“Don’t have sex as a teenager, but if you do, you might end up a happy celebrity with this beautiful baby.” – Nancy Gibbs, Time Magazine
The 2011 lineup for Dancing with the Stars was announced this Monday evening and the rumours circulating that Bristol Palin, daughter of ex-Vice Presidential candidate, ex-Mayor of Alaska, current reality show star-in-the-making Sarah Palin, would be joining as a contestant were confirmed.
Now, apart from the somewhat tired (but yet, somehow, still funny) observation that the show has yet to include a full lineup of actual stars (if any), Bristol’s appearance presents unique fodder for the gossip blogs.
Since she conceived, her pregnancy has been used politically (to primarily conservative ends, obviously). Beginning with her appearance at the Republican National Convention and including paid appearances (running between $15,000 and $30,000 each!), Bristol has certainly taken a bad situation and made it work. One could argue that she had no choice during the period of time while her mother was still prominent on the political scene, but even now that Mommy Palin has faded off into the sunset of TLC celebrity, Bristol certainly shows no signs of slowing down.
Abstinence is the watchword with Ms. Palin: “Regardless of what I did personally, abstinence is the only . . . 100% foolproof way you can prevent pregnancy.” Bristol acted with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy as well as stood as the Abstinence Ambassador for the Candies Foundation before striking out as an independent speaker (signed currently with the Single Source Speakers agency). Even a brief guest spot on The Secret Life of The American Teenager, a VERY questionable vehicle for the promotion of sage and accurate sexual education, served (or at least intended to serve) Bristol’s stated goal of helping teens to grasp the realities of teen sexuality — including its possible consequences.
However, a role on Dancing with the Stars is hardly a similar platform. As Bonnie Fuller so sharply notes in her aptly-titled article, “Bristol Palin’s People Magazine Cover is a Total Promotion for Teen Pregnancy!,” “Visuals are a powerful force. And more than words, they produce visceral reactions!” Ms. Fuller sees this trend in Bristol’s earlier appearances (the People in question was the May, 2009 issue). As Ms. Fuller notes, while Bristol may say that “girls need to imagine and picture their life with a screaming newborn baby,” her glamourous pictures in People, and now her appearance on the over-the-top party that is Dancing with the Stars, suggests that she has actually failed to experience the pitfalls of teenage motherhood or voluntarily chooses to sanitize the image of what she claims to be trying to give young girls a “reality check” about.
Now, I am not saying that Ms. Palin must be doomed to a life of public servitude for her “mistake” and forbidden from engaging in the pastimes of a normal celebrity or, for that matter, a normal young woman. What I am saying is that Bristol is riding a very fine line here. Although it can be argued that she was forced into her political advocacy role by her mother’s campaign team, no one has shackled her there.
She has, by her own admission, embarked on a public campaign to expose the realities of teenage pregnancy. However these are the realities:
“Only 4 in 10 teenage mothers finish high school; less than 2% of girls who have babies under 18 will finish college by the time they are 30; just waiting until 20 or 21 increases the odds fourfold. Two thirds of families of young unwed mothers are poor. When pregnant teens do marry, they are 50% more likely to get divorced than those who marry without being pregnant.” – Time Magazine, In Defense of Bristol Palin, Abstinence Spokeswoman
To flaunt her success on Dancing with the Stars as if it is the natural outgrowth of her situation is to diminish the plight of what I would have to call (though it sounds harsh) real teenage moms.
Bristol is quoted as saying “I’m just here to tell teens this is a really hard job. It’s not like an accessory on your hip. It’s hard work.” Yet, in response to criticism surrounding her appearance, she simply states – “‘I’m going to be able to spend more time with Tripp. I worked an 8 to 5 job in Alaska for the last year, and this isn’t an 8 to 5 job. This will give me more time with my son . . . ” as if time spent with her son is the only concern of onlookers (especially the young women she claims to aspire to be a role model for.
To not have released a statement – not just upon acceptance for Dancing with the Stars but EVER, to the best of my knowledge – that acknowledges the sheer luck that has brought her the opportunities she has (an extensive support system, moderate wealth, etc.) is an egregious oversight. This – along with her support for what I believe to be a ludricrous sexual education policy (which she herself said previously was “not realistic” – oopsy!) – shows me that Ms. Palin is not in touch with real teenage moms or real women.
Bonnie Fuller, Bristol Palin’s People Magazine Cover is a Total Promotion for Teen Pregnancy!, Huffington Post.
Soraya Roberts, ‘Dancing With The Stars’ Season 11: Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas Opt To Leave the Drama Behind, New York Daily News.
Nancy Gibbs, In Defense of Bristol Palin, Abstinence Spokeswoman, Time Magazine.
Bristol Palin in Wikipedia.