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African Americans on a whole consume more media than whites or any other culture, which makes them more susceptible to being influenced by the negative images and themes projected by mainstream media. Adolescence is a vulnerable time for both males and females of all races, allowing for a greater risk for decreased self-esteem and body dissatisfaction, especially amongst girls, which may cause some mental health concerns like depression. Many African American adolescent girls seek images they can identify with, whether they are positive or negative. Western mainstream media consistently portrays women as sex objects, excessively thin and unrealistically attractive; along with advertisements for alcohol, cigarettes and obesity-causing foods and beverages. These advertisements may inadvertently encourage adverse health behaviors, reported to contribute to obesity, drinking smoking and violence. Mainstream media has become most adolescents' guide to life, replacing family and educators and health care providers. Stereotypical and sexualized images of African American women, as well as women in general, may lead to a lack of self-confidence in African American adolescent girls who identify with these images. African American youth culture is somewhat defined by media, thus pressuring African American adolescents to conform to these negative images and stereotypes in order to fit in. Some of the solutions that may counteract the influences of mainstream media on African American adolescent girls are media literacy programs, a more holistic sex education, campaigns to address the potential risks of media, and creating more positive media.
American media are thought to be the most sexually suggestive in the Western hemisphere, a culture heavily consisting of erotic imagery, particularly the sexualization of women (Coy, 2009; Malikhao & Servaes, 2010). The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexualization as "any one of the following: personal value based only on sex appeal; the equation of physical attractiveness with being sexy; construction as an object for others' sexual use; inappropriate imposition of sexuality" (Coy, 2009). The American Psychological Task Force on the Sexualization of girls reported virtually every media they studied contained some type of sexualization of women (Malikhao & Servaes, 2010).
American youth spend an average of 6-81/2 hours a day using various forms of media, including TV, videos, movies, radio, print media, computers and video games and the internet. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention have identified five critical types of adolescent health risks behaviors: obesity, smoking, drinking, sexual risk taking and violence. It has been reported that media consumption contributes to obesity, drinking, smoking and violence (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).
Adolescents are likely to integrated media into their identity formation (Schooler & Trinh, 2011). Malikhao and Servaes (2010) examined how the increased use media in American youth is related to the increase of individualism, which may develop into narcissism. One study found a significant relationship between media use and school grades, in other words, between the amount of time young people spend with media and the type of grades they report getting in school (Malikhao & Servaes, 2010).
African Americans on a whole consume more media than whites or any other culture, which makes them more susceptible to being influenced by the negative images and themes projected by mainstream media (Gordon, 2008; Ward, Day, & Thomas, 2010). Although African American viewers have been thought as "unselective, uncritical, and homogenous," as well as unfocused and passive, because of the amount of media they consume, it has been reported that they are no less critical than any other viewer (Ward, Day, & Thomas, 2010, p. 69). One study showed that despite having "limited control" over how African American women are portrayed by mass media, African American girls are not "passive consumers" (Stokes, 2007, p. 179).
Adolescents may use mainstream media as a guide for life, in order to explore difficult issues (Gibson, 2010). One of the many reasons that determine which type of media an adolescent chooses to engage in is through their quest to define themselves, as adolescence is a vulnerable time for both males and females of all races (Gordon, 2008; Schooler & Trinh, 2011). During this time, they are susceptible to the risk of body dissatisfaction, especially adolescent girls, and a decrease in self-esteem (Gordon, 2008; Schooler & Trinh, 2011). The average American adolescent will view nearly 14,000 sexual references per year, in which only 165 of those references pertain to warnings or preventative measures, such as birth control, self-control, abstinence, pregnancy or STD's. One study found that 56% of all programs on American TV contained sexual content (Malikhao & Servaes, 2010).
Sexualized media reinforces gender inequality and portray women as sexually available. Young black women are portrayed as hypersexual, whose only power lies in attracting a male's attention and approval. Young black men are portrayed as predatory, associating masculinity with predatory prowess (Coy, 2009). African American females have been depicted by mainstream media in a sexually demeaning way since slavery in American culture (Stokes, 2007). The level an individual is able to relate to the images and themes in mass media determines its influence rather than the frequency or mere exposure. The more one identifies with the content, the more he or she may be influenced by it (Gordon, 2008). African American adolescent girls have the difficult task of sifting through these conflicting messages about Black femininity and sexuality, having to decide for themselves whether to reject or identify with these representations (Marshall, Staples, & Gibson, 2009).
Some researchers argue that African American adolescent girls passively consume mass media due to minimal opportunities to thoroughly process and critique the negative images and stereotypical themes portrayed, which not only redefines femininity and beauty, but prioritize it. These young African American girls may not be aware of the oppressive undertones, accepting and identifying with many of the representations. This identification may lead to poor self-image and low self-confidence, which may increase health risks, narrow aspirations and achievements, limit identities, prevent further development of other skills, curb interests, and limit potential opportunities (Coy, 2009; Gibson, 2010; Gordon, 2008). Many African American females are able to identify with stereotypical images at some level, given that most African American girls and women have had to wrestle with negative images in mainstream media, struggling for self-determination and self-definition in the process (Gibson, 2010).
Urban fiction is a type of literature that reflect the hip-hop culture, and is popular among African American women and adolescent girls (Marshall, Staples, & Gibson, 2009; Gibson, 2010). It typically uses nonstandard English (slang) and profanity. Its mature themes usually include graphic violent and sex scenes, drug trafficking and addiction, mental and physical abuse, incarceration, abortion, crime, teen parenthood, pregnancy, premarital sex, and death. The female protagonists in many of these books often use their sexuality to manipulate and obtain money and power, usually over men. Many adults are uncomfortable with urban fiction text, though African American adolescent girls may not necessarily identify with the female characters, but rather are challenged to critically asses the storyline instead, thus coming to their own individual conclusion (Marshall, Staples, & Gibson, 2009; Gibson, 2010).
Adolescent girls of all races may read in order to explore the expectations of women in their community concerning gender roles, beauty, femininity and sexuality; often using magazines and friends to explore these themes in the absence of adult conversation (Gibson, 2010). Magazines that focus on adolescent girls frequently focus on body ideals. Exposure to these types of magazines is associated with body dissatisfaction among girls, as well as boys (Schooler & Trinh, 2011).
Many African American adolescent girls seek images they can identify with, whether they are positive or negative (Gibson, 2010), preferring black oriented media with black characters (Ward, Day, & Thomas, 2010). Attractive African American females in rap music videos may become models to African American adolescent girls, who identify with these females and imitate the adverse behaviors portrayed, including sexual relationships with multiple partners, which can expose one to STD's (Peterson, Wingood, DiClemente, Harrington & Davies, 2007). One study reported African American adolescent girls who reported a greater exposure to rap videos were significantly more likely to report multiple sexual partners or to have acquired a new STI over the twelve month follow-up than girls with less exposure to rap videos (Stokes, 2007). African American women are expected to model the sexualized and stereotypical images in mainstream media and hip-hop videos, which further oppress African American women through its depiction of women as primarily sexual (Lewis, 2010). It is unrealistic to expect adolescent girls to be able successfully resist negative images and themes in mainstream media due to the amount contradictory messages that bombard them daily (Stokes, 2007).
Many popular rap videos depict women as "passive, sexually aggressive, and willing to be utilized at will, "and portray alcohol and drug use as normal (Lewis, 2010, p. 5; Peterson, Wingood, DiClemente, Harrington & Davies, 2007). These interpretations may cause some African American adolescent girls to desire certain physical characteristics and sexual behaviors, deeming them as normative within their culture. If they are not able to uphold these standards, they may assume a less positive body image (Peterson, Wingood, DiClemente, Harrington & Davies, 2007). One study showed that the more time an individual spent viewing rap music videos, the greater likelihood they would accept the negative images in those videos (Lewis, 2010).
The African American youth culture is somewhat defined by its music. Adolescents follow the norms portrayed in popular hip hop music in order to be accepted and considered authentic. Under these circumstances, African American adolescent girls may feel pressured to adhere to the sexualized roles represented in music and music videos (Gordon, 2008). Although all hip hop music is not misogynist, commercialized hip hop, R&B, and rap music often objectify and sexualize women (Stokes, 2007). Hip-hop culture includes a broad range of sexist and misogynist messages, which are popular among African American youth (Stokes, 2007). African American girls use the media as a source of information about sexual scripts, thus guiding their sexual identities. This process is more difficult for the African American adolescent due to the contradictory messages from mainstream media that may conflict with inner and family values (Stokes, 2007).
Early sexual activity has been associated with listening to sexualized music lyrics, in which early sexual activity is connected to teen pregnancy and poor sexual health (Coy, 2009). One study found that adolescents who spent more time listening to music with degrading sexual content were more likely to initiate sexual intercourse and to progress in their non-coital activity than those who spent less time listening to music with degrading lyrics (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008). Another study found that male and female youth who listened to music with degrading sexual content were more likely to subsequently initiate intercourse and to progress to more advanced levels of non-coital sexual activity (Stokes, 2007). Once an adolescent is sexually active, they are more likely to expose themselves to sexualized media. Adolescents who are exposed to sexualized media are more likely to increase their sexual activity (Bleakley, Hennessy, Fishbein, & Jordan, 2008).
Several studies have shown a link between sexual exposure on TV and sexual behavior among adolescents. Suggesting that high school students who watch TV shows with high sexual content are more likely to be sexually active than those viewing TV shows with less sexual content. Adolescents' sexual media consumption is significantly related to their sexual experience and intentions to be sexually active (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008). Researchers Bleakley, Hennessy, Fishbein and Jordan defined media exposure and sexual behavior as both causes and effects. They suggested the exposure to sexualized media and sexual activity are both causes and effects; adolescents who are interested in sex, as well as those who are sexually active, may selected more sexualized media, which may in turn lead to increased sexual activity (Bleakley, Hennessy, Fishbein, & Jordan, 2008). In other words, the more sexual activity an adolescent is engaged in, the more likely they are to be exposed to sexualized media, and the more exposure to sexualized media an adolescent experiences, the more likely they are to progress in their sexual activity (Bleakley, Hennessy, Fishbein, & Jordan, 2008).
Body images on TV are unrealistic and unattainable, which may be an essential reason as to why adolescent girls, not boys, reported increased body dissatisfaction after viewing commercials. Studies show evidence of a connection between TV use and body dissatisfaction, especially in adolescents, which is a strong predictor of eating disorders and is associated with depression. Certain genres of TV viewing have been related to various aspects of body image; boys and girls who regularly watched soap operas reported greater drive for thinness, and boys who watched music videos reported a greater drive for masculinity (Schooler & Trinh, 2011; Quigg & Want, 2010).
Body dissatisfaction increased significantly at onset of puberty and continues to increase across middle school and HS- especially girls. TV portrays women as being much thinner than in actual population, presenting an unrealistic body image, bordering undernourished. Body dissatisfaction present serious consequences for adolescents' health and well-being: as one study reported 63% of girls in high school engaged in unhealthy behavior in order to lose weight, such as fasting, skipping meals or smoking cigarettes. 22% of girls had engaged in extreme weight control behaviors such as vomiting, taking diet pills, or using laxatives (Schooler & Trinh, 2011; Quigg & Want, 2010).
Adolescent view an average of 35 minutes a day of TV advertising, including food ads, which may influence African American adolescent girls in various health risk behaviors, such as physical activity, "excessive calorie intake, physical inactivity, smoking underage drinking, early sexual initiation and violent behaviors (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008, p. 169)," all of which are leading causes of youth morbidity today related ways, including their physical activity (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008; Yancey, Cole, Brown, Williams, Hillier, Kline, & ...Mccarthy, 2009). It has been documented that fewer physical activity-related ads, fewer health-related ads, and more food and beverages ads exist in TV programming for African American audiences than white audiences. One study found a greater frequency of health-diminishing advertising and a lesser frequency of health-promoting advertising in magazines that targeted African Americans. Products featuring African American models were found to advertise products that were more likely to diminish health. Also it is four times more likely that black TV actors are overweight in primetime shows compared to general primetime audiences (Yancey, Cole, Brown, Williams, Hillier, Kline, & ...Mccarthy, 2009).
A significant relation between cigarette advertising and adolescents'' smoking initiation has been reported, as the majority of new smokers are children and adolescents. The receptivity of tobacco advertising is a predictor of established smoking (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008). Alcohol adverting appeals to children and adolescents, normalizing it and portraying it as harmless behavior, especially when coupled with success, sexuality and fun . Many alcohol advertisements are focused on the youth rather than adults, which may contribute to adolescent drinking (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).
Inconsistencies have been reported concerning the targeting of racial/ethnic and income groups in commercial advertising and magazines, billboards, and TV in obesity-related foods and beverages (Yancey, Cole, Brown, Williams, Hillier, Kline, & ...Mccarthy, 2009). Living in an upper-income neighborhood, regardless of race, relatively protects one against exposure to most types of obesity-promoting outdoor advertising (Yancey, Cole, Brown, Williams, Hillier, Kline, & ...Mccarthy, 2009). African Americans have been disproportionally targeted in magazines and TV shows with advertisements for sodas, candy and alcoholic beverages, all which contribute to morbidity. Alcoholic beverages were advertised five times more frequently in African American neighborhoods than in predominately white areas. The promotion of unhealthy foods in restaurants in low-income African American communities has been identified more than in affluent white communities. Consequently, healthier foods and beverages are underrepresented in lower income neighborhoods (Yancey, Cole, Brown, Williams, Hillier, Kline, & ...Mccarthy, 2009).
Various studies have concluded that exposure to TV and movie violence increased aggression and violence. About 90% of US youth aged 8-18 play video games. There are significant positive links between TV violence exposure and aggression for both boys and girls. Media violence is a causal risk factor for aggressive and violent behavior (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).
Some commentators have suggested that mainstream media has now become a type of "peer" to children and adolescents, replacing families and educators (Coy, 2009). One study reported that African American adolescent girls who consumed media where Black women were fondled, controlled by Black men, or used sex to reap material gain were more likely to have multiple sexual partners, use alcohol and drugs, and have a negative body image (Coy, 2009). The media's hyper-sexualized and hyper-femininity may stunt an African American adolescent girl's interest in intellectual, athletic or creative identities (Coy, 2009). Media images that reflect racial feminine stereotypes disallow young African American girls to remain innocent and pure, exposing them to a sexualized world , which may lead to poor self-image and a lack of confidence, effecting their health and hindering their ability to reach their highest potential (Coy, 2009).
A variety of solutions and preventive measures have been suggested to counter the negative effects of mainstream media on African American adolescent girls. One option is for African American girls and women to create their own media, dismissing harmful stereotypes and myths (Stokes, 2007). Educating African American adolescent girls and their families about the possible risks of certain media on a young girl's health can also help buffer the negative effects of mass media (Peterson, Wingood, DiClemente, Harrington & Davies, 2007). Raising a daughter to have a strong internal self-judgment, which in turn can act as a buffer to sexualized, materialistic and misogynistic content. Parents and guardians can also set limitations to their daughter's media consumption and certain types of content (Gordon, 2008).
Creating familiarity with certain healthy products can help African American adolescent girls make better food and beverage choices, despite of focused obesity-related advertising. Using positive and culturally grounded images of people of color in advertising may also improve health behaviors (Yancey, Cole, Brown, Williams, Hillier, Kline, & ...Mccarthy, 2009). Policy and legal interventions can be used to prevent and control obesity, by targeting advertising or creating policies that counteract them (Yancey, Cole, Brown, Williams, Hillier, Kline, & ...Mccarthy, 2009).
Create and utilize positive forms of media that counters the unrealistic and sexualized portrayals of women may be an effective intervention (Quigg & Want, 2010). One study reported that appearance satisfaction was greatly influenced by exposure to music videos, but when an intervention commercial was used, it compensated for this negative influence (Quigg & Want, 2010). Interventions similar to the one used in the study (commercial) are more effective than attempting to prevent media's influence. Interventions that counter media's unhealthy messages give females the opportunity to reject the images portrayed by mass media (Quigg & Want, 2010).
A strong counter policy steer is necessary in order to come against this media giant that influences the youth of today. Incorporating a media literacy program in schools may help young African American girls critically analyze the stereotypical messages sent forth from mainstream media. The homogenous sex education that prevails does not address key issues that are relevant to African American adolescent girls; therefore a more holistic approach to sex education may be more effective, addressing the effects of media in its curriculum (Coy, 2009; Stokes, 2007). Other methods to counter negative effects of media: increase access to other activities, such as sports; and develop campaigns to address the impact of sexualized media (Coy, 2009).