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What is Wrong with Cleavage? Boobiesgate on Sesame Street

Is nothing sacred? That is the rhetorical question that some parents, no doubt, have been asking over the past few days as the clean streets of Sesame Street were tarnished with the image of female breasts (or at least cleavage alluding to these breasts). Let me explain.

Sesame Street, the internationally beloved children’s programming, routinely books celebrity guests (like Ziggy Marley and Ricky Gervais) to illustrate key educational concepts and lessons for their audience. This could be anything from a lesson in phonics to a playful musical romp. The appeal (for both children and their parents) is that you have a familiar face (the celebrity) bringing some form of credibility to the show and providing a much-needed break from the puppet people (Elmo, Grover, etc). Sometimes these segments come in the form of parody, and sometimes they are just simple object lessons.

The bubblegum pop singer Katy Perry recently filmed a takeoff of her song “Hot ‘N Cold” for Sesame Street, with Elmo, and the dress she wore was considered too cleavagey for PBS, or at least for the handful of reactionary parents that objected to the clip when it was broadcast on Youtube, days ahead of its actual sesame street broadcast date. In the clip, Perry has dressed up (as in to “play dress up”) and tries to convince Elmo to join her in “play.” The entire feel of the musical clip is whimsical, girly, and wholly innocent. The fact that Perry is attired in an outfit that, while reasonably innocent and fanciful, does reveal a bit of cleavage doesn’t at all change the feel and message of the clip (see above).

If say there was something particularly seductive or licentious about Perry’s manner (like a simulated lap dance, or the use of a stripper pole), than I would almost understand having some objection. But seemingly cleavage, no matter what context, is just too much for some people and seemingly too objectionable for their children to lay eyes on.

After much controversy, Sesame Street pulled the segment from its planned broadcast and issued the following statement:

“Sesame Street’ has always been written on two levels, for the child and adult. We use parodies and celebrity segments to interest adults in the show because we know that a child learns best when co-viewing with a parent or caregiver…In light of the feedback we’ve received on the Katy Perry music video, which was released on YouTube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of ‘Sesame Street,’ which is aimed at preschoolers.”

While I am neither a Katy Perry fan, nor am I a frequent Sesame Street viewer (anymore), I find this sort of moralizing and intransigence the more objectionable than any amount of cleavage. With the bulk of children’s programming (not on Sesame Street) consisting of serial violence and/or crass and cynical marketing, I see this sort of playfulness (cleavage enhanced or not) to be utterly benign.

But this digs at a deeper, darker question about parental fears. What is it about the human body (in particular, the female anatomy) that scares and repulses parents so? Is it the implied sexuality of someone like Perry, or is it our deeply repressed desires or fears that we project upon our children the problem?

Needless to say, this controversy has probably done nothing to hurt either Sesame Street not Katy Perry. For them both, this is free viral publicity that I am knowingly contributing to. But are we still such a puritanical culture that sexuality, or not even sexuality…anatomy, is reinforced as something entirely shameful and verboten for our children to see?

Please share your feelings on this matter, and in the meantime, please enjoy the following Sesame Street parody of the highly eroticized vampire show True Blood (somehow this made it past the moral majority):

Read more: Children, Family, Love, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

599 comments

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6:49PM PST on Feb 12, 2014

there must be more important things in the world to be dealing with......can't imagine any regular Sesame Street kids were looking at her busom.....

4:12AM PST on Nov 5, 2013

Thanks for the article.

2:27PM PST on Nov 15, 2012

Unbelievable, thank you.

2:26PM PST on Nov 15, 2012

Unbelievable, thank you.

5:34AM PDT on Jun 19, 2012

I can see why seeing this dress would cause a re-think, especially for parents concerned about children growing up in a world where they are over sexualized. Kids should be kids (like Perry is doing in the vid) The obsession with her breasts is just another aspect of an adult obsession (like harassing breastfeeding Moms). In the cute clip, she is a famous star playing dress-ups in a sparkly dress & goofy headgear.

6:25AM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

Another weapon in the war against women.

2:49PM PST on Feb 3, 2012

Wasn't necessary. Why do it?

4:59AM PDT on Sep 29, 2011

One or two of the Disney princesses shows cleavage.....!

I think Katy's dress in the video is innocent, breasts aren't always sexual and dirty, that isn't what they were made for, every woman has breasts... I know there is a sexual-corruption conspiracy going on in media but a lot of dresses are cut that way to look 'feminine', like the Disney princess, not sure which she is...

11:26PM PDT on Aug 23, 2011

All I really have to say is that this isn't the first time children would be seeing breasts. I'm sure a child has seen cleavage from ordinary people in his/her everyday life, and even from a mother! It's no big deal.

9:33AM PST on Feb 22, 2011

Come on now...We're talking about a children's show which is supposed to be innocent for younger audiences. There has to be a certain degree of respect and responsibility that goes with entertaining younger viewers on the part of the media and the entertainer. Children are growing up much too fast these days as it is now. My friend at work told me just the other day that her five-year-old wakes up in the middle of the night, turns on the cable channels and watches nudity shows. Child molestation is on the rise as well as babies having babies. Yes, indeed it's a big deal. Adults/Parents are supposed to preserve and protect a childs' innocence; manish little boys, exposed to nudity at a very early age, possibly growing up to treat women as pleasurable sex objects. Reverse that scenario; look at all the women these days taking advantage of underaged boys. You're right...nothing's wrong with cleavage when you're a mature adult exposed to it. Just leave all the trash television programming to the adults. Thank you.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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