When Bieber Fever Becomes A Problem

The other day I was talking to a good girlfriend about her latest pop obsession. My friend Jessica, who is in her early 30s, mentioned that she was totally into Justin Bieber and acknowledged that her feelings about him were conflicted. “I mean, I don’t know whether I want to bend him over and spank him, or bend him over and spank him,” she said. She was joking (mostly) but it brought up a good point: at what age does your love for a teen idol go from perfectly acceptable to kind of creepy?Personally, I don’t get the whole Bieber Fever thing — he looks like a really cute lesbian to me. But I do know what Jessica is talking about. A couple of years ago, I momentarily creeped myself out when I found out just how young Michael Cera really is (22 — we’re about 10 years apart). When you begin doing the math (he was in pre-school when I was in high school), these crushes seem rather untenable. And though Bieber is primarily marketed to screaming pre-teen and teen girls, his utter cultural ubiquity makes it hard not to have an opinion on his image — despite his teenage years.

Twenty-nine-year-old Kim Kardashian famously came under fire for finding Bieber attractive, after starring in a sexy photo shoot with The Biebs for Elle. “Would I date him? If he was of legal age. He definitely has this swag to him,” she told George Lopez. But what’s weird is not only that Kardashian, who is almost twice his age, said she might date him, but also that magazines like Elle are promoting this image of a 16-year-old kid as a fully formed sexual being.

And Elle isn’t the only one: Certified totally adult magazine Details recently dished with Bieber about his love life like a couple of pre-teen girls would. He told the mag about his first breakup, when he was 13. Which was, like, two years ago. “I’ve had girlfriends,” he told the magazine, “nothing really, really serious, but I’ve had girlfriends. My first was when I was, like, 12 or 13. A month later, we broke up. I had that little stomach pain for a couple of days, but then I was cool. Now I’m waiting for Beyonce to call.” Even Bieber, it seems, is confused about who or what is an appropriate partner.

Of course, if we were talking about guys and famous teens, here, it seems like the lines are more cut and dry. The “Dakota Fanning Turns 18” countdown notwithstanding, any guy in his 20s and beyond who expresses interest in a teenage girl is pretty quickly labeled a pervy pedophile. And yet! Young girls and women are frequently sold to us via media images as sex symbols — not only famous young women like Miley Cyrus (who recently rode a stripper pole in concert), but also young models whose undeveloped bodies sell us high fashion via sexy poses. So … mixed messages much?

What are we supposed to do as a society when teenagers are pressed upon us as sex symbols? When Bieber, Miley Cyrus and the like are intentionally sexed up to sell records? At what age is it no longer OK to find Justin Bieber (16), or Zac Efron (22) or Taylor Lautner (18) attractive?