Because I work with thousands of teenage girls every year and follow many online, over the past month I have been privy to some revealing outpourings of devotion for One Direction, the squeaky clean British-Irish boy band which has captured the hearts of so many in girl world. First came the proclamations of devotion and tears of joy over the announcement the lads were coming to Australia: “Don’t ask me to stop loving One Direction as that would be like stopping breathing,” said one. “I. AM. CRYING.” wrote another. Then came the tears of despair as so many missed out on tickets; their concerts were sold out in minutes leaving many with shattered dreams. “We must be strong and support each other. Heart broken. L” So many virtual, and real, sad faces in cyber world.
The One Direction obsession touched me in a very personal way too. My usually sensible 12-year-old daughter tried to explain to me at one point that I should have stayed home to repeatedly to call a radio station ticket competition for her. I say “tried to explain” because she actually burst into tears and could only whimper, “I just love them.” (Her usually unsympathetic little brother was so shocked, he declared he’d miss school to try to win tickets.)
Fortunately for all of us, she was one of the lucky few who did secure her “golden ticket”. A friend’s mother approached the purchasing of tickets with admirable determination. She had a crack force of friends enlisted to try to get through to ticket sales on various phone lines, whilst simultaneously hitting sales up on-line. Between them all, four tickets were secured and four happy little girls joined the ranks of the chosen ones. Insert VERY excited faces.
Whilst the on-line chronicling of love and devotion to boy bands may be new phenomena, teen crushes certainly are not. I fell prey to the allure of the Construction Worker from the Village People, Ace Frehley from Kiss and David Bowie (it seems I unwittingly lusted after sexually ambiguous men in costumes).
And as tempting as it is to dismiss these outpourings of emotion, we do so at our own peril. Just ask Channel Seven, which almost had a riot on its hands when it underestimated the appeal of Justin Bieber and had to cancel his free concert. Grant Denyer said at the time, ”We just couldn’t have foreseen this scale and Sunrise hired the best security you could imagine, we hired the professionals who look after U2, Coldplay, Pink, the big acts, and even they weren’t equipped and just couldn’t handle the Bieber fever.”
The fever actually has its origins in a physical reality. The frontal lobes of teenagers are not yet fully developed. In other words, teenager’s brains are all tuned up for emotions, fighting, running away and romance.
From the Beatles to Bieber and ”1D”, it seems the more squeaky clean-cut and sexually harmless the object of desire, the more heightened the passions – precisely because the risk of the object of the affection actually posing any sexual threat is minimal. For once, teen girls feel sexually in control. They call the shots. And there is no risk of rejection.
One Direction are particularly clever at tapping into this psyche. Their big hit was What Makes You Beautiful. The lyrics include, “You’re insecure, don’t know what for. You’re turning heads when you walk through the door. Don’t need make-up to cover up. Being the way that you are is enough.”
These words sing to a generation of girls exhausted by body image angst fuelled by a plethora of air brushed images of impossible perfection. They sing too to girls tired of being dished up a diet of singers who literally slap women up (I’m talking to you, Chris Brown) and others who revel in calling them ”bitches”.
Rather than belittle, we should empathise with how very real and raw these new emotions are, just like the mother of one of my teen girl friends. “Mums so cute,” the girl said online, ”when 1D came on [TV] she said, Stop screaming & listen to your boys! LOL.”
This mum is far more likely to have her daughter open up about other confusing elements of her tumultuous teen life and include her in her emerging romantic world. The mothers who went along with their daughters to pine after Edward and Jacob, the supernatural lust objects of the Twilight franchise, realised this too.
And let’s not forget crushes have always been a vital way of bonding. Beatlemania, the Kiss Army, One Directioners, Twihards: crushes are about sharing the love. Parents probably won’t be welcome on the frontline by their daughter’s side at the concerts (no one wants their parents to see them in a state of unbridled lust surely?) but can play a vital role as part of the support crew.
As one tweeter said: “Dear parents, I’m obsessed with One Direction & not drugs and alcohol. In other words, you should be thankful for them.”
Dannielle Miller is co-founder and CEO of Enlighten Education, Australia’s largest provider of in-school workshops for teen girls on body image, self-esteem and empowerment. She is also author of the parenting book, “The Butterfly Effect“ and a book written for teen girls on finding their real girl-power, “The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo”, both by Random House March. She regularly blogs here.
This article is based on a piece originally published by The Sydney Morning Herald, here.
Who was your crush when you were a teenager?