Increasingly, young social media influencers who manage their own brands are growing up in the public eye and receiving judgment from millions on how they choose to present themselves. Adolescent girls face especially strong scrutiny as they mature into young women and are subjected to sexual objectification online. Seventeen year old internet star Jojo Siwa stands out from other influencers in her age group because she chooses to keep a kid-friendly image—oddly enough, she’s taken more criticism for this choice than many girls her age and younger in the social media sphere who dress provocatively, use vulgar language, and present themselves as caricatures of adult women. This phenomenon prompts a long overdue discussion on the ways young girls are socially conditioned to mature too quickly, lest they receive an onslaught of mockery or hate from peers and broader audiences.
Jojo Siwa got her start as a child star on TLC’s Dance Moms in 2014 and began working with Nickelodeon in 2017. Her branding has remained closely tied to her physical appearance as her target fanbase is made up of young girls from ages six to twelve. She’s well known for her high ponytails, gigantic hair bows, bright glittery wardrobe, and jarringly upbeat attitude.
Siwa, now approaching young adulthood, recently tried on a more mature look by getting her makeup and hair professionally done. Social media reacted with utter shock from audiences who were accustomed to seeing this teen appeal to the typical preteen by wearing bright colors, sequins, rhinestones, and little to no makeup. Some believe Siwa has this image to keep herself marketable, while others say she presents herself as immature because her parents infantilize her. The one explanation I have yet to see is that Jojo dresses in bright colors, wears bows, and acts cheerful because she personally enjoys these things. You know, because she’s a kid. It shouldn’t be so difficult to grasp that a girl in her late teens enjoys things that are innocently fun and lighthearted. But to the masses, it is unthinkable. Why?
Contrast Jojo with another teenaged social media influencer, Danielle Cohn. This supposed sixteen year old’s public image has been tarnished by harsh criticism against her mother for allegedly lying about Danielle’s age (that she is actually two years younger than she claims to be), allowing the girl to post sexually suggestive YouTube videos and Instagram photos, and generally using her child for the income she provides as an internet star. Just one instance of Danielle being sexualized on her YouTube channel was a video she posted in October 2018 titled “Protective Boyfriend Reacts To Halloween Costumes!” The thumbnail of the now deleted video included the following text next to Danielle posing for her then boyfriend: “Boyfriend Reacts 2 Sexy Adult Costumes.” At this time she claimed to be only fourteen years old.
In July of this year, Danielle, purporting to be only sixteen years old, posted a video titled “The Truth About My Abortion” telling the story of her teen pregnancy and subsequent abortion that took place in February 2020, when she supposedly was fifteen. She explained that the father of her child, rumored to be one of her ex boyfriends who is currently eighteen years of age, provided her with absolutely no support. In secret and under immense pressure, she chose to abort her baby. Not only is Danielle’s story tragic and heartbreaking, it also reveals a darker side to this issue: young girls are being conditioned to masquerade as adult women, and the unforeseen consequence is that they end up facing obstacles only adults are equipped to handle.
On the surface, Jojo Siwa and Danielle Cohn are complete opposites. But if you dig deeper, they are both symptoms of the same problem: our children bear the most severe consequences of a society devoid of faith-based moral standards. Unless these standards are first instilled and enforced in the home, they will undoubtedly fall to the wayside when young people project influence on social media.