How old were you when Britney Spears wore a midriff top and miniskirt to Catholic School? How old were you when Twilight was released and tweens everywhere discovered that sexy relationships were about control and abuse? How old were you when Hannah Montana became Miley Cyrus and took off her clothes? And how old were you when Lea Michele, from the family programming Glee, did the same?
Someone was a girl when all of that happened. And she was watching.
For young girls, the mainstream media is a minefield of blows to their self-esteem and self-development. The American Psychological Association (APA) found that ample technology has only resulted in ample sexualization for girls, and that it causes self-sexualization, body image anxiety, and depression. In May 2008, an Alternet story entitled “Sexpot Virgins”looked deeper into sexualization of girls and found:
Targeted by marketers at increasingly younger ages, girls are now being exposed to the kind of unhealthy messages about sexuality that have long dogged grown women. Girls are told that their worth hinges on being “hot,” which in mainstream media parlance translates into thin, white, makeupped and scantily clad. Meanwhile, acting on their sexual impulses earns them the epithet “slut.” Teen magazines advise girls on how to tailor their look and personality to please boys (in order to entrap them in relationships). Advertisements present violence toward women as sexy.
The sexualization of girls in the media is important. It is not old news. It is not a “minor” problem. It isn’t something that only happens to any one group of girls. Media sexualization is pervasive, and the impact of the media on the development of all people has been studied and confirmed widely. Every day, girls receive the following messages from the media and more: that they are only worth having as sex objects, that they have no value outside of sexual relationships, and that normal sexual behavior is not about their pleasure or their sexual health.
So what can you do about it? My work with THE LINE Campaign has shown that the voices of real people are different from those in the media. Real voices care about consent, ending sexual violence, and progressing the access to sexual information and health. The media has written a script for young people, just as they have for girls. And it’s incorrect.
This is important to remember, because girls who receive messages from the media usually take them seriously after they’re reinforced by the people in their lives. We may not notice that dressing our daughters as “sexy nurses” and letting our pre-teens watch MTV’s Spring Break without pause or discussion actually proves to them that those messages are truthful and real. In order to end the sexualization of girls in the media, we have to start speaking up and speaking out, and we have to start speaking to the girls in our lives.