Selena Gomez made headlines Tuesday when a preview of her racy photo shoot for V Magazine went viral. To celebrate the forthcoming March issue, the young pop diva took to Instagram to post a snapshot of herself looking doe-eyed and topless with a caption that read:
While she looks undeniably fabulous with her throwing a sultry gaze over her right shoulder and arms concealing her bare chest, the photos have created an uproar. Aside from the shoot’s provocative nature, fans are ablaze over the fact that Gomez was styled to resemble a young girl. The circulating images show the 22-year-old dressed in juvenile attire, with red hoop earrings and a child-like polka dot hair bow sweetly embedded in her soft curls, an accessory that calls to mind that of Minnie Mouse's and, thus, Gomez's Disney connection.
The instant reaction, both in traditional media and social media, decried Gomez's latest photo spread as her channeling a vision of Lolita, the adolescent subject of the classic Nabokov novel. Many have taken to Twitter to report that the now adult pop princess couldn’t look more than 13 years old in the magazine’s racy images.
Selena Gomez is a grown woman but on the cover of V, she looks like a 13 year old Lolita-type with that hair clip and doe-eyed look #creepy— Maureen (@itzMomos) February 17, 2015
It kinda weirds me out that Selena Gomez posed for v-mag & her makeup makes her look like a child pageant contestant.. All I see is 12yr old— tay armstrong (@tayaudrianna) February 17, 2015
Body image expert Leslie Goldman thinks this was done intentionally.
"It was purposefully provocative," she tells Yahoo Celebrity. "And that's what sells magazines. That's what gets people talking about publications like that. It's just like the Kim Kardashian naked butt cover."
While Gomez is of legal age to be shedding her clothing for the camera, the bigger issue here, according to Goldman, is the message that these photos send out to society.
"Young girls right now are bombarded with hyper-sexualized images of women. From a very young age, they are growing up thinking, 'Oh, this is what I am supposed to look like. This is what I'm supposed to do for guys to like me.' But they don't understand that Gomez is 22 and of age," she explains. "These girls look at her and they want to be just like her. They want to be as beautiful as she is."
Goldman adds that given the ongoing issue of pedophilia and sexual abuse, scantly clad photos of teen icons like Gomez are not putting anything positive out into the universe.
"The shoot got people talking and buzzing, so they accomplished their goal. But meanwhile we've got middle school girls who are sexting pictures of themselves to people in their class and something like this — I'm guessing — is motivating them even more to do that kind of thing." Experts note that a dangerous precedent is being set by portraying young girls as sexually attractive. "It threatens the safety of young women. And when it comes to what men find attractive and what they think is okay to find attractive, it definitely blurs the lines," adds Goldman.
But while Selena is free to make her own decisions, many argue that celebs with such a youthful following do have a certain responsibility to their younger fans. "There are so many girls that do look up to her for how to act. She can't be a saint all the time but there's definitely a middle ground," says Goldman.
The upcoming V cover is not the first time that Gomez has stepped outside of her squeaky-clean Disney past. In 2013, she posed for Flaunt Magazine and also shocked us with her portrayal of the bikini-clad party girl in Harmony Korine’s film Spring Breakers. But Gomez’s antics fall right in line with the extreme approach that many wholesome child stars are starting to take to quickly shed their bubble gum image.
"It's nothing new," says Goldman, while referencing examples like Britney Spears's Lolita-like Rolling Stone cover and Miley Cyrus's shock pop transition. "She's not the only person doing this. We don't need to necessarily vilify Selena Gomez. We need to just learn from these types of situations."
Goldman, like many, agrees that the discussion behind the photo controversy should be tailored specifically to the fact that Gomez looks so childlike in the images.
"There might not have been such a big massive outcry if she wasn't strategically styled to look like an adolescent. I'm sure people would have still raised their eyebrows like with Miley Cyrus at the beginning of her transformation, when she posed topless and there was a big outcry; but she wasn't specifically styled to look like a 12-year-old, she was just topless," notes Goldman, who urges the public to see the bigger picture behind this controversy. "We don’t need to bash Selena here. We should instead be using this as a means of talking about why is it that we live in a culture where we think it's OK to make a 13-year-old look sexual."