by Lena Chen
Girls between the ages of 7 and 12 spent $1.6 million on thong underwear in 2003, according to Time Magazine. Pre-teen thongs aren’t the only occurrence of inappropriate clothing; mall offerings include sexy jeans, high heels for children, T-shirts with (often inappropriate) words across the chest and miniskirts for infants, toddlers and up.
Beyond clothing, those familiar with pop culture are aware of pageantry and its prevalence among younger and younger girls. High fashion features models as young as thirteen regularly, with even younger girls occasionally walking runways.
The phenomenon also extends in the other direction, however. The American Psychological Association reports that just as girls are dressed as adult women, adult women are dressed as young girls or pose with girls in images inappropriate for the girls’ ages.
The results of this sexualization are devastating. The APA reports that the sexualization of young girls is linked to depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders. It is also linked to inappropriate sexual activity and its consequences.
Hypersexualization as an issue is circulating more freely in the news, particularly among feminist and child advocate groups. Countries around the world, including Scotland, the UK and Australia, have compiled reports about its prevalence and effects, as have individual children’s and women’s rights researchers and activists.
However, despite increasing media coverage of the issue, we don’t hear much proactive advice on preventing the phenomenon. Here are three ways you can begin to help:
1. Be conscious of your actions and your words: Children mirror what they see and hear. For example, according to Professor Gail Ferguson of the University of California, maternal self-objectification is the greatest factor in girls’ internalization of media portrayals.
2. Boycott the provocative clothing marketed to young girls and the businesses that sell and promote them. Shop at thrift stores and closely monitor what stores stock and offer. Demonstrate the existence of attractive alternatives to provocative clothing.
3. Turn off reality TV and avoid fashion and teen magazines such as Seventeen, Teen Cosmo, and Glamour. These shows and magazines provide and reinforce harmful examples, images and expectations.
In the end, we are responsible for helping young girls resist hypersexualization. We are responsible for creating a safe environment for them to grow into young adults, and we are responsible for giving them the tools to appropriately deal with the messages they see in the media. We are responsible.