What Simmons has noticed applies largely across the board. “It’s everybody’s problem,” Zurbriggen says. Certain groups, such as African American and Latina women have been able to resist media stereotypes better than others, Zurbriggen says, but the sexualization of girls in the media affects us all to some extent. More research about girls of color, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, and transgendered girls, girls with disabilities, people of different socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic regions is still needed, according to the report.
It’s easy to write off Miley Cyrus as an extreme example of a girl gone wild. But you can’t ignore the widespread consequences of the sexualization of girls in the media.
Here are some consequences the APA task force identified.
It’s harder to think and feel. In one test of college-aged women, those wearing bathing suits had a harder time completing math problems than those wearing sweaters, because they were preoccupied with their bodies. On the emotional side, sexualization and objectification can make a person feel ashamed or anxious.
- Research links sexualization with eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.
- It stunts the development of healthy sexuality, from unrealistic expectations about sex to decreased condom use.
- Viewing sexualized media often shapes a girl’s attitudes and beliefs. She’ll be more likely to place a high value on looks and support this type of media.
- Boys and men also take a hit. They may undertake a long, unfulfilling search to find a partner who conforms to the media’s narrow standard of “attractiveness.” Their relationships will be shallow, not intimate. Boys’ sexual harassment of girls, and attitudes toward sexual violence are also shaped by media stereotypes.
- Older women feel pressure to look young so they still fit into society’s mold.
Even with so much research showing the consequences of sexualizing girls, Dora is still getting a makeover. Some questions remain: why? Why are these images so pervasive in society? Why are parents letting their daughters imitate superstars? And why are girls buying in?
Many political and sociological factors play into the answer to this question, Zurbriggen says. Companies may be trying to expand the market for their products. For example, if a lip-gloss manufacturer creates ads of 8-year-olds puckering up for the camera, there are more people willing to buy their products. The proliferation of internet pornography may also be driving the sexualized images of young girls.
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