The Problem With These Pictures of Seventeen-Year-Old Abigail Breslin 

I just stumbled upon these truly hideous Terry Richardson knockoff pieces of garbage photographs taken of (seventeen year old) Abigail Breslin by (thirty one year old) Tyler Shields, and you know what? I’m fucking heated, guys, and it’s not just because they’re genuinely terrible pictures with no artistic merit.

At nineteen, I’m not a whole lot older than Breslin. But I remember being seventeen pretty well, so I feel like I might have a sense of where her head’s at. Mine was there, too, but I was lucky enough not to have adults around to exploit me.

This is not saying that she doesn’t have agency, or that she didn’t have any control whatsoever over the content of these images. I’m sure this is very exciting for her, being dead centre in one of the strangest moments of a girl’s development. But this isn’t okay, for a variety of reasons.

First, I want to discuss the content of the images. I don’t usually have a problem with nudity and art, even with girls around this age. For example, I don’t consider Thora Birch’s scene in American Beauty to be exploitative, or more related to these photos, Miley Cyrus’s Vanity Fair cover a few years back. I could give you a diatribe focused on the differences between art and exploitation, but fuck that. It’s as simple as this: when you remove an underage girl’s clothes, stick a lollipop in her mouth, and tell her to give her best “fuck me” look to the camera, it’s not art. Does that really need explaining? Not only is the bullshit Lolita trope boring and overdone, it’s not even being utilized uniquely here. Oooh, an underage child star as a sex object? So edgy, Tyler Shields. Maybe next time you could try glamourizing domestic violence? Oh wait.

But this is all really indicative of a larger problem, something that we’ve all contributed to at some point: the infantilization of young women, which is just as dangerous as the over-sexualizing. Let me lay it down for you.

When a young woman, in the spotlight or not, is put into a “child” box and kept there into her sexual development, shit is going to go wrong. Just like forcing a girl into a “sexually mature woman” box is going to fuck shit up, so does this. The transition between these “boxes” is long and complicated, and requires a whole lot of safe space and room for mistakes. Either way, you end up trying to inflate your sexuality to break out of the “child” box, or you inflate it to fill the “sexually mature woman” box. 

By inflating your sexuality, you never get the chance to discover yourself, or develop your sexuality in a safe, timely manner. You just adapt to whatever version of sexuality is being thrown at you by the media, by your peers, or by the adults who should be protecting you. This isn’t conducive to finding a healthy relationship with your own sexuality, or sharing it properly with others. I’m not saying that girls who have experienced this “boxing” can never reach a sexual harmonious place within themselves, but it becomes a much bigger challenge.

I don’t want to be presumptuous and make sweeping statements about how Abigail Breslin feels. But this looks like a classic case of inflation in an attempt to break out of the box she’s been shoved into, and it makes me sad. Not just for her, but for all the girls who get stuck in the same spot.

For the most part, my own sexual development has been pretty healthy and on my own terms, but I’ve felt the pressure of that very box I think Breslin is stuck in right now. My family, though extremely liberal and forward thinking, often made me feel cocooned, as I was both the youngest and the only girl. Whenever I would mention anything sexual, there was a response of, “Oh, shut up, you have no idea”. They would shut me down, then call me a prude when I complained about something making me uncomfortable. It was a shitty place to be, and it would  have cost me a lot more had I not moved out at eighteen and had the opportunity to develop further in a space where no one was there to infantilize me.

I was lucky. There were no adults looking to take advantage of me when I was inexperienced but ready to take on the new “sexually mature woman” box. I don’t think girls in the industry have that kind of luck.

Which is why these photos really piss me off. Girls who aren’t even legal adults should be protected, and allowed to develop in safe environments. This doesn’t look like one of those environments to me.

(By Meghan Harper)

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