It’s a truism that money doesn’t have morals. If it did we certainly wouldn’t have this constant and ever expanding sexualization of our children for commercial gain. Kids are kids and are only sex objects for the disturbed in our society.
Cleavage-pumped divas lining today’s toy shelves make the attire of their Barbie ancestors seem appropriate enough for a day at the convent.
Sporting a flashy outfit and a sassy attitude, these popular sells are just a small contributor to a tsunami of hyper-sexualized media, set out to drown a generation of young girls.
A succulent trail of breadcrumbs, left by the American media for a population of impressionable adolescents to feed upon, is nothing new. In 2007, a rise in reading material on the sexualization of young girls in the media hit the market and exposed the world to the “Lolita effect,” named for Nabokov’s classic protagonist. Popular culture continues to overload this same demographic with a notion that desirability matters most. But with a rise in digital technology and new forms of media, we are dealing with a different kind of sexiness. A sexiness that isn’t just about midriffs and mini-skirts anymore.
The result? A generation of overly-confident, misguided girls dragging their damaged identities behind them; a swarm of adolescents sneaking into the makeup cases of their mothers to try on that grownup lipstick, naive to the fact that they don’t know how to use it and that they are only making a mess of themselves.
For years we have been covering our eyes but peeking through the gaps in our fingers to watch girls get older, younger. We have shaken our heads in dismay as more aspire to be pole dancing versions of celebrity pop stars rather than modern day Marie Curies.
Young girls have always scampered to find the high-heeled footprints of trendy teen stars to walk within. In 2007, then 15-year-old Miley Cyrus, queen of a global ‘tween audience, fueled an already concerning fire when the world found her curled up in a bed sheet on the cover of Vanity Fair. This past May, controversy sparked once more over the release of a music video with Cyrus shown behind the bars of a bird cage wearing a racy black bodysuit.
There is no point in playing the finger-pointing game or debating over whether it was Mean Girls or The Pussycat Dolls who taught a generation of millennium baby girls to gyrate their hips. Regardless of who made wearing the word “sexy” more popular than dress-up clothes, the issue still stands: Sexiness is everywhere and it does not have a deportation date anywhere in the near future.
In 2010, the hyper-sexualization of young girls in the media wears several masks. Not easily exposing it in the form of midriff anymore, adolescents are walking and talking a different kind of sexy these days, prying themselves away from the pages of Seventeen to peruse the aisles of Sephora in search of smoky eye makeup.
Clothing trends, held up largely by popular brands such as Abercrombie and American Eagle, are covering girls up more than ever before. But beneath a series of layered tanks and leggings, deeply imbedded within text message rhetoric, we find a confidence and an attitude that isn’t fully understood, even by the ones who use it.
With nearly six hours of each day given up to the media, a large chunk falling to social networking sites, girls are grasping onto a distorted sense of power. “‘Tween” culture spoon-feeds a heavy mixture of Rosie the Riveter rhetoric and Pussycat charm to an army of schoolgirls starving for an identity. This empowerment, no longer fostered as effectively by after-school activities and competitive sport, is often handed off to the boys who sit at the other end of a strand of text messages.
Beauty magazines, targeting the ‘tween demographic, fill their glossy pages with “how to lure him in” articles and frequently feature a panel of male opinions on what turns guys on to the opposite sex. The message relayed through these articles is that what a girl wants takes a backseat to a guy’s desires.
The story line has changed. No longer is it about waiting for prince charming to save a girl these days. Rather, it is about making sure that a girl is attractive enough to catch the eyes of a thousand princes.
Messages of desirability and catering to the wants of adolescent boys put females into a box labeled as “sexual objects”; their grades, goals, and dreams fall into the shadows of their physical appearance. It is no longer about a girl using her impeccable smarts for algebra to attract the cute boy sitting across from her in second period. It is not about finding a spot to sit down in the cafeteria for a girl to tell her new boyfriend that she has values and morals and standards he must respect. These scenarios fall second to a culture that breeds preteens who will do just about anything to be worthy in the eyes of one another.
Emerging from the rubble of these distorted messages, made for the older but given to the younger, comes a rising generation of adolescents with damaged identities and poor self-image, highly sexed but terribly lost. The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls found that sexualization in the media linked to the top three health concerns plaguing young females today: depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem. Beginning in youth, the inundating messages of the media coerce females into a set of standards constantly under construction by what popular culture labels as “desirable.”
We need to talk about this walk before we set out to walk the talk. Young girls are doing enough walking these days, in higher heels with increasingly lower self-esteem levels, but we are not talking about it nearly enough. Very rarely do the same popular publications that teach young girls to be sexy ever deconstruct the word and give girls an identity not-so-pliable in the hands of their peers.
Recently, TrueChild, a research and action center devoted to challenging and transforming the impact of gender stereotypes on young people, created the first ever media database on the increase of media sexualization of girls in the past decade. Some might regard compiling data and putting it in a central spot as just a small step, but it is an important step, nonetheless. It creates more awareness and talks about the issue that needs more of a voice. Pointing fingers or asking the question, “How did this happen?” will no longer suffice.
We have talked endlessly about the “lost boys” in recent years but we need to talk about a generation of lost girls. It is a generation being taught to bare their chest instead of their hearts. It is a generation quickly learning that it is not so much the strides they make, rather how good their legs look in making those strides.
One thing is for certain: if we don’t talk about it, the media will. As more magazine covers and iconic pop stars head to the already crowded forefront to show off sexy without ever defining it, the trail of breadcrumbs thickens, leaving behind a generation of lost girls who no longer know anything more but to follow.