The Sexualization of Girls
Sex sells, we are told, and everyone is interested in
selling something. So sex is everywhere. Everything from
television shows to movies to ads for the most mundane
products. We barely notice anymore how pervasive sex is in
- When person's value comes only from his or her sexual
- When physical attractiveness is defined as being
- When a person is seen as an object for another
person's sexual use, instead of an independent
- Or when sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a
But the scary part is that it's not just women who are
being sexualized. Girls are being sexualized, too. They're
swamped with sexual images and the message that they should
look and act "hot." Here are just a few examples:
- Bratz dolls dressed in short skirts and fishnet
stockings (blind date)
- Clothes designed for girls in elementary school that
show lots of skin (even thong panties!)
- Beauty pageants where even preschool girls wear
makeup and vamp for the audience and high school girls
are required to wear high heels.
- Barbie® dolls and Disney heroines with large
breasts, tiny waists and sexy clothes
- Magazines for preteens with articles on how to lose
weight and look sexy in order to get a boyfriend (Most
women's newstand magazines feature cleavage including
Cosmo Girl!, Prom and Teen Prom.)
The American Psychological Association reports on the
harmful effects of sexualization on our young girls. We know
it occurs yet we shake our heads and go on with our daily
lives. It negatively affects girls by:
- Making it difficult for them to concentrate on
schoolwork and other tasks because they're distracted by
how they look
- Causing emotional problems, such as shame, anxiety
and self-disgust. Sexualization is linked with the three
most common mental health problems in girls and women:
eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
- Creating unrealistic and/or negative expectations
about sexuality and interfering with normal, healthy
sexual development as girls grow into women.
- Encouraging girls think of themselves purely as
The sexualization of girls can have an impact on society
in general. It encourages sexism, discourages girls from
pursuing careers in science, math, and technology, and it
increases sexual harassment, sexual violence and the demand
for child pornography.
So what can parents do?
- We need to work with the media to encourage them to
show more positive, healthy images of women and girls. If
they won't do it voluntarily, then we need our government
to step in.
- We need to create alternative images of girls that
they can look up to and that speak to who they are rather
than how they look. Images of girls participating in
sports or school clubs, or doing community service, help
them understand that they're more than sexual
- Schools need to teach "media literacy" skills to
families and students so girls can learn to look more
critically at what they see and realize that they
don't have to believe or buy into the images they
Here are some additional suggestions for parents from the
American Psychological Association report:
- Tune in and talk. Watch television with your
daughter, look at her magazines, surf the Web with her
and then talk about what you see. Talk about the images,
how they make her feel, and how she might think
differently about them.
- Question choices. If your daughter is choosing
outfits that seem sexy to you, say so. Talk about your
concern about her clothes (and how much skin she's
showing) can distract her at school. Help her make
- Speak up. Tell your daughter why you don't like
certain music lyrics, dolls, videos, television shows or
other things she's exposed to. The sexualized images are
so prevalent that she may not realize there is anything
wrong with them.
- Put yourself in her place. You were a tween/teenager
once, too, and wanted very badly to fit in. Saying no to
anything sexualized may not be realistic, but you can
help your daughter make the best choices possible.
- Encourage. Help your daughter get involved in
activities that emphasize talents, interests, and
physical activity rather than appearance.
- Educate. Teach your daughter about sex; give her
information about healthy, safe sexual
- Be real. Whenever you can, talk with your daughter
about not judging others by their appearance. Do
everything you can to support her as a unique
- Be a role model. Think about what you watch, what you
say, and what you wear. Make sure you are sending the
We all can make a difference. Hopefully, the APA's report
will be the call-to-action we all need. Our daughters'
futures and the future of tomorrow's women depend on it.
* * *
We find comfort among those who agree with us - growth
among those who don't. -- Frank A. Clark
©2012, A Different