Why Do “Good Girls” Need to “Go Bad"?

Selena Gomez in a bikini

In the entertainment industry, young female stars face a unique rite of passage: the performance for which they’ll bare it all. 

It is ironic that for a young starlet to make the transformation to a “serious” performer, she is expected to show some skin. In any field other than showbiz, the habit of stripping down has traditionally done the opposite of enhancing a woman’s professional standing.  The new movie Spring Breakers highlights this twisted expectation so well, as former Disney actresses and singers Selena Gomez, 20, and Vanessa Hudgens, 24, romp around in bikinis to show the world how they’re no longer part of the younger set. 

Before Spring Breakers, the two young women were darlings of Disney’s strictly G-rated audience.  Gomez rose to fame for playing a cute-as-a-button protagonist on Wizards of Waverly Place and Hudgens as the sweet-voiced female star of the High School Musical series.  Both also dated teen celebrities—Gomez with singing superstar Justin Bieber, Hudgens with co-star Zac Efron.  These highly publicized relationships reinforced their grounded reputations and boosted their public popularity. 

Spring Breakers is their first adult project. The title says it all about the storyline: a group of college-aged girls go on a wild spring break trip replete with alcohol, sex, and a drug-dealing gangster named Alien played by the indefatigable James Franco.

Gomez and Hudgens’ starring roles in the film helped create a lot of hype around the film. In several scenes, the bikini-clad formerly clean-cut teen stars sing along to Britney Spears’s early works—the songs that came before her foray into motherhood and breakdowns.  Freudian slip or intended message?  Either way,t he prominent inclusion of Spears’s pre-meltdown songs is a subtle nod to the film’s stars heading down a similar path. Like Gomez and Hudgens, Spears started off as a Disney child star and became the pop music sensation that I admittedly adored as a little girl. To break away from that image of teen star cuteness, Spears filled her public wardrobe with sexy outfits and her music videos with scandalous dance moves.

Celebrity culture is full of this “good girl gone bad” trope. Spears, Gomez, and Hudgens are just three in a long line of women who make the transition from angel by jumping straight to seductress. Just look at  7th Heaven’s Jessica Biel, who was able to break free from her contract with the  Christian-themed family show by posing topless. In order to be considered seriously for more mature projects, the only available option for young women at this point is to flaunt their boobs first and talent later. 

Along with the male domination of the entertainment industry and the fact that sex sells, another significant issue behind the “good girls gone bad” trajectory is the dearth of roles available for young actresses to display their chops. Actresses like Jennifer Lawrence have to be both picky and lucky to land roles like she has, as complex neither-good-nor-bad characters in the Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook. Lawrence is a unicorn in the world of celebrity actresses: Someone who’s been able to grow up into a serious actress without having to take off her clothes.

Roles like the ones Lawrence seeks out aren’t widely available to young women. Perusing the top films of last year reveals few scripts that feature intelligent, empowered young women who use smarts and strength rather than sex. 

Instead of believing that Gomez and Hudgens “found the right movie” in which to enact their good-girl-gone-bad rite of passage, perhaps we should be looking at the industry’s structural elements to question why such a movie was their apparently best choice. 


Photo of Selena Gomez on the set of Spring Breakers via MTV.

by Yoonj Kim
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11 Comments Have Been Posted

Agreed. The typical

Agreed. The typical blockbuster these days includes a male protagonist, who has to complete a series of super macho tasks to save or acquire something, and his typical accessories are cool weapons, a villain, and a sexy woman who either thwarts his plans or helps him on his way to greatness. But whether the female "lead" is good or evil, there will almost assuredly be a semi- or fully nude scene, and she will use her sexuality to achieve her ends. If these young stars want to be included in the year's top blockbusters, generally their only option is to become the sexy sidekick.

And if the lead in a blockbuster actually is a woman, such as in "Spring Breakers," that sense of "women are only entertaining in movies if they're half-naked or selling their sexuality" is still omnipresent. And her story will inevitably be a "woman" story (or more aptly, what Hollywood defines as 'woman') rather than simply, a "human" story.

I totally agree with what

I totally agree with what you're saying about the 'good girl gone bad' stereotype, but don't you think Spring Breakers was hyper aware of that? I think Korine was definitely very aware of what he was doing by choosing Gomez and Hudgens to dance around in bikinis and sing Brittany Spears songs. I thought it was brilliant, but maybe a little evil. Some of the interviews I watched about the film suggested that Korine kind of took advantage of their innocence and scared the bejebus out of them with some of the heavier scenes. So maybe while Korine knew what he was doing, Gomez and Hudgens did not. Flaunting the 'good girl gone bad' stereotype was also perfectly in synch with his critique of spring break culture, where so many good girls go bad.

Exactly my point. He was

Exactly my point. He was careful in selecting the actresses who'd play the four central characters, picking from Hollywood's "good girl" crowd (i.e. Emma Roberts). However I'm not talking about Korine's skills as a director/artist, but the existence of such movies in general that serve as the only outlet for young female stars to move on to G+ rated pursuits. Whether he meant the movie to be a social commentary, a late night flick, or something else, he did hit many elements.

This story about mr. Korine

This story about mr. Korine reminds me of the anctodal shenanigans of Alfred Hitchcock. A tyrant to his leading ladies;we are given to admiring the man in the guise of genius director, who will do anything to get his film looking just so. i get it; i just don't like it. i wonder if actresses who don't know WHY they are doing WHAt they are doing WHEN they are acting...are really acting? They are now just presented by mr. Korine as puppets he has directed to make a commentary on the current situation in regards to spring break culture, not young actresses who have any real talent. hmmm. so he is either collaborating with bright budding new talent or he is exploiting them because they are naive and unaware of what his vision was. we have to decide what narrative we will choose to live with.

To me it boils down to the

To me it boils down to the virgin fantasy. All that Disney reputation building they do makes their bad girl move more erotic. Quite sad, really. Once they fall, they're treated as yesterday's garbage (a la Britney). The first fall from grace is the only thing anyone seems to be attracted to. @bberymusic

I kind of agree with this. I

I kind of agree with this. I think the article reads a little misleadingly - as though these 'bad girl' roles are a negitive thing - when in reality the problem is with the abundance of virginal/ pure stereotype roles for younger female actors. Female actors should have the same varied and rounded roles available to them as their male counterparts do.

I Agree with you!

I think assuming that Hudgens and Gomez are/were not aware of what the film was portraying them as does the girls a disservice. By assuming that they were 'taken advantage of' we're also assuming that they are totally incapable of analyzing the content and purpose of the film. I'm sure we didn't assume that of James Franco. I think the larger problem with the good girl gone bad thing is that we so readily typecast girls as either or. Like if you get naked, have sex, or step outside the boundaries of what people expect of you, your bad. As if we all fit easily into these perfect little categories. It's frustrating that we're still talking about women as either the dirty slut or the sweet virginal example that we'd like our daughters to look up to.

Don't get me wrong, I'm aware that there is a lot of pressure to take off your clothes in Hollywood, but I think there's also a lot of pressure to take 'good girl roles' like Jennifer Lawrence has. What are we going to say about her if she decides that she decides to take off her clothes one day? "Oh, she's falling into that good girl gone bad trap?" We talk about these women like they are all the same. We anticipate the day they falter.

I think it is terrible that in order to get serious roles many young women have to choose projects where their sexuality is exploited but I also think it's terrible that every woman who decides to take on a sexual role is automatically being exploited. Moreover, I think the virginal, squeaky clean grooming that companies like Disney participate in is the first and maybe even the most vital ingredient in a marketing machine that sees women as creatures with a temporary value that is tied to the amount of sex they've had or the amount of drugs they've done.

I am struck by how racialized

I am struck by how racialized the idea of "good girls" is as part of the Hollywood culture as well. The term only applies to white little girls who are idealized as pure, innocent, in need of protection from the vile things of the world.

For example, Quvenzhane never received an opportunity to exist within the role of the "good girl" because being a black little girl--the Academy Award Clusterf*ck made sure to reaffirm Western cultural norms--she is painted as automatically a "bad girl" via birth into the wrong racial category.

The narrative of falling from a state of goodness is one that belongs solely to Whiteness.

I agree with you to a certain

I agree with you to a certain extent, but don't forget that Gomez is Hispanic (her dad is of Mexican descent) and Hudgens is not entirely white (her mom is from the Philippines and her dad is part Native American). Maybe a part of the reason why the falling from goodness narrative seems to belong only to white celebrities is because there aren't many non-white stars -- at least those who were famous from childhood -- to compare them to.

Of course

Of course someone would find this racist omg only the white girls are popular and have to strip down to play in a movie that's not fare for the black girls we should make them strip down to get a good movie roll also or else movie nudity is racist

This reminds me of something

On the Dakota Fanning imdb board,around the time she turned 18 every other topic seemed to be about whether she will go nude for a role soon or not. I think like others have alluded too, people still think of actresses solely as "good" or "bad" girls. The contract Biel had to go nude to get out of seems to be a good example of companies still adhering to that strict dynamic, which doesn't leave much room for actresses

Also, peoples uncomfortably with male nudity vs female nudity i think has something to do with this. For example, in the Sessions even though Hunt went nude, the camera specifically avoided showing Hawkes genital area, which to me cheapened the whole body acceptance theme the film had going. And i think a lot of the people in the film industry act the same way, in that they will do whatever they can to avoid having a actor go full frontal. Sometimes actors have to bare their backsides, but even then i don't think that happens with actors nearly as much as it does with actresses.

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