Sunday 6 May 2012

Hot Docs 2012 - "Sexy Baby"

I wasn't very far into "Sexy Baby" when I thought it might be an excellent choice for my son to watch with me. He's only a year younger than 12 year-old Winnifred (the first of the three main subjects we meet in the film) and she was being very sharp in her thoughts about how she has been exposed to sex via media, friends and our overall culture. She's smart as a whip, but even though she has this perspective she still apes some of the styles and attitudes. And she totally needs some training on how NOT to use social media. It all seemed like perfect fodder for good conversation with The Boy as he winds down his last year of elementary school and preps for the trials and tribulations of middle school.

As the other two storylines wove into the mix, thoughts of those father/son discussions quickly dissipated ("Nope, he won't be seeing this anytime soon..."). To be clear - that's not a reflection of the film's quality. The addition of 22 year-old Laura's story regarding her upcoming cosmetic surgery on her vagina (ie. labiaplasty) and 30-ish Nichole's discussion of her career in stripping and porn (and her subsequent business ventures in those realms) provide further viewpoints and expand on a variety of points about the pervasiveness of messages about sex in society. As you might expect, though, these stories raised topics and contained footage far beyond what a pre-teen should be processing - even Winnifred. What we hear from both of them is that the very adult industry of porn has - in particular with the growth of the internet - become a strong influence on a wide variety of people. As Nichole states "Porn is for adults. It's not made for teenagers."

That may be a pretty obvious statement, but considering the number of clips the film shows of young men and teenage boys talking, it's even more obvious that a combination of various media and porn have altered male notions of what to expect from sex. And as Laura tells it, many of her guy friends in their early 20s already have very specific expectations (through watching years of porn) about what a woman wants during sex - even down to exactly what a woman's vagina should look like. Jokes they've made and comments she's received from former boyfriends have made her feel insecure about the overdevelopment of her labia. I'll say that again - she has low self-esteem due to how her vagina looks. You might shake your head at that or even simply suggest that she hang out with a better crop of young men, but the story's points are very salient: our ideas about sex tend to get formed before we even engage in it.

Laura's story fades to the background a bit (we probably know more about her cosmetic surgeon by the end than we do about her) but that feels somewhat appropriate considering how she feels about herself. The main focus of the film is Winnifred's burgeoning sexuality as she crests past her 14th birthday by the end of the film. The more we hear her talk (and, if you listen to her parents, the more time she spends with a bad influence friend), the more her grounded views on sex don't quite match her actions. She gets banned from Facebook by her parents 7 times for posting inappropriate pictures, learns the "come hither" look (it's actually kind of disturbing to see her younger sisters imitate her as well as their favourite music video stars) and pushes her boundaries. Nothing extraordinary for a teenager, but given the context of the film and the plain talk that Nichole chimes in with occasionally, even if you already have a clear understanding of the role of sex in today's media soaked culture, you'll still walk away a bit unnerved. As Nichole says (she really does have some of the best advice in the film - though she herself is somewhat cornered in a business and a marriage that expect certain things from her), a young person's first encounter with sex should be personal and 1-on-1, not through the internet. You may not be able to show "Sexy Baby" to your child yet, but it sure should drive out some good topics of discussion.

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