Moral outrage in the schoolyard—I’m sober and I know it

The song is inane, the video even more so, but all the elementary school kids are still singing it: “I’m Sexy and I Know It.”


Huddled in the rain today waiting for their turn at parent-teacher meetings, parents, grandparents and kids alike were bored. Entertainment was wanting. But when Miss V’s fellow kindergartner Prescott* launched into the famous LMFAO song, nearby mom Chandra wasn’t happy. “That’s not appropriate,” she said.

Prescott’s grandmother Barb, who regularly encourages Prescott to regale her with such songs, challenged Chandra. “What’s wrong with it? It’s just a song.”

But with a dozen kids bouncing off each other, asking for juice boxes, and generally interrupting, a debate never got off the ground. From the musty and crumb-stained confines of Miss V’s backpack, I listened, but whatever Chandra felt was inappropriate about a five-year-old singing “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” she didn’t explain.

Now, I was jonesing for alcohol, people. It was our first day out after a four-day plague. The whole family was fragile and my mother hadn’t had a conversation with anyone over six and/or not barfing in at least that long. Whatever jones I had for a glass of wine, she had it twice as bad for a good argument. But she emerged from her parent-teacher meeting moments too late to reignite the controversy and could only weigh in with: “So what if the song has the word ‘sexy’ in it? It’s just a word. My kids sing it all the time.”

Yes they do, although more often they sing “Party Rock Anthem,” usually at the top of their lungs in the car, making Dad play the song eight or nine times in a row. When our parents get fed up with that song, they will settle for “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” albeit as a distant second.

“This band that sings it, LMFAO,” said Chandra. “Do you know what that stands for?” She mouthed the words: “Laughing My Fucking Ass Off.” The offensive words she didn’t say aloud.

In over a year of singing and dancing to LMFAO, neither P nor V has ever asked what the letters stand for. And even if on one of their car rides they asked one day, “Daddy, is LMFAO an acronym?”…So what?

When they first started singing along to “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” the kids weren’t even correctly saying the word “sexy.” They didn’t know it, so they were approximating the sounds, ending up with nonsense syllables like “sutsy” and “supsy.” One day Mum reflexively corrected them to “sexy.” She couldn’t help it.

It’s not like the kids could have avoided hearing the song. LMFAO radio mixes are ubiquitous on radio and satellite; you hear them in restaurants and businesses, streaming out the windows of cars on the highway—and every time we hear them P and V rock out because the songs make them happy. Like every innocent kid who ever danced on American Bandstand, they like the beat.

They’re not unique in their appreciation of LMFAO—but apparently they’re lucky their enthusiasm hasn’t come under the magnifying glass. In May an Aurora, Colorado first-grader got a three-day suspension from school for singing “I’m Sexy and I Know It” to a fellow student—i.e., sexually harassing her.

Is it just me or is there a bit of a disconnect here? Children aren’t sexy, nor do they—under normal circumstances (and obviously it’s important to realize when we’re outside of normal circumstances)—have exposure to adult sexual situations. They don’t really know what “sexy” means. The word is as meaningless to them (or more so) as the phrase “This is how I roll.” Where exactly does the Aurora Public School officials’ discomfort, and that of parents such as Chandra, come from?

By using the word “sexy,” are children inviting sexual predators?

Sexual predation is one of the top fears parents have for their children. They protect them, they watch them, they coach them on which adults to trust, they drill them on what to do if approached by a stranger, they scare them so they can feel less scared themselves. And they have to, because the sickos are out there. But do you think for a moment the sickos are scoping for that kid singing the LMFAO song because that will make their predation okay?

What if the kid doesn’t just sing the word “sexy” but gyrates as well?

Parents teach their kids appropriate behaviors. As V’s kindergarten teacher puts it, it’s not okay to break other people’s bubbles. We keep our hands to ourselves; we keep our private parts private; we don’t hug if it’s unwelcome. What constitutes a sexy dance when it comes to a six-year-old? I’m thinking nothing if all of the above rules are observed. Anybody who sees something different might be tapping into some personal repression. Children are not sexy. Anyone who finds children sexy did not get the idea from LMFAO.

Is it uncomfortable for us to see children describe themselves in adult terms—terms we associate with sexual behavior?

Yes! Yes, it is. It is if we assume a context that mirrors ours. If we decide V and her little friend E are shaking their booties to attract sexual partners, then yes, it’s uncomfortable. Are they? We don’t need to ask them; they’ll tell us if they are. They look ludicrous dancing; it’s hilarious to watch them; they like the beat. If they start verbalizing a wish to attract males by directing attention to their bodies, should we have a talk? You bet. But did the general (and underexamined) idea that women make themselves alluring to attract men originate with one song by one band? Come on.

Sooner or later kids will learn what “sexy” means. Could this be happening earlier and earlier?

Undoubtedly it is. But we know our kids, and at ages five and six they tend to be pretty transparent. If they’ve acquired some notion of what “sexy” is, isn’t this a teaching opportunity for us? Maybe we could tell them how silly the song is, and arguably how it makes fun of the way adults relate to each other (going into as much or as little detail as preferred)? The kids know about all sorts of other adult and therefore off-limit activities: driving, staying up late, drinking coffee or beer, going to a job, getting married. At some point teaching them about sex will be appropriate—and ideally this time will come long before they consider having sex. Until then, sex is in the future and it doesn’t make sense to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Is the word “sexy” itself simply off-color?

Is it? The word “sexy” has numerous contexts. Ever heard of a sexy news story? What about sex chromosomes? What about same-sex marriage? Do we really want to lump the word “sexy” in with “motherfucker”?

By making a big deal of lyrics that mention sex, aren’t we drawing attention to words that would otherwise go unnoticed by small kids?

Uh, yeah.

Is there some age when we should start worrying about “sexy” behavior?

This year’s Halloween costume guidelines specify that boys and girls at our elementary school must not wear “revealing or ‘sexy’ [their quotes] costumes.” There is an age at which a kid is capable of looking provocative. Not five or six, but possibly 12 (not an unheard-of age for high-fashion models). So the rules exist to protect those kids, and because you’d never want to single out those kids, the rules apply to everyone. And fortunately for any parent who has a ten-year-old who looks 15, they can cite the rules.

We’d be idiots if we didn’t think that one future day V or P (or both) will scoot off to school in some nasty outfit deliberately designed to offend adults and distract the opposite sex. They will be trying to look sexy, and it will be a parental nightmare. Their parents know this will happen because they did it themselves way back when. Before MTV, before YouTube, and before LMFAO.

How harmful can a song be?

Age-old question! Ask any old curmudgeon who ever freaked out about Elvis’s gyrations. But I’d rather ask Elmo.

When do we get to review some booze?

OMG, I hope soon. Everybody’s been so sick with the flu that liquor hasn’t made an appearance. Soon, my fellow inebriates.

*Names have been changed.

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