Chances are you remember the rumblings in the news about the American Psychological Association and their groundbreaking discovery 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."Sexualization of Girls is Linked to Common Mental Health Problems in Girls and Women — Eating Disorders, Low Self-Esteem, and Depression," February 19, 2007, http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2007/02/sexualization.aspx. When I heard it on the news, I stared at my TV in total disbelief and mumbled, "Nah! Ya think?" The study took aim at everything from sexually salacious ads to the tarted-up Bratz dolls popular with young girls. Every forum of media was fair game, including video games, song lyrics, magazines, and the round-the-clock bombardment of sexual images found on television and the Internet.
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, i.e., made into a thing for another's sexual use. While the overall finding of the study may not come as a surprise, it should serve as a wake-up call for parents who have somehow rationalized that it's a battle not worth fighting. Take a look at some of the fallout the study confirmed:
- 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.Ibid.
Parents: Problem or Solution?
According to the task force report, parents can play a major role in contributing to the sexualization of their daughters, or they can play a protective and educative role. The study acknowledges that parents may actually contribute to the sexualization of their daughters in a number of ways. One way is to convey the message that maintaining an attractive physical appearance is the most important goal for girls. As abhorrent as it is, we have all heard rumblings about parents who even go so far as to pay for plastic surgery for their daughters, whether it's a nose job at sixteen or a boob job for graduation. It certainly leaves their daughters clear on where mom and dad stand on the importance of vanity.
Before we look at ways to protect our daughters from sexualizing messages from the media, we must first examine ourselves to see if perhaps we have propagated this damaging message. If outer appearance is important to you and out of balance, chances are you have passed the same mind-set onto your daughter. Hopefully, after reading this section you will have a better grasp on why God tells us that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" and further wants us to "know that full well" (Ps. 139:14). It may even be necessary to go to your daughter and apologize for the part you may have played in emphasizing outer appearance to an unhealthy degree. I have certainly had to own up to this in the past with my own daughter.
Next we need to put our daughters on a media diet. While it would be impossible to shield them from every damaging influence, we can certainly draw a line in the sand when it comes to the worst offenders. Below, you will find a list of the worst offenders and tips on how to limit your daughters' consumption and exposure to the damaging lies they generate.