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”Four best friends pile onto a couch in an attic playroom in a leafy suburb of Boston. And as everyone with a TV, computer, smartphone or newspaper knows, Miley Cyrus proved she is no longer a Disney Girl by strutting around the stage at the 2013 MTV VMAs in flesh-colored latex underwear, her tongue wagging, her hips gyrating, a huge foam finger provocatively thrust between her legs.
It is the fall of 2009, just a few hours after school has let out for Thanksgiving break. Over the past two decades, the rise of the Internet and social media initiated a dramatic shift in popular culture: Almost everything that could be sexualized has been sexualized, producing a new generation of girls racing toward womanhood before even finishing puberty. Census estimates that there are more than 20 million tweens in the country; just under half are girls, and they are the primary focus of this story.
“Boys look for hot.”The girls don’t think any of this is good news, but they also accept it as fact.“I think that, um, our generation of kids is more advanced than like, any other,” says Brianna.“I think it’s influenced from the media,” says Cat.“Did you hear what Adam Lambert did? He did a little” she pauses, lowering her voice “oral sex there.”“Do men measure their penises? Facebook and Twitter were still the province of teenagers and adults.” Brianna says, referring to the singer’s controversial performance at the recent American Music Awards. And yet it was clear even then that tween girls were totally plugged in to popular culture, trends and sex – an education their parents were constantly – and sometimes desperately – scrambling to monitor. She sits next to me and plays with a pair of magnets.“You know when I was saying like, our generation is earlier? You’ll know soon enough.” - yes, a toy horse and a board game - got sexy makeovers. I have, you see, entered Jedworld, a bizarre, off-the-wall place inhabited by the, bizarre, off-the-wall Irish twins with the big hair and terrible voices. They're like ducks, those two, always wandering off.' Edward, it turns out, went to the gents during the last meeting here and didn't come back for 20 minutes. Edward interrupts, 'We don't see girls in that "Oh-she's-hot way". 'They both nod, quiffs quivering – they are big fans of the US singer. They see it on the movies and think that's what's expected. Fans included Andy Murray, Peaches Geldof, Robbie Williams, and the thousands of screaming teenage fans camped outside The X Factor house, while Lily Allen and the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, were among their detractors. Then Edward would do it as well.' The boys had been gelling their hair for several years before auditioning for The X Factor. 'Most of the contestants start breaking down on stage when they're voted off,' says John. So, apart from the special powers, what is their ambition?Judge Simon Cowell threatened to leave the country should they win, and Dannii Minogue memorably reminded them, 'This is a singing competition.' The twins eventually lost out in a sing-off to Olly Murs after finishing in the bottom two of the public vote. So much so that I wonder if they've been tested for Attention Deficit Disorder. 'I think people need time to understand us.'They're not used to change. They say their mum and dad have always allowed them to be themselves, right down to the way they look and dress. We'd never gelled it so high before, but we didn't imagine it would make such an impact.' Neither, it turns out, had they thought about a name for the act.
Geographic, racial, religious, socioeconomic and familial factors vary, too, and play key roles in development.