In the last month, we’ve all encountered discussions and hype over HBO’s Euphoria more times than we can count. For a show to receive such a high level of anticipation, praise and support, there must be something great about it, right? While the show features a stellar cast and touches upon important issues such as drug addiction and more, and has characters with depth, there is one feature of the show that I, and many others, found puzzling since its very inception in 2019- why are high school students so hyper-sexualized? Some may say that what was initiated as an attempt to destigmatize teen sexuality has begun catering to the very gaze that waits for a celebrity to turn 18; so as to sexualize her legally rather than being called a paedophile- even though the tendencies stay consistent.
Euphoria isn’t the first show to hire a cast pushing their late 20s to portray an unrealistic high school lifestyle- although it is the first to show it so explicitly. Gossip Girl, Riverdale and more have all done it before. Why is it that almost no one questions the fact that these 40-year-old men in Hollywood constantly get away with oversexualizing underage characters simply because of the technicality that the actors are nowhere close to the age they’re portraying?
To add a cherry on top, in light of recent interviews, we find that at least four of the Euphoria actresses had to voice their concerns on set regarding too many nude scenes of their character, scripted by creator Sam Levinson. While Levinson reportedly cut a scene if an actress said it was unnecessary nudity or uncomfortable for her to do, it still raises the question of whether it is normal to script that much nudity for a show about teenagers in the first place. Why do multiple women feel the same urge of an obscene amount of nude scenes that border on pornography and paedophilia when they often don't have relevance to the plot?
Well, this is not a criticism of the entire show itself because surely Zendaya’s Emmy-winning performance and a surge in the popularity of the whole cast means that the show is doing something right. It’s more the setting that concerns me- why a high school and not a college or university? Wouldn’t the young adult population be a better target audience for these subjects? Not to say that the depiction of high schoolers’ sex life should be dismissed altogether- because that would bring us to square one. To compare and contrast, Sex Education on Netflix managed to address important issues, many being of the same nature, all the while developing relatable and age-accurate characters. When one watches Maeve and Otis, or any of the characters in the show for that matter, there is a connection that is sparked between the viewer and the character drawn from a string of ideas and teenage experiences. It is actually a believable high school setting. Euphoria and Riverdale on the other hand can be uncomfortable watches. One such example is Lili Reinhart’s character of Betty practically stripping in front of fully grown and middle-aged male gang members, in an act of rebellion directed towards her mother. A regular teen would perhaps yell, argue, storm out. But such a scene in Riverdale took it too far by depicting a mere 16-17 year-old girl catering to the very male gaze we're all trying to fight. Surely a show with such a twisted storyline is interesting and enticing, to say the least, but the overly mature setting is something that makes Euphoria miss out on relatability.
Not all of it sucks though. Despite not being a regular watcher of the show, it is particularly interesting how the characters in such modern-day series such as euphoria process trauma. They’re not depicted as perfect at all. Rather, all the characters do make questionable decisions throughout the course of the 2 seasons. Now, this does not inherently make them bad people, as it is an unhealthy product of the traumatic events they have faced in their life. Cassie and Lexie, despite being sisters and having a similar childhood, turned out completely different- the latter keeping to herself and engaging in fantasies and storylines of her imagination, and the former, the older sister, turning to male validation to find value from her existence- to feel like she’s worth something. This sentiment probably contributes to the over-sexualization of the character.
Despite character backstories, the hyper-sexualization of teens in shows feeds a deeper narrative of pedophilic ideas in Hollywood and on social media. Why does Twitter keep encouraging girls to open an OnlyFans account as soon as they turn 18? This is just one of the many harmful effects of the sexual liberation movement. Instead of healthy discussion and education, it has created the ground for older men to take advantage and prey on young girls who have barely reached legal age- making you wonder if the only thing stopping them in the past was the law and not any moral ground whatsoever. And considering the high rates of media consumption today, especially with the option of streaming available 24*7, it is only fair to conclude that the media has played, and always will play a role on how teenage girls are perceived- by the world and by their own selves.