Just as I was thinking I wouldn’t have time to post today because of Shaping Youth’s film screening fund-raiser of Two Angry Moms a chime came into my e-mail from Dr. Robyn Silverman with full coverage of the House of Dereon collection of vamped up tots created by the ‘PopTart Princess’ herself, Beyoncé.
Ah, there IS a fairy godmother…As Dr. Robyn waves her magic wand of logic, research and reasoning to rescue me from overload and sheer lack of a clone to be ‘everywhere at once.’
I’d mentioned the Beyoncé debacle a tad in my diversity/fairytale post featuring Deesha Philyaw’s great deconstruction of ‘the princess problem’ but frankly, I hadn’t the time (nor the stomach) to tackle the foolishness of this fashionista absurdity that’s trashing childhood with vapid values of pop culture drek today. (gee, tell us how you REALLY feel, Amy, eh?–sorry, but I revile profiteering off of preschoolers, having ‘acid thrown on their innocence’ as Sen. Harkin says)
Anyway, rather than trot out my infamous ‘sexualized ad slop’ objectification diatribe that media seems to trumpet as a catch-phrase for ‘over-reaction,’ I’ll segue to Shaping Youth body image expert Dr. Robyn Silverman to explain the harm matter-of-factly as she details how this type of marketing is landing on kids…
by Shaping Youth Correspondent and body image expert, Dr. Robyn Silverman
Welcome to “Girls Gone Wild,” Little Tykes Addition.
These ads featuring Deréon Girls clothes might provide a momentary laugh if they came out of an old “dress-up box” or if the girls were doing a mock “Pussy Cat Dolls presents Girlicious” audition. But the idea that they’re aimed for public view is alarming.
According to New York Post’s Michelle Malkin,
If you thought the soft-porn image of Disney teen queen Miley Cyrus – wearing nothing but ruby-stained lips and a bedsheet – in Vanity Fair magazine was disturbing, you ain’t seen nothing yet. [The young models] are seductively posed and tarted up, JonBenet Ramsey-style, with lipstick, blush and face powder…The creepiness factor is heightened by the fact that women were responsible for marketing this child exploitation. So, what’s next? Nine-year-olds performing stripper routines?
So why are these sexualized images such a problem?
Media, such as magazine ads, TV, video games, and music videos can have a detrimental effect on children.
Not only has the sexualization of girls and women in the media lead to mounting public concern, researchers continue to find that the images can have a profound affect on the confidence, body image, dieting behaviors and sexual development of girls. Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the chair of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls is scrutinizing these issues;
“The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real,” said “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”
What do they mean by sexualization?
When researchers speak of sexualization, they’re referring to when a person’s value come from their sexual appeal (looks) or their sexual behavior and when the person is looked upon as a sexual object, to the exclusion of other characteristics such as character, intelligence, and ability.
- Dolls with pouty lips, mini-skirts, and fish-net stockings aimed at the 4-8 year old market place
- Thongs marked for young girls ages 7 to 10 years old (some printed with slogans like “eye candy” and “wink wink” on them).
- Young pop-stars and celebrities dressed provocatively or inappropriately
- Video games with sexualized images
- Cartoon-clad thongs for teens
But are children and teens really that impressionable?
While there hasn’t been a body of work that directly links sexualized images in ads and electronic media to problems in girls, individual studies strongly suggest that a link may be evident when it comes to media and eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls. For example;
- Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles.
- Middle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.
- The average person sees between 400-600 ads per day
- About 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV
- After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with–they were all equally affected.
- About 41% of teen girls report that magazines are their most important source of information with regard to dieting and health and 61% of teen girls read at least one fashion magazine often.
But here’s the real deal:
Be vigilant about the media that’s delivered through your mail slot. Be conscious about the messages that are conveyed in your living room. If you don’t like what you see:
(1) Don’t buy it: Beyonce may make the clothes but you make the decisions. Only you can determine what comes through your doors from the mall and what goes out your door to school.
(2) Shut it off: No; you can’t be with your child at all times but it’s important to supervise the media flow into your household. There are plenty of parental locks and internet blocks that can put your in control.
(3) Talk about it: Let your child know your values and why you don’t think what the ads are portraying is a smart choice for her or your family.
(4) Ask questions: You may be surprised by your child’s view of the media. They may be more savvy than you think. Ask what she thinks about what she’s seeing–be present–and listen.
(5) Expose her to positive images: There are several positive role models in the media. However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (we saw what happened with Miley and Jamie Lynn Spears). Open up your children’s world to actual living, breathing, 3-Dimensional role models in your community so that they can be inspired by something well beyond what they see on TV or in clothing ads.
Some decision-makers might be making fools of themselves by “pimping out” little girls in ads or draping a 15 year old tween queen in a sheet and sending it out to print, but you’re still the parent.
Continue to instill values in your young children and they’ll be more likely to focus their attention away from these tween tarts and dolls gone wild and towards more appropriate activities; like playing dress up and watching Sesame Street.
Dr. Robyn Silverman (full bio here) is an ongoing Shaping Youth contributor and leading Child and Adolescent Development Specialist with a focus on character education and body/self esteem development during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.
I’ll add to Dr. Robyn’s list of appropriate activities a vote for the outdoor play, with “balls as well as dolls” and completely reinforce the importance of pretend play, as Susan Linn’s new book will no doubt reveal at length in her research, “The Case for Make Believe” which you can check out via CCFC here.
I’ll be posting more about that more tomorrow, as we’re fortunate to have Susan come to the Bay Area on her book tour, hosted by none other than Michele Simon who will be on the panel with me tonight for the Shaping Youth film screening!
Here are a few more book tour stops on Susan Linn’s Bay Area sojourn…
Also…don’t miss her on Shaping Youth advisory board member Rona Renner’s radio show, Childhood Matters Sunday, June 1st (archived via podcast for ALL to enjoy!)
Thursday, May 29, 7pm – 9pm
First Congregational Church, Social Hall
1985 Louis Rd, Palo Alto
Monday, June 2, 7pm – 9pm
2001 Winward Way, San Mateo
Tuesday, June 3, 9:15am – 10:30am
920 Peninsula Way, Menlo Park
Tuesday, June 3, 4pm – 6pm
GeoKids, US Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Rd, Menlo Park
Wednesday, June 4, 1pm
51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera
Thursday, June 5, 7pm
2201 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley