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Cuties is the latest within a landscape of a range of complaints and outrage around female sexuality. Prior to this, Cardi B and Megan Stallion’s “WAP” music video caused a ruckus. While Cuties and “WAP” seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, they have a lot in common in terms of the bigger opportunity that we may be missing. How do we find ways of supporting our young people in their transition into adulthood? How does one navigate this landscape when race is a part of the mix?

Coming of age in America is complicated enough. When adding considerations of race, class and where one is growing up, things become complicated. I grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, mostly in an apartment building. As a Black girl, I looked for images of myself that I could rarely find in my mother’s Cosmopolitan magazines. BET became a welcome relief.

I relied on eavesdropping on the conversations of the popular girls alongside some information I received in intermittent health classes. I gathered information from my friends to aid in my exploration of puberty and sex. For example, I figured out what the term “fingering” meant based on the context clues given within a conversation.

Dating, hanging out after school or visiting a friend’s house was off limits within the surround of my strict household, but this reality did not stop my craving. I had to pay close attention to any clues dropped at home while exploring other places. When my parents left to run an errand, I would search the house to find anything that was “adult” that might answer my questions, like my regular exploration of my father’s Playboy magazines.

Information from elsewhere looked like me at 12 years old trying to figure out if I could ever be LL Cool J’s “Around the Way Girl." I did not have a chance because I was missing the bamboo earrings and the Fendi bag he talked about.

At 14, I proudly sang TLC’s “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” as I hoped that my parents would not prevent me from buying their first album. Dancehall songstress Patra gave me a sense of confidence with songs like “Worker Man.” MC Lyte taught me it was okay to desire a “Ruffneck.”

I listened close at 17 years old when Foxy Brown rapped “Get Me Home," featuring Black Street. Foxy Brown joined Lil’ Kim and many others in their role as my coming-of-age advisors.

I never asked myself if all these things were really what I wanted. What did it really mean to demand that someone take me home or to have a “Worker Man”?

When I tried to mimic my peers, I learned how unready I was at 13 years old. I tried to show a boy a few years older than me that I was ready for sex as we snuck into a house that seemed to belong to a friend. As he rushed off to catch his bus home, the failed attempt left me confused and hungry for information.

In reflecting on this experience as an adult, TLC, Patra, Foxy, Lil’ Kim, LL Cool J and many others are not to blame for the messages I tried to piecemeal through their music and imagery. Beyond these celebrities, who could I trust within my environment to talk to about what I was seeing and how it connected to my changing body?

While watching Cuties, I identified with Amy, the 11-year-old main character who is a Senegalese Muslim girl struggling between the culture within her household and her entry into puberty. I remembered that feeling of wanting to belong and the strong curiosity of what was waiting on the other side as I grew into womanhood.

I recognized the realness and the visceral feeling of trying to navigate becoming in a world filled with so many messages. I also know from my own experience of trying to find my budding sexuality that this is a real portrayal of what girls are struggling with: A struggle within a pop culture landscape of Cardi B’s “WAP” and PPCocaine’s “DDLG.”

The sentiment and imagery of “WAP” feels like today’s version of Missy Elliot’s 2013 “One Minute Man.” “DDLG” by PPCocaine — a 19-year-old entertainer whose fame has risen via TikTok — is more complicated, as the video unzips into the true meaning of blurred lines between girlhood and womanhood.

Then again, America was accepting when the line between girl and woman disappeared within 17-year-old Britney Spears’s sexed up school girl’s outfit in her music video "Baby One More Time."

There is a bigger point that goes beyond Cuties, “WAP” or any other images awaiting backlash. For the young people who see these and other images, who is helping them to navigate the connection between these images and womanhood in American society? What are we communicating as a society when these attacks have a foundation of white gaze?

We witnessed it this summer with the protester in Portland who was called the “Naked Athena.” She was praised for her act of courage during the Black Lives Matters protests. Many who re-shared it on social media also used the term “pussy power.” The Los Angeles Times had a number of opinion pieces under the headline, "Portland’s ‘Naked Athena’ is the hero our wounded country needs now," summarizing various opinions of this incident.

Many missed the fact that her very name — in the image of the Greek Goddess of war and wisdom — spoke volumes about where we are at in terms of our problem of gaze in America. Regardless of claims that the protestor was not white, her body fit within how we see and who can do what with their bodies in America.

What does this reinforce to anyone coming of age when they see a white-perceived body receive praise within the same landscape that slutshames BIPOC bodies for exploring their sexuality within their art?

We’ve witnessed the reactions to P-Power when it comes in an ethnic package.

It looks a lot like the 1300 complaints that were sent to the FCC around J.Lo and Shakira’s half-time performance at this year’s Super Bowl. This reaction is not dissimilar from the backlash over Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl performance. It was the perception of Janet Jackson’s dangerous nipple that was criticized.

Many want to pull Cuties, yet Toddlers and Tiaras ran on the TLC channel for 9 seasons from 2009 to 2016. One can see everything from a tot version of Dolly Parton to a mother discussing how her 2 year-old has been receiving spray tans since the age of 11 months old.

Amid these complaints, I wonder how much of it had to do with the fact that some of the actresses featured were girls of color? As a culture, did we have a similar reaction to ‘American Beauty’, which is entirely explicit about the fact that a suburban married older man is lusting after a teenage girl?

In the realm of music videos, I don’t recall the same uproar over the many images of women in rock n’ roll videos, with Buckcherry’s “Crazy B***h” as one example. Before this, some of our parents will remember Billy Joel’s tune that made quite the pun on virginity in his 1977 song, “Only The Good Die Young.”

Those of us who are parents have an even greater responsibility to be the ones to interpret these images or create safe havens for having these conversations. Years ago, I held a role that involved helping parents navigate these discussions. One of the key things I told parents is that their children would inevitably access these images but their access to these things were not the main obstacle. The challenge was this: Did their pre-teens and adolescents know where to go after seeing these images or after getting misinformation from peers?

As I grew into my 20s, alongside learning more about history, I revisited the images of Lil’ Kim’s first album alongside all the other images that influenced my coming of age. Was I always looking down a slick road that rolls up to an origin point that is the auction block as it relates to BIPOC bodies in American society? Was it positive reclamation over one’s body, or is that kind of reclamation reserved for certain kinds of bodies in this culture?

If I had been able to have any of these conversations with my parents, perhaps some of these layers would have been discussed. We might have talked about the ways that sexuality, when layered with class and race, took on different dimensions based on who became the beholders and creators of these images.

Cuties,” WAP” and many other images are teachable moments. What is it about what we see within these images that might help one of many conversations about sexuality in America?

This does not have to be as painful as holding your kid hostage for a one-time talk. In fact, these kinds of conversations happen over time. It would be like trying to teach someone about the broad range within cooking in one sitting.

Parents must have an open-door policy around being able to have conversations or information available to clarify what these images are presenting. Perhaps instead of thinking about pop culture as an adversary, it can become one of many tools to help all of these soon-to-be adults navigate a world that is full of complexity.

Why not arm them with a foundation for how to think about the things that will only continue to become more complex in terms of how we think about relationships with ourselves and others?

As a larger culture, it is also worth noting that we can not continue these conversations without exploring the real ways in which BIPOC bodies inevitably exist within constructed meanings of desire and danger.

In a recent interview with Netflix Film Club, Cuties film director Maïmouna Doucour poses the following question, “…can we, as women, truly choose who we want to be, beyond the role models that are imposed upon us by society?”

In answer to her question, I think our children can choose if they know that they have a choice. They will only know about their choices if someone is talking with them about such things.