10-Year-Old Model Graces the Pages of French Vogue, 2011 (Credit: Vogue France)
It is not new that the use of sexualized images of children and teenagers have increased in media in the last years. As a research of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists states, these images are almost everywhere, being displayed not only in television, but also in music videos, fashion campaigns and adverts, children’s magazines, video games or even toys. Once again, the girls are the most affected by this situation. We all remember those pictures in Vogue France which caused so much controversy or, for instance, dolls like Bratz, which are dressed too sexy without bearing in mind the age of the girls who play with them.
There is much evidence which demonstrates this phenomenon can damage girls self-esteem and self-worth, as confirmed by the American Psychological Association Taskforce into Sexualization of Girls (APA, 2007). This group of researchers found out that continued exposure to sexualizing messages of media contributes to girls “defining their self-worth and popularity in terms of sexual attractiveness”, something which can imply a negative impact on their self-esteem, as they may end up hating themselves and feeling a shamed, anxious and disgusted towards their own body. Moreover, girls can even feel “ugly and gross or untouchable”. As a result, this negative self-image that girls develop can easily lead into body image dissatisfaction, eating disorders of any kind, depression, impaired sexual development in adolescence and poor self-protective behaviors in their relationships during their teenage years. In fact, the APA found out that sexualization tends to have a tight relationship with the appearance of eating disorders, low self-esteem and depressed mood, three of the most common mental health problems in women.
Personally, I believe this is not surprising. If we analyze all these messages that popular media are sending to girls, we will come to the conclusion that the most important goal in life for a girl, in the end, is to be sexy and attractive to her peers, and later, to men. As the Australian research above mentioned states, in the current environment we’re living in, “teen girls are encouraged to look sexy, yet they know little about what it means to be sexual, to have sexual desires, and to make rational and responsible decisions about pleasure and risk within intimate relationships that acknowledge their own desires”, something which can be very dangerous, as these behaviors can lead to sexual objectivization of girls, sexual abuse or attacks or even child prostitution.
Thus, the American Psychological Association warns that “images of precocious sexuality in girls may serve to normalize abusive practices such as child abuse, child prostitution, and the sexual trafficking of children”. According to this, the main problem is that sexualization of children not only repeats sexist attitudes as observed in society as well as tolerance towards sexual violence or exploitation of girls, but also it can contribute to maintain and increase these phenomena.
To sum up, we can say the message that mediums such as television, magazines and advertising brands are transmitting to girls in every part of the world is that they should aim to be always sexy, and therefore, they should always “be sexually available, always have sex on their minds and be willing to be dominated and even sexually aggressed against”, as they are merely seen as objects. To my mind, I don’t think the fact that media use sexualized images of girls that often is just a coincidence or a temporary fashion.
If we want a society where children, girls and boys, can grow happily and in peace, we should demand our governments more regulation on media. However, as they don’t always listen, maybe we should start ourselves by building our children’s self-esteem from an early age at school or home and provide them with tools so that they can be intelligent enough to analyze what media are telling them, and if it’s right or wrong.