Is this wrong? Child porn? Bad parenting? What the heck is it when something with sexual connotations is used by children in a non-sexual way?
A recent article in Salon notes that pole-dancing, which has long been relegated to strip clubs and adult entertainment, is becoming popular as an art form and exercise routine, though always with its sexual connotations lurking in the shadows, or sometimes not in the shadows at all. When pole-dancing is marketed to housewives as a weight loss-tone up method, the fact that it may arouse Dad is usually somewhere in the pitch as well. The sexual aspect makes it appealing—naughty, exotic, exciting, daring—as exercise, which is why poles are turning up in fitness clubs with increasing regularity. A pole fitness teacher in Miami told Mary Elizabeth Williams, the Salon article’s author, that while the pole provided a great way to move and get fit, “the ‘Girls, Girls Girls,’ ‘sex up your man,’ ‘for strippers only’ mentality is extremely difficulty to move away from.”
So does this mean pole-dancing, as exercise, is inappropriate for, say, a six-year old girl? And if that six-year-old girl continues to learn and perfect her pole-dancing technique over the years, does her routine suddenly become inappropriate when she hits puberty? Or, perhaps, are her parents simply training her to be an exotic dancer, whether or not that is their objective?
Williams seems to conclude that concerns about the ethics of young pole-dancers is an example of the “ick factor,” something strange that seems wrong just because it is shocking and hard to process, but that actually doesn’t involve wrong-doing at all. She writes:
“Any number of physical activities can be as chaste or as intimate or as raunchy as the individual performing them makes them. They can be done with a bored shake of the hips or true virtuosity and pride. They can be as uncontroversial as a gymnastic child swinging on a piece of metal, as empowering as a healthy workout in a studio, or something done for money in a club. It’s not the pole, it’s the person working it. Even if it’s your girl.”
I’m not certain that addresses the issue. A child could be introduced into nude posing for legitimate artists at a young age, but how that activity would affect the child’s psychological development and later vulnerability to exploitation for sexual purposes is open to debate and speculation. Would Williams argue that a father who habitually dressed a young boy in a leather S and M suit, complete with the face mask and zipper across the mouth, for Halloween trick or treating would be acting responsibly, because his child just thinks it’s a cool outfit?
Eventually, a child who is introduced to pole-dancing early in life will learn of its adult associations, and will have to reconcile them with his or her conduct and self-image. I have no idea if a thirteen-year-old girl who had been training on a pole for eight years would feel shame when she learned about strip club pole-dancing, shrug it off as irrelevant, or decide that exotic dancing was her destiny. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to find out. By the time parents discover that training their little girl to pole-dance made her aspire to be the next Blaze Starr, Sally Rand, or Angel McEasy, it’s a little late.
There are so many effective, challenging, healthy sports and exercises for kids that don’t smack of child porn or risk putting a child on the road to life in a G-string. It is irresponsible, with so many better options, for any parent to put an innocent child on a pole.
The verdict on whether pole-dancing for children is unethical or icky is that it is both.