‘Euphoria’s’ hypersexualization of Cassie Howard is problematic

Illustration by Sarah Brady

Monica Alarcon-Najarro, Contributing Writer

This article contains spoilers from season two of HBO’s “Euphoria.”

High school drama, love triangles, dramatic makeup looks and trendy fashion are all a part of what makes HBO Max streaming services’ hit series “Euphoria” so enticing for viewers like myself. As the new season streamed on Jan. 9, viewers globally tuned in to watch what would happen in the new episodes.

There have been many theories about each character’s background and questions about the amount of nudity in each episode circulating throughout social media with four episodes out so far. Though, there are some parts of the show that leave me questioning the director and producers’ decisions when it comes to the portrayal of certain characters, such as Cassie Howard.

“Euphoria” primarily focuses on protagonist Rue Bennett’s battle with drug addiction, as well as the lives of and drama surrounding a group of teenagers. Drugs and sex encounters drive the show forward, with characters instigating tension within their friendship circles.

As body parts are shown heavily in this new season, one character who has recently gotten a lot of publicity is Cassie. I was personally shocked when Cassie and Nate, an athlete at the high school, hooked up and there was a bathroom scene with a shot of Cassie’s breasts, one of multiple scenes where Cassie’s body is shown in “Euphoria.”

Cassie’s body is mostly shown in scenes where her and Nate are having sex, which gives the impression that Nate is only using her for her body. It seems to me that Cassie is being hypersexualized because of the numerous times her body is shown while Nate’s isn’t. Not to mention that there are instances where the male gaze — the idea that men look at women in a degrading, sexualized way — is evident through Nate. There are many scenes where a guy’s body is shown, but it’s less exaggerated and not as sexual as the scenes with women.

In episode three, Cassie is seen waking up as early as 4 a.m. to get ready before school just to see Nate. Cassie is portrayed as insecure and seeking male validation. Her peers constantly comment on how Cassie has never been single; this season is the first time she has gone without a boyfriend for a long period. This suggests that she is sex deprived, which could be a reason why she has many nude scenes.

It makes me uneasy that “Euphoria” is based in a high school setting and many characters are shown nude. In addition, many of these actors and actresses are in their mid 20’s, making the accuracy of the show’s high school characters quite unrealistic. In a sense, I’m glad that the actors are older so it doesn’t feel weird to see their nude bodies, but their looks don’t match up to how high schoolers in real life look like. This can create unrealistic expectations for impressionable young audiences.

Zendaya, an executive producer and lead actress in “Euphoria,” tweeted about the show being for mature audiences as it goes over sensitive and triggering materials. Her initiative on this topic should be supported by other actors, producers and cast members of the show.

Sydney Sweeney, the actress who plays Cassie’s character, opened up about how sex scenes are perceived.

“There’s a stigma against actresses who get naked on screen,” Sweeney said in an interview with The Independent. “When a guy has a sex scene or shows his body, he still wins awards and gets praise. But the moment a girl does it, it’s completely different.”

“Euphoria’s” screenwriter, Sam Levinson, respects Sweeney’s boundaries and lets her choose whether or not she is comfortable with specific nude scenes, Sweeney said.

There is a fine line between the purpose of having actors and actresses nude to play their role and doing it too much to the point where there is no purpose. This line is the boundary between very triggering situations and symbolism. So far, the amount of nude scenes are starting to get out of hand. We get it, Cassie and Nate have tons of sex.

With still more episodes to be released, we’ll see whether or not Cassie’s body will serve a purpose on how the hypersexualization of women’s bodies is a metaphor about today’s society or used mainly for men’s sexual endeavors.

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