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Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Sexy Girls

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Those two words should not be together, but gone are the days of innocence and commitment to protecting young girls from sex. The American Psychological Association (APA) just released a report that calls for the media and advertising to stop sexualizing young girls. The sexualization of girls is so pervasive in our society that it can feel normal for young girls to look like teenagers and for teenagers to look like adults. If you don't believe me, just go shopping for a preteen and try to find something that is not body-hugging, low-cut, too short, or too spangly.

Just in case you are unclear what "sexualization of young girls" really means, a sexualized image suggests sexual availability to the exclusion of other personal characteristics and qualities, which is inappropriate. Two examples are 1) child beauty pageants in which young girls wear make-up and false teeth to replace baby teeth, thong underwear with muppets or phrases like "eye-candy;" and 2) lyrics that include phrases like:"so blow me bitch," "I rock for topless dancers," and "I tell hoes all the time, bitch get in my car."

The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls studied published research on the content and effects of media (including TV, movies, music videos, lyrics, magazines, video games, and the Internet) and found that the consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls' healthy development.

Specifically, research evidence shows that sexualization and objectification:
  • undermine a person's confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, including shame and anxiety;
  • are linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression;
  • have negative consequences on girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.
The study also suggests that men may be less likely to be satisfied with their female partners as a result of the unrealistic expectations created by the media portrayal of women. There also seems to be a tie between viewing pornography and sexualizing women. We see this as the questions submitted on our teen site (We're Talking Teen Health) more and more ask questions like why women are "supposed" to shave their genitals, which is obviously coming from partners who view images of women in pornography.

The good news is that parents can play a major protective and educative role and schools should teach media literacy skills to all students and should include information on the negative effects of sexualization of girls in those programs. We can help teens talk about how marketing techniques make girls' and women's bodies look unnatural and focus people's attention on their bodies as if that is all that is valuable about them, but to do this, we have to be engaging in the same media they are experiencing.

Photo credit: Jakob.Montrasio.Net

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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