Wednesday, May 9, 2012



Yes, there were ass-less chaps. We’ll get to those in a minute.

The world met Christina Aguilera in that teen-pop-saturated year of 1999. The former All-New Mickey Mouse Club kid stood out among the flaxen-haired, dimple-cheeked masses because of her voice. It was bigger, stronger, and more dimensional than anything we’d heard since Mariah Carey. So we listened. And what we heard within the mix of sexualized coming-of-age fluff like “Genie in a Bottle” were girl anthems about empowerment, individualism, and standing up for yourself. “Fighter,” “What a Girl Wants,” and “Can’t Hold Us Down” championed a woman’s rights to call the shots and reject the double standards set forth by sexism and patriarchy.

As she sang in “Can’t Hold Us Down”: “Am I not supposed to have an opinion?/Should I keep quiet just because I’m a woman?” Those are some lyrics we’re happy to have stuck in our heads to a catchy tune—and even better, stuck in the heads of young girls around the world.

In Christina’s world, women are never reduced to pining for a man or cowering from his abuse. They’re loud-mouthed, opinionated bitches (a title she owns, Tina Fey-style) who get what they want when they want it. It’s a ballsy message Madonna could get behind. She also has a softer side: Her song “Beautiful” is a powerful celebration of individuality and difference, with a video featuring young people of all genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds, proclaiming their common beauty. No matter how you dress up the package, her message is one of the more feminist in popular music today.

Aguilera has often talked about the Catch-22 of being a female performer who’s pressured to showcase her physical attributes while being criticized for doing so. “How do I not be exploited whilst selling my sexuality? For me it’s a matter of opinion about how far is too far. … I am not an object. I am in control. I’m in the power position. I decide who I am and it’s too bad if you don’t get it—or want it,” she told Cosmopolitan. The lesson: Giving into a short-shorts trend or stuffing our bra at some point in our lives doesn’t mean we can’t evolve into self-aware feminists. As humans, we experiment and explore the extremes of ourselves to see where we feel most at home within our bodies. Aguilera simply did it in the public eye.

So as Aguilera evolved, she may have made mistakes—and when we say mistakes, we mean those ass-less chaps from the “Dirrrty” video. But most young women have a pair of ass-less chaps in their past—metaphorically speaking. Learning from them is what matters.

Feminist Lessons Learned

Take control of your own image: What we like best about Aguilera is her evolution—from pop pawn to “Dirrrty” girl to retro pinup to mom who’s not afraid to still be sexy. Having the confidence to go through growing pains in public and never apologize for them is downright admirable.

As soon as she wielded a bit of control over her career (a quadruple-platinum debut album will do that), Aguilera challenged the status quo, consciously projecting a sex-positive feminist image of herself. In a sense, she became a modern-day Riot Girrl. Just as Bikini Kill and its ilk called for the emancipation of women’s sexuality during the grunge-rock era, Christina shrugged off the suggestion that it’s something to be ridiculed. As she told Cosmopolitan, “If a man does this kind of thing, he’s allowed to get away with it. If a woman does it, she’s labeled a slut or whatever. That’s not going to stop me. I’m just going to show that it’s the wrong way of thinking.”


Activism is sexy: For as long as she’s had money and pop-star cachet, Christina has been an activist, advocating on behalf of women and children. She was named the Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations, and is a spokesperson for World Hunger Relief, a global campaign that targets maternal and child hunger worldwide. “A child dies every six seconds of hunger, which is a huge statistic for me. After having my own child I just had to do something about it and help change that situation,” she told The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Her philanthropy doesn’t end there. She drew from the personal pain of being the witness to and victim of domestic violence as a child and made it a rallying cry—something the best feminist icons have always done. “I’ve suffered too much hurt in my life to be in that place again. I’m through being the victim,” she told Blender. She promotes self-confidence and courage to women in domestic violence safe houses around the country—most notably in her hometown of Pittsburgh, where she’s given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city’s The Women’s Center and Shelter. She’s become a regular visitor there, donating her time, money, and music to help the women who most need a feminist icon in their lives.

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