It is usually young girls who are the victims of sexualisation. The media teaches them inappropriate behaviours that are frequent in older women and represents them in a sexualized way. Many young girls look up to models and celebrities. Many teenage girls look up to and copy the hair, makeup and wardrobe of celebrities like Kim Kardashian; who is popular with men and became famous because of a sex tape. Young girls don’t want to look like strong successful women who are less attractive. The media puts a strong emphasis on their idea of beauty for example you would see a slim sexy women on a men’s magazine however you are less likely to see an overweight women.
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Many media and entertainment sources promote this ideal beauty image to young girls. For example TV shows and ads, music videos, toys, beauty pageants for under 10 year olds, clothes and magazines all promote sexualisation. Interpersonal relationships with friends, family and teachers can also contribute to sexualizing girls. Parents can encourage girls to have a good appearance and take pride in the way they look which will make them believe this is an important aim for them. Sarah Burge was in the newspapers for controversially giving her 8 year old daughter a cosmetic surgery voucher for liposuction for when she turns 18 she has also admitted to giving her teenage daughter Botox. Girls can also sexualise themselves. They want to buy product that are meant to make them look more sexy and attractive and copy the celebrities who they label sexy.
Research in the APA report Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls suggests that teachers can also push sexualisation on girls by encouraging them to be sexualized women. More findings suggest teachers believe girls who are of Black origin are viewed as “hypersexual” and are not likely to accomplish success in school. Peer pressure also contributes to sexualisation. “Over a quarter of teenagers are having sex before 16. Further research from child line suggests that 15% of callers talking about peer pressure connected it with sex. The pressure to have sex came from other girls” (NSPCC 2011)
The media effects a child’s thinking with their focus on looks and appearance shaping how a child views the perfect body image. “Teenagers today are getting sex education and socialization mainly from media sources and children are exposed to large amount of explicit sexual content which they can’t process. Valuable time for them to develop with their age is taken away” (Olfman 2009). In the early 19th century many children were orphaned and pushed into the adult world where they had to work however they managed it to the best of their ability because TV and media didn’t have such a big impact as it has today. The media however thinks it is the responsibility of the parents to decide what they let their children watch and to shield them from what they view as inappropriate. Parents allow their children to watch films that are not age appropriate. When a child wants to look different parents automatically panic thinking it is not normal. A child supporting the Goth look can be seen as abnormal and they are suspected of doing wrong as it is different to the common appearance accepted in society and media.
Fredrickson & Roberts in 1997 came up with the Objectification theory which suggests several women and girls are sexually objectified and seen and treated as an object only recognized for how other people can use them. “According to Bartky it is when the body parts of a female are highlighted and detached from the female as a whole person so she is seen only as a sexual object for a man. This makes a women start evaluating herself and her appearance” (APA 2007) Shugart’s (2003) did a study on the media and TV coverage of the U.S. women’s football team in 1999 to show how the team was sexualized and found 3 ways in which they were sexualized. The first was subtle sexualisation taking place through passive objectification. He found pictures concentrating more on the athletes face instead of her performance. Secondly was less subtle sexualization which took place due to the remarks made by the commentators, the presenters and media. When an athlete took her top off after to celebrate scoring the winning goal they made comments about her breasts. Many male athletes celebrate scoring a goal in football in the same way however their body parts aren’t commented on the way a woman’s are. Thirdly ‘vigilant heterosexuality’ also was seen, again in the remarks made by the commentators when their families appeared in the foreground showing they were not lesbians and had husbands and children. They were stereotyped as lesbians just because they were playing a sport popular with men. This kind of sexualisation makes the athleticism of the female athletes insignificant because the strength of the athlete has been seen as sexual for men and taken as a way of pleasurable for them.
Effects of Sexualization
Young girls can suffer from poor body Image and low self esteem leading to eating disorders. America the beautiful is a film about perceptions of beauty and media. It shows issues teenagers and children have with their body image because of the media. Gerren Taylor who was a popular model discovered at 12 years old was later told she didn’t fit the requirements of a model anymore because she was seen as not thin enough. The film showed a study of the effects TV had on the people of Fiji in the 1990s. The results found that girls in Fiji did not have eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia when there was no TV however 3 years after TV was introduced, around 11% of girls confessed to vomiting in order to lose weight. The film also showed magazine editors who said they don’t want ugly people on their magazine covers because they ‘won’t sell’. This film clearly shows how big of an impact TV and media have on children. Research suggests 4 out of 5 10 year old children are frightened of becoming fat. A survey was conducted by people magazine and women roughly “80% said pictures of other women on TV and in films made them insecure about themselves” (The Eating Disorder Foundation 2005) According to Durham (2009) young girls describe Barbie as having the perfect body. Barbie’s body interpreted to human size as being tall with a slim waist and big breasts and weighing 110 pounds which according to medical experts is far too skinny. Many women in the entertainment industry also have this Barbie style body. Men and boys also have a fake perception of beauty. The media shows images of men who are tall, handsome, have a full head of hair, strong and muscular. Boys think this is the way they should be. An article in the Independent showed that 12 year old boys are taking muscle building steroids to attract girls. Other effects of sexualisation include depression, poor concentration, risky sexual behaviour and unhappiness in relationships.
According to the about kid’s health (2012) website; 6 hours of some source of media is viewed by a child each day. 12% of comments in prime time TV shows were sexual and had some kind of sexual objectification aimed at women. These TV programs were mostly watched by children and adolescents. Music videos and song lyrics can also be sexualised. “81% have sexual imagery in them which objectifies the women by showing them wearing revealing clothes, dancing provocatively, body parts are emphasized, posing to show sexual readiness. There whole purpose of being in the videos is because they are good to look at” (APA 2002) Research shows that “45 prime time TV shows popular with teenagers in 1996 were analyzed and the results showed that the teenagers and young adults in the show spoke about sex and/or displayed some kind of sexual behaviour”(Brown 2002). Most horror movies have something sexual in them. Boys aren’t seen as sexualized victims but girls are. There are scenes of girls undressing, wearing revealing clothing, having showers at the time of the assault. This makes boys watching sexually aroused when the violence takes place. This combination of pleasure and violence is worrying. In Disney films which are primarily aimed at children, current heroines like Pocahontas, Jasmine and Areal are ‘sexier’ than some other Disney heroines like Cinderella and their bodies are similar to the half naked women you see in magazines.
Around 72% of British people think sexualized ads and media is too common these days. 64% said there is a lot more pressure on children to engage in sexualized behaviour with 55% agreeing that they do behave in a sexualized way.
70% believe that there is a lot of inappropriate clothing for children around with 69% agreeing that children are wearing clothes that are not suitable for them in terms of their age.
70% believe parents are too laid back in regards to what they allow their children to watch and a small 16% believed sexualisation is not a bad thing (Yougov/Alice Moran 2012)
Another survey conducted by the Australian childhood foundation 2005 discovered 85% of parents alleged that their children are growing up too quickly.
The Australian Institute produced a discussion paper on the sexualisation of children in Australia and found “there is a pressure for children and pre-teens from advertising companies and this limits a child’s freedom to grow in their own time and ways.” (Rush and Nauze 2006) They had found that the girls 20% of 5, 6 and 11 year old girls brought magazines such as Disney Girl, Total Girl and Barbie magazine. When analyzing these magazines it was found that they encourage them to look up to celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton; bearing in mind she was famous for a sex tape and they want girls to look up to her. They also found they teach them to dance in a provocative way, they again have hair, makeup and fashion tips for young girls and encourage them to picture young adult males as their dream boyfriends. All this targeted at girls aged 11 and under. Young girls are exposed to music videos from girl bands like the Pussycat dolls who have worn corsets, mini skirts, knee high boots and other sexualized clothing in their music videos. Many toys are also sexualized for example Bratz dolls have heavy makeup on and are dressed in ‘sexy’ clothing similar to the Pussycat dolls. These dolls are supposed to be for girls aged 4-8. This could send the wrong message to young girls making them think this is the way they should look and dress this way. It could have a negative effect on boys as they may begin to think this is how every girl should look like.
Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregs said “kids are being taken out of childhood by unprincipled media and marketers who are only concerned about their own business and profit. I find a hip and sexy 10 year old quite disconcerting. 8 years old girls don’t want to be their age anymore instead they want to be 13” (Brooks 2008, page 17)
The media construct sex and sexuality in ways which disrupt the healthy sexual development of girls and children. While young they are shown too many pictures and messages about sex and sexuality which can be harmful for them. Young people are having sex too early as shown by the rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States. “Nearly 750,000 women and girls ages 15-19 in the United States become pregnant every year. It is also found the STDs are also very common in youngsters ages 13-24. In the United States they were the 17% of people who had been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS” (Kost and Henshaw 2012)
There can be dangers to sexualisation for example the case of 6 year old child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsay who was killed in her home at just 6 years old. Each night she was shown dressed up like an adult on TV. Her publicity as a child beauty queen exposed her to dangerous individuals. Beauty pageants dress children up as adults training them to compete against each other. These pageants have a strong focus on physical appearance which could affect children when they grow older as they start craving to be physically perfect. The results of a 2005 study showed that children who competed in beauty pageants showed more body dissatisfaction than others. There are many inappropriate kids clothing around today. “Finkelstein states that appearance has deceived others for years and clothes can be used to mislead others about age” (Brooks 2008, page 80)
Sexualisation triggers vulnerability to abuse. According to the NSPCC, an Italian study discovered a link with teenage girls watching porn and them suffering sexual violence. A survey was conducted in 2008 on boys ages 14 to 17 year olds. The results showed “27% were watched adult pornography each week among them 5% were viewing it each day”. (NSPCC 2011) Boys get an unrealistic image of sex and relationships by watching pornography. Many girls in relationships suffer sexual or physical abuse and are experience some form of’ control’ by their partners.
Some research suggests that sexualisation of young children through media does not make them more open to sexual abuse and sees this as one of her myths of child sexual abuse. Sanderson (2006) suggests sexual predators are attracted to childhood innocence instead of a child wearing provocative clothes and make up. As girls ages 7 or 8 are dressing more provocatively, paedophiles are preying on more younger and childlike children.
Lolita is a story about a 12 year old girl who attracts her step father unwillingly. He becomes obsessed with her and in the book it is clear that she is a powerless victim of abuse from her stepfather. Durham (2009) found that the media constantly represent her as an immoral little girl or a metaphor for a child vixen. The media makes Lolita look like some kind of sex object for example an article read ‘Bring back school uniforms for little Lolita’s’ This article supported fashions for ‘sexy’ school girls. A perfume inspired by Lolita also caused controversy. Marc Jacobs ‘Oh Lola’ perfume was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority because the ad pictured a 17 year old actress with a large perfume bottle in between her legs. As she is underage this is seen as sexualising a child.
It is important for parents to be aware and in control of the programs children watch and prevent them watching adult content. Parents should join their children in watching TV to be fully aware of what is being watched. An important point is to speak to children about any sexual behaviours seen and explain what is acceptable and when. This is also a good opportunity to talk about what their thoughts are and whether they are having any problems like peer pressure outside the home. Also to explain the body images they see and discuss what is and what isn’t healthy.
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