Susan B. McConnell
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The Sexualization of Girls

Jour Apres Lunes, a French company, has released a clothing line called, loungerie, for little girls 4-12 years old. Photos for the new line feature girls in makeup, ladies jewelry, teased hair, and lingerie styles for women, including black lace panties and skimpy tops that look like bras (jours-apres-lunes.com). This marketing ploy joins a host of other products and media messages that sexualize girls, such as the popular Bratz dolls, marketed for 4 to 8 year old girls, a provocative photo of Miley Cyrus in New Yorker Magazine (June 2008 issue), video and music entertainment’s portrayal of women as sex objects, “sexy” clothing marketed for children, surgical alternatives to teens for physical augmentation, and desensitization of human value through pornography and sexual abuse of children.

The age of innocence is past as today’s society bombards young females with sexual messages at a tender age. Sexualization of girls involves linking one’s value as a person to sexual attractiveness or behavior, thinking of a person as a sex object and making inappropriate sexual demands on girls.(see the APA report on Sexualization of Girls, 2010 www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf)

Studies show the negative consequences of sexualization of girls involve their ability to learn, physical and mental health, sexual health and moral beliefs. When girls are focused on physical sexual appeal and body awareness, their capacity for learning and attention to learning is adversely affected. They simply focus on pleasing and attracting boys rather than concentrating on academics. They perceive their value is derived in relationships with the opposite sex rather than their own individual abilities. Mental and emotional consequences of sexualization include anxiety, shame, self-disgust, low self-esteem and depressive tendencies. Self-injurious behaviors such as cutting and eating disorders are examples of physical consequences of sexualization. Because of improperly thinking they are sex objects and diminishing their value as a person, girls are less likely to develop a healthy sexuality. They are also less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and are more prone to unhealthy attitudes about sex in a long-term relationship when they become women. Sexualization of girls also affects the culture in general because young women are less likely to excel academically or pursue professional careers because of poor self-esteem. On the other side of the coin, men, are negatively influenced through media attention of demoralization of women through violence, victimization and pornography. Men may have more difficulty finding a suitable life partner because of inaccurate beliefs and values of women.

To counter negative influences of media toward the sexualization of girls, we must “sound off” our disgust of such humor depicting girls as sex objects. Turn off the programs and write to the sponsors. Ratings and advertising are powerful tools controlled by us, the consumers. When we don’t watch a show or purchase CD’s, DVD’s or downloads that are offensive to females, the program producers will change their content.

We must be involved in creating an environment for girls that enhances their self worth, encourages their individual value through musical talent, sports, the arts, academics, and moral character. Girls learn self control and self empowerment through education. Positive role models should be encouraged rather than inappropriate entertainment that devalues women. Limit unsuitable media to young girls so they are not exposed to sexual messages. Children are vulnerable to every influence around them and need a positive and supportive environment for good mental health development. Parents need to talk to girls about sex at an appropriate age. Studies show that when a parent and child communicate feelings and needs appropriately, a parent’s influence is greater.

With internet information available at the touch of a computer key or cell phone, kids are inundated with messages that can influence their thinking both positively and negatively. Adults must be vigilant about insuring that messages are age appropriate and positive for kids. Girls are specifically targeted by media messages of sexualization at an early age. Sexualization of girls through pornography, music and video entertainment, sexually suggestive advertising, marketing adult type clothing for little girls and raw humor is devastating to the development of healthy young women.

Appropriate role models and communication of self worth through participation in sports, arts, character education, music and academics must be provided to protect the health and well being of little girls.

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