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Sexualization of Girls Report by the APA
American Psychological Association came out with a report that shows girl as young as 4 and 5 years old are wearing new clothing styles such as push-up bras, thongs, mini skirts and other adult type outfits. Following the onslaught of media images girls see on TV, there is a changing standard born out of the pressure these images give to children to “get with it” or “fit in”. This report brings up the decrease in self-esteem and the increase in depressions and eating disorders linked to the increasing sexualization by the media. It also emphasizes the increasing underage sex rate.
Defining Sexualization of Girls
The APA taskforce on the Sexualization of Girls was formed in response to these public concerns. The APA taskforce also produced reports on the Violence in Mass Media, Advertising to Children, Video Games and Interactive Media among other similar reports. The “sexualization” process was defined having one of the following criterias.
- a persons’ value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
- a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness with being sexy;
- a person is sexually objectified – that is, made into a thing for other’s sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
- sexuality is inappropriately imposed on a person
Examples of Sexualization in Advertising
Sexualization of Girls is pervasive throughout all media. The report outlines a few categories:
- Ads – Sketchers “Naughty & Nice” – featured Christina Aguilera dressed as a schoolgirl in pigtails with her shirt unbuttoned, licking a lollipop
- Dolls – Bratz Dolls – dressed in sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stocking, and feather boas
- Clothing – thongs sized for 7-10 year old, some printed with slogans such as “wink wink”
- TV – Televised Fashion show in which adult models in lingerie were presented as young girls.
In addition, I find the most powerful media messages are often a lot more subtle. It is true that the constant barrage of images of pretty women with questionable outfits changes what we consider the “norm” in terms of how we define “beauty” and what is “appropriate” behavior. However just as powerful, is the message found in the lifestyles of sitcom characters. People love watching sitcoms. They become attached to characters and they see the characters in the context of “life”. When people watch their beloved characters living a promiscuous lifestyle or behaving in a sexualized way (using their beauty to charm guys, chasing after pretty woman, gawking at a pretty girl who walks by) we take in these “behaviors” as normal reactions and how things actually are in the real world. We learn what is normal through what we observe in carefully constructed sitcoms that milk on what sells and let’s face it – sex sells.
Interesting Studies of Sexualization in Report
List of some interesting studies covered in the report:
Note that these bulletpoints are not at all comprehensive.
- Sexualization inhibits Mental Capacity – Women who were in bathing suits trying to conduct a test did poorly then when wearing sweaters. Men found no such drop off. Thinking about the body and comparing to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity.(Frederickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn, & Twenge 1998; Gapinski, Brownsell, & LaFrance, 2003)
- Mental Health Problems – Researched links sexualization with 3 of the most common mental health problem of girls and woman: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression (Abramson & Valene, 1991; Durkin & Paxton, 2002)
- Diminishing Sexual Health – Self objectification linked directly with diminishing sexual health among adolescent girls measured by decreased condom use and sexual assertiveness. (Impett, Schooler, & Tomlman 2006). Negative effects such as shame due to sexualization may lead to sexual problems in adulthood (Brotto, Heiman & Tolman, in press)
- Sexual Stereotypes – Girls and young woman who more frequently consume or engage with mainstream media content offer stronger endorsements of sexual stereotypes that depict women as sexual objects (Ward, 2002; Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006)
- Effects on Men – Exposure to narrow ideals of female sexual attractiveness make it difficult for some men to find an “acceptable” partner or to fully enjoy intimacy with a female partner (Schooler & Ward, 2006)
Problem of Sexualization of Girls is Deep
The problem is not just the clothing they wear or even what girls are learning about sex – the problem is that girls at a young age are being taught how to approach relationships and how to approach intimacy. Media is teaching girls that being sexy and using their sexuality is important. Even Disney is responsible for using pretty, skinny woman characters using their beauty to get what they want. In the real world, many big name celebrities also are using their “sexuality” for all it’s worth.
Parents: Protect Your Child from Sexualization!
The ultimate message is that parents must protect their child. Some may think it’s cute to allow their young daughter to wear t-shirts that say stuff like “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me” (the main line from a popular song) or allow your daughters to those “cute” mini skirts or short-shorts that have things written on their bottoms. To buy them make-up kits as a child and teach them to adorn themselves with beauty products. But it won’t be funny when those very children becoming sexuality active by middle school and learn to objectify themselves, placing their self-worth on how they look.
Download & Read the Full “Sexualization of Girls” Report Below
- Please let us know what other good pieces of statistics or information you find below in the comments section!
- Also what are your thoughts about the Sexualization of Girls? Do you see it as a big problem?
- What do you think we can do?
Summary: Executive Summary
Full Report: Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (PDF, 408K)
The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image. – American Psychological Association
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Thank you for the exhaustive post. It is quite clear how detrimental the objectification and sexualization of women is in today’s media. However, there seems to be no boundaries, as girls as young as 7 are being targeted by advertisers. In the past few years, advertisers have shifted their focus onto “tweens”, that is, children between the ages 8 and 12. And one of the most important issues to this group is their sense of identity. This is leading young girls to find their identity in how “sexy” they are. So girls are abandoning the development of their intellect and character, focusing on their outer appearances instead.
What can be done? Other than monitoring a child’s media intake, I think parents can have discussions with their daughters about self-worth. Girls need to learn that they should not be valued for their physical beauty alone. Furthermore, parents can make it clear to their young daughters that “sexy” behavior is not only inappropriate, but an insult to one’s intelligence. A generation raised up only focusing on their appearance is going to be a shallow generation.
Wow, what a disturbing trend. The degradation of adult women is bad enough, but to prey on the insecurity of little girls through marketing and images is just despicable.
Thank you for the post.
I find it very alarming that more and more parents think they can’t do anything about it because these kinds of messages are ‘everywhere’. I have teenage sisters and I saw the shocking jump from when they were 10 years old to 12. When I talk to them, I can see that they are already buying into a lot of these lies and wanting to look ‘good’. I can tell that their self esteem is slowly being destroyed and I can see how they ‘need’ to look a certain way in order to fit in. It really does break my heart to see my sisters and other teenage girls like them fall into these these kinds of lies.
Personally, though parents have a big role, if we are in a position where we CAN influence these kids lives, we can make a difference by living out our lives in such a way to show them that we are more than our bodies. We can show them that there is much more joy and fulfillment when we relate to one another as people and not objects.
Thank you for posting this and raising this awareness.
Its just to bad that nice, innocent girls, wont be the wife that they one day could be. This will result in many unhappy marriages and/or lack there of
Great post and comments. I work for the YWCA Metro Vancouver and just finished reading the APA report as this is a key area we advocate for and are actually hosting an upcoming panel discussion on this very topic. You do an excellent job of breaking down some of the impacts cited in the study.
Sexy Inc. is a film co-created by the YWCA Montreal and the National Film Board of Canada that provides some great perspectives from both academics and youth about this hyper-sexualization. You can find the link here:
Where are you located? Perhaps you can join us at our panel discussion, regardless I would be happy to discuss this with you further.
Keep up the great work!
Children are being made to look adult and “sexy” in order to desensitize adults to pedophilia. It won’t be long before some academic produces a study that indicates that children can suffer irreparable psychological damage if they don’t have sexual relations, with a “responsible” adult preferably, when they’re children.
Annoying and alarming!!! I would not have to be something like it. Parents should guide their children!
We hear about what is happening in places like India where children are brought into prostitution and most of the time we think “Thank God that’s not happening here” but the truth is it is happening here, it’s even worse here because young girls are putting themselves out their for sex, not being forced into it by a pimp. This not only results in corrupt young women that think sex is a tool for them to use, but the young men of this generation are demoralized and desensitized to sexuality. Ladies, you teach people how to treat you and when you (or other people) are showing off your bodies, you are teaching guys that that is what’s important and ok for you. Gentleman, it’s important to guard yourselves from sexuality and don’t be afraid to make a comment or express that something is inappropriate for you to see. It’s real men that are bold and don’t back down about what they know is right. Many young people are naïve and don’t know what is right or wrong so they follow the examples laid before them. Where a lack of positive influence is, the media is abounding.