Rashida Jones: The Problem With Sexy Selfies

5 minute read

In this week’s issue of TIME, actress Rashida Jones talks about the new movie Cuban Fury, out today in the U.S., in which she plays a corporate manager whose potential suitors woo her with salsa dance. But Jones’ presence these days isn’t just on screens: she’s also a columnist for Glamour and an outspoken commentator on the state of sexiness. She’s admonished pop stars for being too sexy for everyone’s good — and been admonished right back, by some who see her views as going too far — and, more recently, spoke out about the problem with sexy selfies.

In a portion of the interview that didn’t make it to print, excerpted below, she explained why she thinks that the monolithic sexiness of online culture is a big problem:

TIME: I saw on Twitter the other day that you used the hashtag “Elegant Selfie.” How would you define that?

Rashida Jones: It was kind of a joke that came out of a panel I did a couple days ago for Women in the World where we were talking about the hypersexualization of pop culture and girls. People were sharing that their teenage daughters, every picture they take is like this sultry, mouth-open picture — and we were exploring the idea of an “elegant selfie,” where it’s not sexual as a top-note, where it’s got other flavors to it, you know? You could smile!

You’ve spoken out a lot about what you see as a celebrity culture that encourages the oversexualization of women and sets a bad example for girls. Was there some moment when you realized this was an issue worth caring about?

I think it’s a generational thing. I think the impetus for me was I have a 21-year-old sister — and she’s a really good girl, she’s a smart, beautiful, soulful, funny girl — and I think just seeing it through the eyes of somebody I love who’s younger than me. There is this kind of blanket pressure to be a certain way, to be sexy in a certain way, to get the attention of men and also other women.

I think I didn’t have that. I think about my teenage self and I was pretty awkward and a little overweight and definitely not sexy, and definitely never even attempted to be sexy. Thank God! Because, first of all, it wouldn’t have worked, but second of all, if I had had that pressure I’m not sure I would have been as proficient with computers or read as much or gotten to know myself or developed a sense of humor. I don’t know if I would have done that, because there’s actually a correlation between spending time worrying about what you look like and how you could be appealing to guys and not developing other parts of yourself. I just think about it through my own personal experience and want better for younger girls.

Do you have a theory about where that pressure came from?

It’s the evolution, devolution, whatever, of American culture. There’s just more access and there’s more info. I think the biggest factor there is porn. Porn is so easily accessible to everybody. One of the psychologists I was on the panel with was saying she had a friend who was trying to do a study about young boys and the effect of porn on young boys, but they couldn’t find enough young men who hadn’t watched porn for the sample group.

It’s totally rampant. Porn is fine for adults as entertainment, but your brain is still forming until you’re 26. Your ideas of love and romance and sex are being formed by the things that you watch at a super young age. We had girlie magazines and stuff like that, where you had to fill in the gaps, you had to use your imagination to make things sexy. There’s just nothing left to the imagination now, across the board.

Are you optimistic about that improving?

The internet is obviously a thriving thing. It just started; it’s the Wild West; it’s not self-regulating; it’s not regulated from the outside. Maybe at some point it will self-correct. It’s unfortunate, but maybe at some point there will be enough damage where we’ll realize, you know what, that’s actually not something I’m interested in — in the way that now people are starting to do digital cleanses. I’m very cautiously optimistic. I don’t think it’s happening any time soon.

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com