According to a new study of elementary school-age kids in the Midwest, girls as young as 6 are already beginning to think of themselves as sex objects. Self-sexualization is already a problem among teens and women, but little girls are now facing the question is this outfit sexy enough?
"Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 6- to 9-year-old girls. Sixty girls were shown two dolls, one dressed in tight and revealing "sexy" clothes and the other wearing a trendy but covered-up, loose outfit. Using a different set of dolls for each question, the researchers then asked each girl to choose the doll that: looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, she wanted to play with." One would hope that all of them chose the trendy covered up loose outfit because seeing a six year old in club wear isn't exactly age-appropriate. Unfortunately, across-the-board, girls chose the "sexy" doll most often. Now, this shouldn't be so surprising. With dolls like Bratz or Monster High, the sexy doll would look more like what they are used to playing with. While I did play with dolls when I was young, most of my dolls looked like THIS, not THAT. VS.
The results were significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the [more provocatively dressed] doll looked how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said [the sexy doll] was more popular than the non-sexy doll.
How sad is that? Already at six, they believe they must look sexy in order to be popular. When I was six, I already had an idea of what it took to be popular, sure fashion was involved, but never sex appeal. Instead of being smart, funny, warm, polite, and interesting, six years olds believe the fast track to popularity are stiletto pumps, short skirts and makeup. Don't get me wrong, I think if women want to party they are entitled to whatever outfits they deem appropriate. However, I remember when I was growing up adults would scoff at a sixteen year old dressing too sexy. Have the expectations of sexiness among girls become so internalized that little girls are dressing for this abstract concept view of popularity without having even hit puberty yet?!
There is hope though, this study also showed that girls that were involved with dance and/or sports were more likely to have a greater appreciation for their body and a more positive body image. "It's possible that for young girls, dance involvement increased body esteem and created awareness that their bodies can be used for purposes besides looking sexy for others, and thus decreased self-sexualization." So if your deciding to either put your little sister in a pageant or put her in ballet classes, opt for ballet, heck, opt for tap or even soccer! The more girls have to USE their bodies for concrete accomplishments rather than ornamentation the better off her self esteem. While this also was not in the study I also think reading would have a great deal of influence. Make sure they read books with strong female role models instead of gossip/fashion/teen magazines that focus on what women wear and how sexy they look.
"Media consumption alone didn't influence girls to prefer the sexy doll. But girls who watched a lot of TV and movies and who had mothers who reported self-objectifying tendencies, such as worrying about their clothes and appearance many times a day, in the study were more likely to say the sexy doll was popular." I grew up with movies like "Clueless" and television shows like "Lizzie McGuire", the distinction of popular versus non-popular appearance was mainly where you got your clothes, how much they cost, or if a celebrity was caught wearing the same thing. Now in television shows and movies, the popular girl is always dressed in revealing clothes or perceived as sexy.
How You Can Help:
However, while it is easy to point to media as the big bad, we are not void of responsibility. Moms and big sisters have a great influence, that is where you come in. The more you watch what your hermanita or niece is watching, and the more you engage in discussion about what you are watching, the greater chance you have in molding how she views her self and other women. "As maternal TV instruction served as a protective factor for sexualization, it’s possible that higher media usage simply allowed for more instruction." So please go ahead and watch whatever shows your little sister, cousin, and niece is watching but always make it a learning moment, and maybe she won't worry about having to shop for a sexy outfit for the first day of school.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association sounded the alarm in a report on the sexualization of girls. It documented consequences of self-objectification and sexualization that have been identified in mainly college-age women, ranging from distractibility during mental tasks and eating disorders to reduced condom use and fewer women pursuing careers in math and science. Starr and her colleagues wrote that they expected similar outcomes in younger adolescents and girls.
Be a role-model:
"Moms can help their daughters navigate a sexualizing world by instructing their daughters about their values and by not demonstrating objectified and sexualized behaviors themselves." Maybe instead of just going shopping or playing dress up you can also just spend quality time with those latinititas and help them focus on what they can do, not just how they look. Even if she's ten or twelve, there is a chance you can still reach out to her by being a positive influence in her life. You can mention all the trophy's you have received for music, or sports. You can tell her your ambitions and then ask her what she hopes to be when she's older. Give her dolls that are appropriately dressed or even Career Barbies. It also helps if they know about successful women in math, science, politics, ect. and not just know about sexy pop idols or Kim Kardashian. Also, if it is possible, a good solid relationship with a father or father figure is important so get your brothers, father, or uncles involved in spending quality time. It also helps if they don't see or treat women as sexual objects when they are around those little latinas. They really do absorb a lot of information, and if you make a solid effort, you can be one of the main (and positive) influences in their life.