Thursday, February 7, 2008

Report of the Sexualization of Girls

Lana provided this link to the Report of the APA of the Sexualization of Girls in the comment trail yesterday that I felt was important enough to warrant another post. Thanks Lana!

While yesterday's post was fairly light and sarcastic, I was not joking around when I talked about my frustration with inappropriate toys aimed at young children. We are living in a time where the steady bombardment of images fed to us by the media and for profit corporations are causing us to become desensitized. Television, magazines, movies, toy companies, clothing companies, cosmetics, fitness, food, drink - image is everywhere. As adults, this over saturation of what the media defines as beautiful is alarming and harmful, to young children it can be devastating. The media is teaching children to conform to an ideal of beauty that is abnormal and unhealthy, it is also teaching them adult sexuality at an entirely inappropriate age.

The APA states that "In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate." The Report notes that advertisements for clothing feature young Hollywood stars in sexually provocative clothes geared to young children and clothing lines that are completely inappropriate - like thongs sized 7 years to 10 years of age. Honestly, I would seriously like to meet a mother who would buy thong underwear for their 7 year old. I'd like to meet her just so I could smack her face silly. Then I would like to find the clothing exec who thought it was a good idea to market thongs to 7 year olds and run them over several times with my minivan.

The study goes on to say that "research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood." Who is surprised with this? The ideal of sex and beauty portrayed by the media and advertisers is such a small, narrow level of beauty that virtually 90% of the rest of the world falls out of it. The pursuit of this narrow ideal has spawned the billion dollar plastic surgery business and has led to the unnaturalization of women and men. While this is a completely separate topic that we can dedicate another post to another time, one thing that is relevant is the increase of plastic surgery for younger and younger girls condoned and even insisted upon by their parents. Nowadays, plastic surgeons are dealing with young patients, starting as young as 15, for nose, eye, chin, ear and even boob jobs.

I have a very close friend who when she turned 15, her mother took her to the plastic surgeon's office for an eye and nose job. The girl did not even know she was going to the plastic surgeons until she was in their offices and swept onto a surgery table being prepped for surgery. Her mother had decided that the girl's looks were not attractive enough and had forced plastic surgery on her daughter. To this day my friend is still shocked and hurt by her mother's actions. This story is not unique. There are many parents who believe that plastic surgery is the answer to their children's problems. But what about the message being sent to the girls? Your natural looks is unacceptable so change them. Why can't people accept the natural beauty of all of us?

It is time of a new era of people who are willing to step up and fight back the media and the advertisers and let them know that adult sexualization of young girls is not acceptable anymore! That plastic surgery is not the end all! And to celebrate the natural beauty of all people, all colors and all sizes. I believe this has to be a battle cry carried by all parents. We as parents have got to step up and monitor what our children watch, read and buy. We have to counter attack and teach our children to grow up slowly and to respect their bodies and themselves. Turn off the television shows, video games and the music videos and spend more quality family time together. Let's talk to our children about what really matters in life. Not perfect nose, perfect skin, perfect breasts, but talents, skills, intelligence, morals and respect. And maybe we can have a revolution.


Stephen Parrish said...

Great essay, Eato. You should turn it into a newspaper op ed piece.

Referring to your previous post as well, the kind of men attracted by outrageously provocative dress are probably not the kind most women really want to attract. No girl I ever knew got ignored by the boys merely because she dressed conservatively.

pacatrue said...

This is a little bit of an aside, but I learned the importance of role models for children, in this case for girls, when I learned that my sister at the age of 9 or 10 wanted to be like Alicia Silverstone. Now Alicia Silverstone might be a fine woman today as well as actress, but at the time of this discussion in the late 80s, she was a girl in teen movies, most famous for pouting in a short skirt in Aerosmith videos. There had to be a woman in the world that could inspire my sister to do something other than want to look cute in a rock video.

By the way, this is a fine essay and you might indeed tighten it up for an editorial.

Kappa no He said...

I agree with Stephen about sending this in as an op ed piece. Wow.

That should be illegal about the mother who took her child in unwillingly. So sad.

Precie said...

There's a nonfiction book coming out in May from Overlook Press called THE LOLITA EFFECT. It addresses exactly this issue!

I think we should arrange our own blog tour about it!!

Precie said...

Oh, and I'm horrified about your friend's mother. What's next? Clitorodectomy?

Patti said...

count me in as a soldier in this revolution. i have been yelling this battle cry for years and finally i think more are beginning to hear.

J. L. Krueger said...

Spot on! Both yesterday and today!

I'm making both mandatory reading for my youngest daughter, who has fallen for all the media hype and pressure. We've had to take away her "mega purses" so that she doesn't sneak home inappropriate clothing which she acquires from her "friends" at school. It has become a constant and very frustrating battle.

Demon Hunter said...

Whaaa? Your friend's mom made her have surgery? How awful. You're right, it IS up the parents to make a difference. If parents don't teach their kids self-esteem and self-worth, then some pervert will get a hold of them and use them!

I have always been a soldier in the image army. India Arie has a song called, "Video" that addresses this stuff. I'll have to post about it.

As for the ad execs who think its cute for little girls to wear thongs, it just goes to show that pedophiles can get jobs anywhere. What you said fits perfectly with the poem I posted on my blog. Take a look! :*)

SzélsőFa said...

A great post, Ello - I hope there are already organizations and/or association of parents/techers/whatevers who raise their voices about this issue. You should join one, or make up one, if there isn't any nearby.

The Anti-Wife said...

Excellent post. You really do need to turn this into an article and get it published. It's a very important topic - although you might want to take out the part about running over the guy with your mini-van even though we all agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Your daughters are blessed to have you as their mother!

Charles Gramlich said...

We need to teach our children to have self-esteem for the right reasons, for independence of thought and action, for education, for expressing thoughtfullness. Shallowness is killing us all.

Anonymous said...

Maybe not directly on point with this post, but as a father of only girls I frequently get asked the question of "Can a girl do this or that?"

My response is always "YES." So I guess my point is that like with many of one's fundamental values, it all starts with your parent(s) and experiences at home.

Fortunately and despite the excessive "girliness" (and goofiness) of my daughters at times, I am making a concerted effort for my younger daughters to follow in the oldest's steps and get involved with some kind of organized sport.

As a former (and still aspiring) athlete, I think girls getting involved with sports is a wonderful way for them to learn that one's self worth is measured by more than what clothes they wear or how they look and that other factors such determination, persistence, and being a good sport are part of the measuring stick of one's character and values.

Da' Man

Melissa Marsh said...


I hate how girls today are so conscientious of how they "look" instead of how they are on the inside. And as the mother of a seven-year-old daughter, I am constantly horrified by what I see in the clothing department and what women and girls are wearing. Some of the stuff I see girls wear wouldn't be appropriate for an ADULT, much less a ten-year-old!

I am READY to join this revolution!

Conduit said...

Great, great post, Ello.

The world, and the media in particular, needs to let kids be kids. While it's a little sad to see 40-year-old women dressing like they're 20, it's incredibly creepy to see 10-year-old girls dressing like they're 20. There's that awful marketing phrase 'tweenies' to group girls on the cusp between childhood and puberty. That many advertisers are pitching overtly sexualised images at those children is reprehensible, as well as portraying emaciated stick-figure models as 'normal' rather than the freaks they are.

I think there's almost as much pressure on young men these days, too. Every ad break is full of six-packs and slab pecs and fine features - in other words, unrealistic portrayals of young manhood. The average teenage boy is clumsy, awkward, goofy, spotty, either skinny or overweight, and doesn't have a physique like an olympic athlete. I've never been comfortable with my own appearance, so thank God I'm not growing up now when the media is saturated with so-called perfection.

There's another aspect of the media that has been bothering me over the last few years. I don't know if it's been happening in the USA, but it certainly has in the UK. The media seems to be trying to portray modern teenagers as living some sort of hedonistic lifestyle, a constant rush of drink, drugs and orgies. There's a TV drama called Skins about middle class teenagers that pitches itself as being a realistic portrayal of teenage life in Britain today.

I dunno, when I was fifteen as girl stuck her tongue in my mouth and I didn't know what she was doing! While teenagers are often sexually active, it's irresponsible of the media to portray this as the norm for the sake of sensationalism. For one thing, it's scaremongering to parents, and another, it's going to make kids growing up at a reasonable pace (i.e. playing spin the bottle and maybe copping a feel if you're lucky, as opposed to shagging anything that moves) think they're falling behind.

Lana Gramlich said...

Glad to see the report had an effect on you, hon. Good piece of writing here. I've been trying to sound this alarm for years & I don't even HAVE kids. Although I didn't get many comments when I posted about this on my old blog, it's nice to see it getting through to some people here. I think the APA's report should be read by everyone.
I find it ironic that as a society we frown upon pedophelia, yet starlets prancing around in schoolgirl outfits seem to be just fine. Who, exactly, was "Baby Spice" supposed to appeal to? Although Dateline has put dozens of pedophiles behind bars, Jamie Lynn Spears boyfriend is free to roam after knocking her up at 16. Where's the common sense & consistancy?
Enough is ENOUGH!

Hotwire said...

i have 2 boys but spend a lot of time guiding them in the proper way to treat girls. the media messages land on them as well!

Ello said...

These are all great comments and all of them need to be addressed. Yes boys are just as susceptible to the media lure of what is considered beauty. And yes important role models can make a big difference in children's lives. Positive role models - not Britney Spears or Paris Hilton.

Hubby makes an excellent point about athletics for girls - and I respect his leadership with the girls on this. We need to work on all girls self esteem and counter act the shallowness of society and the media.

Conduit - I don't know if there are shows like what you mention because I don't watch alot of tv. But it is a good question. I'll have to look into it!

Precie- I'm going to look into that book. It sounds like something all of us would be interested in!

Sarah Hina said...

I'm so happy my daughter is still 4. The clothes for the 7-11 age group make me want to weep. And yet even for my daughter, they market smart-ass t-shirts with dumb sayings, and a whole line of "princess" crap that preaches extreme femininity, and is really just a run-up to the thongs you're talking about.

Great post, Ello. It's awful that parents play into this dysfunction. Your friend's mom should be punished. What she did was unforgivable.

ChristineEldin said...

An important post. Thanks Ello.
Similar messages are beginning to target men and boys (ideal physical attributes). It's a shame for everybody.

I also agree you should submit this to a newspaper.

Merry Monteleone said...

Mothers everywhere have been sounding this alarm for years.... but it's in hushed conversation rather than national spotlight...

The clothes and shoes they sell for young girls are ridiculous... once my daughter hit size 10 (she was 8) it became impossible to find jeans that weren't low rise (I had to go out and buy her low rise underwear - wtf happened to holly hobby bloomers for God's sake?) We find little ways around this - all of her shirts are those tunic or baby doll kind that go down past her hips, that way no one knows the damn pants are low... and I've found myself buying her more and more sweat outfits, because there's not much they can do to make those revealing - not that they haven't tried - I'm sure you've all seen the sweat outfits with the half jackets... explain the friggin point please... yes, my shoulders are warm, but my stomach, not so much.

Don't even get me started on the shoes - try finding nice dress shoes for a little girl without a heel... When I went to find her white shoes for her communion, I swear, they had two inch CLEAR PLASTIC heels!!!! The objective in parenting is supposed to be keeping them OFF the pole!

Ello, American Girl has some great books out for girls and none of their stuff is 'ho' it's all girl empowerment...

I like sports for girls too, my daughter plays softball and she takes piano, sings in chorus, and is in an Art club... so a lot of this stuff hasn't hit us yet and she's ten... but it's coming soon, I know.

Merry Monteleone said...

Just dropped back in to let you know I gave you an award... last post on my blog.


Cakespy said...

Thank you! I have often felt that as women progress, there's this simultaneous regression too, and you just totally nailed my thoughts. I was appalled--and pissed off--by the story about the 15 year old girl whose mother took her to the surgeon. I mean, come on! What kind of lesson does that teach!?

Thank you for an honest and frank essay on something so important yet hidden in our culture.

SmartlikeStreetcar said...

Kristina and I have read a handful of books on teenage depression (like Reviving Ophelia) in the last few months, trying to understand why my beautiful, eloquent, thoughtful, compassionate, caring niece who has wonderful parents has nevertheless been suffering from anorexia for years, and now is coping with major depression, with thoughts of suicide... and we're convinced that you're writing about about one of the most important issues of this generation. With the constant bombardment that our teens face each and every day, the surprising truth is not that so many girls and boys suffer... but that more of them aren't irreparably harmed.

I don't know what the answer is. I believe that media awareness should be taught in every school at a young age, so kids can learn how advertising distorts and manipulates.

But I also believe that we have start changing the world by thinking about how we spend our money, and what sort of companies we want to support. It's a pain in the ass, and it's a lot of hard work. But when so many lovely young women — and young men — are suffering so cruelly, I don't see that I can do otherwise.

I hope others feel the same. And when you stop buying a product, let the company know why you're taking your business elsewhere.

Together, we can be mighty.

Angela WD said...

I completely agree with your media comments, and as women we should be enforcing dress standards and giving our daughters and sons the message that a woman is more than decorative body parts.

But what about the men? They have a responsibility here, too. If we lived in a world of only women, there would be little point in dressing like hos. Men have a responsibility to treat women properly, not drool over women dressed in sleazy clothes. What if a man went up to a woman in ho-clothes and told her, "You know, you'd be much more wonderful without all these sleazy clothes."

Before we get too judgemental about what teens are wearing, just let me say that as a mom of teens we may not know what our kids are wearing in public! My teen may leave the house dressed appropriately (and yes, I do check), but I don't know what they do later on. They can pull up and fold over a skirt so that it's shorter, they can take off the sweater to reveal a low-cut tee, etc. Once they're buying their own clothes, doing their own laundry, and driving themselves around, we know less about their attire than we used to. Even if we're snooping their rooms and forcing them to toss out inappropriate clothes.