The basic message of this post is going to be go see this show if you can! This was one of the stand out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe that I unfortunately never got to see. Luckily the show came to Bristol from the 20th-22nd of February so I jumped at the chance to go!
Bryony Kimmings, along with her 9 year old niece Taylor, have created a truly incredible performance of discovery that looks at how young ‘tweens’, particularly girls, are targeted by the media. Having spent time with her niece over the last year, Kimmings was able to look at the world through a nine year-old’s eyes, and see what a truly terrifying prospect it presents for their future. Uncontrolled access to a virtual world where violent and sexual images are more than easy to find for their curious minds; targeted marketing telling girls that they have to be famous, attractive and sexual to be valued in the world; what the curious and sponge-like mind of a 9 year old actually perceives – all this was explored within the space of an hour through song, dance, monologue, and stories.
What really got to me about this performance, and genuinely made me well up, was the sadness and desperation that you feel from Kimmings – she is trying to fight against a world that is not obviously going to change. Although I have always and will always advocate a feminism that allows a woman to dress and act however they want as long as it is their choice (and doesn’t hurt anyone, but that is a general life rule I feel), Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model really made me question this. The popstars that young girls look up to – Jessie J, Katy Perry, Beyoncé – almost exclusively wear tight, short, or revealing outfits and dance sexually. While this is their absolute right – women should be able to be as sexual as they choose – the way this comes across to a young and malleable mind is that the only way to be famous and successful (and as Kimmings relays in a monologue, the two are now equated more than ever in the minds of tweens) is to act in this way. The element of choice is taken out of the equation.
I happened to be looking at dance videos on YouTube the day after seeing the performance, and stumbled across a National Dance Competition in America. What I saw really quite disturbed me – girls as young as 8 in tiny hotpants and tight crop tops gyrating, grinding on the floor and displaying their crotches to the audience and judges in a supposed ‘Jazz’ routine. If they were above the age of 16 I probably wouldn’t have a problem with any of these dance moves. But they were young children who really did not need to be dancing like that in order to win a competition. While they were fantastic at the technical jazz dance moves, these added extras seemed totally inappropriate, and born of a culture where younger and younger children are taught to act in a disturbingly sexual way. Kimmings touches on this idea – when Taylor shows us the dance she learnt to a Katy Perry song, Kimmings does the actual routine behind her, showing just how sexualised Taylor’s idols are. Similarly, the show opens and closes with a dance to Jessie J’s song Domino. At the beginning Kimmings dances along with Taylor, happy to be joining in with something that her niece loves. But at the end, after this journey of discovery, Kimmings looks on upset, as she sees how Taylor is moving and singing along to a song that is far too grown up for her young mind.
This idea that children and tweens (a term I really dislike) need a role model that doesn’t exclusively talk about sex, fame and money lead to the creation of Catherine Bennett – a palaeontologist/ popstar who sings about the things she cares about: friendship, polar bear, the future, her neighbourhood. She is managed by 9 year old Taylor, who helps her come up with song and video ideas. She works in a museum when she isn’t singing, she likes to read and hang out with her dog Cookie, and she likes to be silly so that others know it is ok. Towards the end of Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, Catherine is introduced to the audience, and we all join in with the actions to Animal Kingdom – this is a really fun element to the show that really showcases how great the Catherine Bennett project is. As Catherine sings Taylor to sleep, Kimmings comes out of character and speaks to us frankly, all while Taylor has her ears covered by noise cancelling headphones (which are used in the more adult sections of the performance). She laments how Taylor is already growing out of Catherine Bennett, and will soon have to face the real world, away from the magical glen they have created together. Kimmings talks about what she might pack into Taylor’s backpack so she can face this journey: feminist awareness, creativity, faith in herself. While we would expect all parents to want to give their children these tools, Kimmings reminds us that it cannot just be up to those who have produced children to take on this responsibility. We must all play a part in creating a better, safer, more equal world to which the younger generations can bring a fresh outlook, and maybe a new hope for the future.
Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model is beautiful, powerful, funny, tear-inducing and possibly the most thought provoking performance piece I have seen in the last 5 years.
Go see it if you can.
If not please support the Catherine Bennett project, and get Taylor the 1 million YouTube hits she deserves!