Updated by The Mommy Blues on 11/20/14

Sexualization of Girls

February 19, 2007 / American Psychological Association

  • Sexualization of Girls is Linked to Common Mental Health Problems in Girls and Women–Eating Disorders, Low Self-Esteem, and Depression; An APA Task Force Reports

Psychologists call for replacing sexualized images of girls in media and advertising with positive ones

WASHINGTON–A report of the American Psychological Association (APA) released today found evidence that the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development.

To complete the report, the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls studied published research on the content and effects of virtually every form of media, including television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the Internet. They also examined recent advertising campaigns and merchandising of products aimed toward girls.

Sexualization was defined by the task force as occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.

Examples of the sexualization of girls in all forms of media including visual media and other forms of media such as music lyrics abound. And, according to the report, have likely increased in number as “new media” have been created and access to media has become omnipresent. The influence and attitudes of parents, siblings, and friends can also add to the pressures of sexualization.

“The consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls’ healthy development,” says Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, chair of the APA Task Force and associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

Research evidence shows that the sexualization of girls negatively affects girls and young women across a variety of health domains:

Cognitive and Emotional Consequences: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person’s confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.

Mental and Physical Health: Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women–eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.

Sexual Development: Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

According to the task force report, parents can play a major role in contributing to the sexualization of their daughters or can play a protective and educative role. The APA report calls on parents, school officials, and all health professionals to be alert for the potential impact of sexualization on girls and young women. Schools, the APA says, should teach media literacy skills to all students and should include information on the negative effects of the sexualization of girls in media literacy and sex education programs.

“As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings–ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls,” states Dr. Zurbriggen. “The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents–boys and girls–that lead to healthy sexual development.”

  • Girls Talk: Sexualization of Girls video
    Download transcript (PDF, 53KB)
    APA’s Public Interest directorate invited six middle school girls to sit down and share their thoughts about the images of girls they see all around them and how they feel about the way girls today are portrayed.
  • Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
    PDF, 804KB
    The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image.
  • Executive Summary
    HTML | PDF, 151KB
    Journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents and psychologists have argued that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls. The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls was formed in response to these expressions of public concern.
  • What Parents Can Do
    HTML | PDF, 124KB
    Parents can teach girls to value themselves for who they are, rather than how they look. Parents can teach boys to value girls as friends, sisters and girlfriends, rather than as sexual objects. Here are some conversation starters for parents, as well as other adults and caregivers.
  • What Girls Can Do
    Winner of the 2011 American Inhouse Design Award from Graphic Design USA
    HTMLen Español | PDF, 875KB
    With the help of friends, teachers, and parents, girls can make changes in their schools, communities, and the media by questioning messages that say what matters most is how “hot” they look.
  • Empowering Girls: Media Literacy Resources
    HTML | PDF, 380KB
    With the help of the adults in their lives, girls and boys can gain media literacy skills, can learn to resist the message that how girls look is what matters and can learn how to advocate for themselves. Here are some resources that can help.

REGISTER NOW TO JOIN OTHER GIRL ACTIVISTS AND ALLIES FIGHTING OVERSEXUALIZATION OF GIRLS IN MEDIA.

What is SPARK?

SPARK: Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge is a day to speak out, push back on the sexualization of girls, and have fun while igniting a movement for girls’ rights to healthy sexuality. SPARK Summit will jumpstart a movement for change.
SPARK Summit will launch an intergenerational movement to support and stand with girls. In response to the American Psychological Association’s Task Force Report on Sexualization of Girls, the most downloaded documented in the history of the APA’s website, the SPARK Summit will engage girls to be part of the solution rather than to protect them from the problem, to give them the tools they need to become activists, organizers, researchers, policy influencers, and media makers, pushing back against the increasingly sexualized images of girlhood in the media and creating room for whole girls. The Summit will jumpstart the community building that will continue on- and off-line that will challenge the belief that “it’s just the way things are” and demonstrate what the alternatives can be.

 

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