A few months ago, I wrote this piece after finding that my TikTok for you page had been filled with videos featuring the Demi Lovato song, “29.” At first, I scrolled through mindlessly, paying no attention to the details or contents of the TikTok videos, until one day I did. “Holy s***,” I thought. Then, I listened to the full song.
Demi Lovato started dating “That ‘70s Show” actor Wilmer Valderrama when she was just 17, 12 years younger than Valderrama, who was 29. Her new song portrays her thoughts and experiences throughout that relationship and how she, who is now 29, recognizes that their age difference was unacceptable. She sings, “Seventeen would never cross my mind,” to emphasize how she was groomed by her former romantic partner. Valderrama is no stranger to dating women younger than him, and Lovato calls this out. His current partner, Amanda Pacheco, is 11 years younger than Valderrama, who is now 42. “I see you’re quite the collector.”
Grooming is not exclusive to stars,although we do often see massive age gaps in Hollywood; it can also occur within schools, families and friends. For some, this starts at a young age and lasts into adulthood, but for others, like Lovato, this occurs within the teenage years. Grooming does not always look like a 17-year-old and a 29-year-old; it could be a 14-year-old and a 21-year-old, a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old, etc. Sometimes this is the freshman-senior relationship everybody makes fun of in high school. The reality is that there are too many fundamental and developmental differences found in these age gaps, and more often than not, the victim can’t even consent. There is no consent; it’s illegal.
I remember being a freshman in high school and talking to some of my closest friends about the senior boys that would use Snapchat to talk to us. For some of us, they would allude to us sending explicit photos or going on dates with them (which we usually ignored), but for some of us, it moved onto something physical. We were 14, and they were 18. I often reflect on this as I have moved further past my 18th birthday, and I cannot fathom finding a 14-year-old attractive or mature enough. Above everything else, anything physical is illegal, which should’ve been enough to cause someone to sway away, but no. These relationships and contacts have left some of my closest friends altered and traumatized for life. As Lovato says in her song, they were “kids; too young to drink wine.”
“29” has brought such an important awareness to grooming that regularly occurs in Hollywood and in the lives of teenagers and young adults everywhere. Lovato’s song has an immense power behind each line, creating a beautifully ugly story about trauma, pain and how she was taken advantage of. This song has inspired many people, or at least those on my for you page, to come forward about their experiences with people much younger than them and has created momentum to bring more awareness to grooming. “Thought it was a teenage dream, just a fantasy, but it was yours it wasn’t mine.”
There are a variety of resources on campus for those who may be affected by these topics. The Student Health Center offers a variety of services for sexual and mental health, and the Center for Well-Being Programs and Psychological Services also offers resources regarding sexual and interpersonal violence.
Allie Grande is a junior in the School of International Service and a columnist for The Eagle.