Teen Vogue Defends Sex Work Because Teenage Girls Can Handle Politics

Being scandalized about teens learning about sex work is out of touch with reality.


When's the last time you talked to a teen about prostitution?

On Sunday, Teen Vogue tweeted an article titled, "Why Sex Work Is Real Work," and many clutched their pearls at the audacity of talking to teens about sex work. In April, sex therapist Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng published an op-ed that argued for global decriminalization of sex work. Her central argument was that sex workers provide services that help people meet and understand their sexual needs in the same way that her sex counseling does. She wrote, "I do not believe it is right or just that people who exchange sexual services for money are criminalized and I am not for what I do. Is a medical degree really the right measure of who is deserving of dignity, autonomy, safety in the work place, fair trade and freedom of employment? No. This should not be so. Those who engage in sex work deserve those things, too."

Conservative talking heads quickly posted their disdain: "Why is a teen magazine promoting prostitution to their 13-year-old readers?" Others falsely equated sex work with sex trafficking, such as Lila Rose, the founder of the pro-life organization Live Action, who posted, "Thousands of little girls are sexually exploited and trafficked every day by manipulative rapists & pimps and @teenvogue is telling them it's like getting a job at a smoothie shop. Teen Vogue is a sex trafficker's best friend."

One commenter pointed out that Teen Vogue is a part of Condé Nast in order to falsely equate discussing sex work with pedophilia. The user wrote, "Owned by @condenast which is where the Ars Technica guy worked who was just arrested for soliciting kids for sex (and had been posting weird stuff on internal boards according to reports). Seems like Condé Nast needs to answer some questions."

Of course, Dr. Mofokeng's article defends nothing other than the safe exchange of sexual services between consenting adults. Her piece aims to demythologize the industry and destigmatize the perception that it's always devious or perverse. She writes, "So, what exactly is sex work? Not all sex workers engage in penetrative sex, though, undeniably, that is a big part of sex work. Sex-worker services between consenting adults may include companionship, intimacy, nonsexual role playing, dancing, escorting, and stripping. These roles are often pre-determined, and all parties should be comfortable with them."

While abusive situations entailing violence, forced prostitution, or sex trafficking do unfortunately occur, it's been widely noted by experts that decriminalizing sex work is the most pro-active step towards reducing rates of exploitation and abuse.

Furthermore, scandalized reactions to teens learning about sex work are out of touch with reality. About 40% of high school teens report to be sexually active, making conversations about sexual health and women's issues crucially relevant in teens' lives. Yet 30% of teens report that their parents have never broached the topic of sex with them. But silence on the issue, both at home and in he media, is only damaging, as years of data on sex education in the United States have shown that rates of STDs and pregnancy among teens aren't reduced by abstinence-only sex education. Overall, trying to obscure the fact that people are sexual beings not only leaves teenagers uninformed as they explore their own sexuality, but silence also fosters stigmas associated with sex, including sex work.

Amy Lang, a sex education expert, says, "Sexuality is something that most people try to pretend is not an inherent part of being human." She surmises, "As a culture and even as individuals, we don't want to embrace the fact that we're sexual creatures." As a result, teenagers are left adrift when they begin expressing their own sexuality. "They come into their sexual relationships thinking they already know how to do it. What's missing is that they don't have a fundamental understanding of sexuality—the social, cultural, emotional, inherent aspect of being human," Lang adds.

As a publication targeted at teen girls, Teen Vogue has evolved in their mission from giving fashion and beauty tips to speaking to its target demographic more realistically about what it is to discover one's identity. The publication even describes itself on Twitter as "the young person's guide to conquering (and saving) the world." In 2017, former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth described a "watershed movement" after Trump's election. The publication became more political, because the fact is that teenage girls are political, and they deserve to be informed about politics and invited into political spaces. "We have to give her [the reader] more," states digital director Phillip Picardi. "I thought it was really important to talk about reproductive rights, gender. To dig into politics and the news cycle. Basically, by omission, we were kind of assuming that she's not interested."

A healthy portion of Twitter uses agree, writing, "People have issues with Teen Vogue writing about this topic? Wait until they find out that Most teens have the internet." Others highlighted the educational articles about queer sexual health the publication has posted during Pride Month: "Congratulations, Teen Vogue is doing a better job at teaching sex ed than your schools."

Ultimately, keeping teens uninformed about sex only makes them vulnerable to high risk sexual behaviors. In the same way, criminalizing sex work between consenting adults only raises the risk of exploitation and abuse. Teen Vogue just pointed out that, in 2019, teenage girls can be interested in both fashion trends and political issues that will affect their future.

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Tyra Banks Channels Willy Wonka in "Modelland" Theme Park

The Santa Monica attraction is promised to boost people's confidence, revolutionize beauty standards, erase Banks' movie Life Size, and fix Lindsay Lohan's career.

Tyra Banks is finally realizing her dream of becoming the Willy Wonka of unrealistic body standards by opening a "supermodel-themed amusement park."

Open later this year in an open-air shopping center in Santa Monica, Modelland (which is also the title of her 2010 young adult novel based on, what else, herself), will feature interactive entertainment, retail shops, and dining options. Banks told Variety, "It's my calling to bring modeling to the masses." But what could that mean when modeling is already foisted onto the public in Clockwork Orange-style blitzes of ads, photoshop, and constant feelings of inadequacy?

Among the few details available, the ticketed attraction will offer guests costumes created by Hollywood designers and stylists. The park won't feature fashion shows, as that's "low hanging fruit," according to Banks. She's aiming to "redefine what a model is. It's all about inclusiveness." So the park will be a place "where everyone can be a model" and "all beauty is celebrated"—clearly, with the help of touch-ups and better-than-yours fashion that Modelland can provide.

Banks told WWD, "I've always been insanely inspired by attractions like Disneyland and Universal Studios and have wanted to bring that spirit of adventure and storytelling to the world of modeling...Men, women, families, all generations can come and enter this model world for a day, have a fun shopping experience, and an eventful meal." Banks channeled her best Walt Disney-meets-Jim Jones energy in her Instagram announcement: "My dream for you will soon be a reality. #ModelLand. A place where everyone can be a model. A place where all beauty is celebrated. I can't wait for you to Step Into Your Light."

The model-turned-mogul told Variety, "When people leave Modelland, we want them to feel overjoyed and empowered." She added, "of course, there will be an elevated social media component that will allow for our global community to engage and get delightful tastes of Modelland. That is crucial. The extra special treat is at the attraction, in the flesh." It's unclear what Banks is planning for the park's "interactive entertainment," but her emphasis on "elevated social media" makes it sound like a multi-level shopping mall filled with Hollywood glam photo booths where you can film your own confessional video about being prettier than your roommate, America's Next Top Model-style.

Banks seems certain the Santa Monica location will only be the flagship of many similar attractions. Despite revealing few concrete details, she waxed poetic about its power to boost people's confidence, revolutionize beauty standards, erase Banks' movie Life Size, and fix Lindsay Lohan's career. "Modelland is not just a place to us; it's a movement," Banks said. "Yes, it's an attraction and a destination, but above all, it's the genesis for people with all types of different beauty to feel seen and validated. Modelland will empower them to embrace, celebrate and adorn their own unique beauty in ways they never thought possible."

But just as Willy Wonka tricks Charlie into winning the chocolate factory, Banks' overinflated sense of purpose is well-intentioned. She states, "I created Top Model to expand the definition of beauty based on my own pain of being told 'no' that I couldn't do something because I'm curvy or I'm black." While it's a nice intention to bring more inclusivity to modeling, an amusement park offering makeovers isn't going to disrupt an industry with over a hundred years of saying "no" to all but one percent of the population.

Stay tuned for when this 21,000-square-foot doll house will become available to the public.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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