at 6 years old, children start discovering their own identities. For that reason, their sexuality is self-centered. Behaviors as asking about their genitals and sex differences are normal. But around age 11, they start going through a puberty process. Which consists not only of physical growth but also the arousal of sexuality as teens conceive it. That means their sexuality stops being self-centered and starts including the interest in others.

Screenshot of the start of a dance performance in Cuties' trailer on YouTube.
Screenshot of the start of a dance performance in Cuties’ trailer on YouTube.

According to K. Paige Harden, on its 2014 manuscript Genetic Influences on Adolescents Sexual Behavior: Why Genes Matter For Environmentally-Oriented Researches:

The emergence of sexuality is a defining developmental process of adolescence. Pubertal changes that usher in reproductive maturity mark the onset of adolescence, while the establishment of stable partnered relationships and the beginning of reproduction often delineate the increasingly murky boundary between adolescence and adulthood… The hormonal and neurological events of puberty are typically necessary for (consensual) sexual behavior.

K. Paige Harden. (2014). Genetic Influences on Adolescents Sexual Behavior: Why Genes Matter For Environmentally-Oriented Researches

Now, you might be wondering why am I focusing on puberty? Well, because in “Cuties”, the children are 11-year-old girls. That means those girls might be starting their process of puberty. But sexual arousal is part of the developmental process. So those sexual behavior we see in the movie are not natural for their developmental stage. That is why we need to start talking about hypersexualization. The process in which children start having sexual behaviors that go further the natural for the sexual development stage they are at.

Children’s Hyper-sexualization and Netflix’s Cuties

The hypersexualized change the main character goes through.  Original screenshot from Cuties' trailer on YouTube.
The hypersexualized change the main character goes through. Original screenshoot from Cuties’ Trailer on Youtube.

The first thing we need to understand is that there is no sexualization of children. Because children have a sexual component. So, how do we all what we see on “Cuties” then? Well, the term that explains what we see on “Cuties” is children’s hypersexualization. And to understand it, we need to separate the two words that compose it.

Hypersexualization is a phenomenon and a process. It consists of an empathizing person’s sexuality. That means focusing on its sexual value and its sexual characterization. In children, that means making their sexual arousal come faster than it would naturally come. So, children’s hypersexualization is a process in which they start having sexual behaviors that go further than their capabilities. And this is something that can come from the child itself or its environment.

According to Stephanie V. Ng, M.D, on her 2016 article for the American Psychiatric Association’s journal, Social Media and The Sexualization of Adolescent Girls:

Emerging empirical research also corroborates the notion that while sexualization of females is rewarded online (usually by males), females are also punished for these same displays and are quick to be labeled by other female peers as “sluts” or “skanks”… This perpetuates sexual double standards that reinforce gender stereotypes… In examining the effects of sexualization of girls, the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls detailed a number of negative effects, including decreased cognitive functioning (e.g., impaired ability to concentrate), worsened physical and mental health (e.g., eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression), unrealistic expectations about sexuality, and reductionist beliefs of women as sexual objects.

Stephanie V. Ng, M.D. (2016). Social Media and The Sexualization of Adolescent Girls.

This sets a really important topic to understand. Because girls are more susceptible to hypersexualization than boys. So, “Cuties” is just the newest example of the amount of content that hypersexualizes girls. But it is almost impossible to find content that hypersexualizes boys. And this situation happens because of a misconception. Society tends to confuse feminity with hypersexualization. Even when those are two different aspects.

“Cuties” is an extreme example of this. When all the controversy and critics started, its director defended said the movie had a feminist intention. According to her, the movie shares the story of a girl discovering her femininity. But there is a huge difference between hypersexualization and feminity. The behaviors shown in the movie are not examples of femininity. Because twerking, taking nudes, and making sexual facial expressions are sexual behaviors. And that is exactly what the girls do in the movie.

Everything starts as an apparent normal discovery until it becomes hypersexualization. Original screenshot from Cuties' trailer on YouTube.
Everything starts as an apparent normal discovery until it becomes hypersexualization. Original screenshot from Cuties’ trailer on YouTube.

So which are those sexual behaviors shown in the movie that hypersexualize girls? Well, to start those girls in the movie are really manipulated by social media. They base their dance routines on the ones they watch on internet. But those dance routines are mostly twerking, making sexual postures and using their movements to show their bodies. Why is that hypersexualization? Because those are not the normal movements a girl at their age would do, they are just copying something that society praises.

Along with that, those 11-years-old girls start a hasty flirting process. But they chase teenage boys and start a really clumsy flirt. But the hypersexualized characteristic of that is that they tend to go for older guys. An example of that is when the main character tries to seduce her older cousin, using her body insinuations to get out of trouble. One of the worst parts is that these girls start in pornography and nudes. The main character takes a nude and posts it on social media. The worst part is that the movie excuses that behavior as a protest against the heavy culture she lives under.

Why Children’s Hypersexualization Needs to Stop

A scene from the Movie's climax. Original screenshot from Netflix.
A scene from the Movie’s climax. Original screenshot from Netflix.

But why is this wrong? What side effects hypersexualization brings? Or why does that needs to stop? Well, let’s start with why hypersexualization is wrong. Everything that accelerates, or interrupts, natural development is wrong.

First, children’s hypersexualization is wrong because it forces them to grow up faster. They lose many of the things they need to be capable to sustain the development.

Second, children’s hypersexualization brings a lot of frustration for the children. Just imagine trying to become something you are not. Imagine how you would feel if you are forced to do something you are not fully capable of doing. That is exactly what happens with girls that are hypersexualized. They are put in a position of having things they don’t have yet, or making things they are not capable of. This will fraustrate them. Just as those clumsy and really uncomfortable flirts the girls do in Cuties; and their frustration of not being reciprocated.

According to Jaimee Swift and Hannah Gould on their 2020 article Not An Object On Sexualization And Exploitation of Women and Girls, for UNICEF USA‘s official website:

…girls are depicted in a sexual manner more often than boys; dressed in revealing clothing, and with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness…Hypersexualized models of femininity in the media affect the mental, emotional and physical health of girls and women on a global scale. Consequences of hypersexualization for girls and women include anxiety about appearance, feelings of shame, eating disorders, lower self-esteem and depression.

Jaimee Swift and Hannah Gould. (2020). Not An Object On Sexualization And Exploitation of Women and Girls.

Also, children have the right to grow up freely and happily. Hypersexualization violates that human right. Because every person grows up in a personal way and time. But the normality includes going through the developmental stages to get prepared and develop the tools to sustain the growth. Hypersexualization brings to millions of girls worldwide tons of judgement and exclusion from the same society that forces them to grow up faster. But it also exposes girls to becoming sexual objects. Which makes them more vulnerable of all kinds of sexual abuse.

Now you have a basic knowledge about children’s hypersexualization. Which is important because nowadays polemic and controversy don’t solve the situation. Instead, most of the time that makes it bigger. And what children need is our awareness on this topic to be able to make the changes needed. We don’t solve anything just by criticizing Cuties or Netflix for streaming the movie. But if we raise awareness, by getting knowledge in the topic, we are able to change our behaviors and even other behaviors. And that does is a way to help.