Sexualized Images Harms Mental Health

An APA.org article reports that the US’ cultural and marketing trends are undermining children’s mental and physical health, psychologists asserted during the APA Annual Convention.

According to Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD, a member of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, the scariest of these trends is the objectification of very young girls.

The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls defines sexualization as "a process that encourages girls and young women in an imposed way to be valued by themselves, and others, only for their sexual appeal, above any other characteristic."

This causes young girls who naturally want to achieve such an "unattainable body image" to suffer from various health problems and self-image issues. Their desire for the said unattainable body image leads to eating disorders, anxiety and depression, says Roberts.

The APA task force suggests "comprehensive education" regarding sexualization for girls, said Roberts. She also adds that taking up activities like sports, arts (artistic expression), and meditation can help girls get in touch with a healthier image.

Roberts said that "direction action" also works.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood along with a national coalition of health-care professionals, educators, advocacy groups and parents, along with coalition member Dads and Daughters, all worked together to prevent the marketing of toy versions of the girl group Pussycat Dolls, leading to the cancellation of the product.

Stereotyping girls

Sharon Lamb, EdD, co-author of "Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes" (St. Martin’s Press, 2006) said from the start, young girls are taught by advertisers and the media to be "sweet, feminine and nurturing, and as they get older, sexy." Lamb also added that "rarely are real girls with complex and contradictory interests portrayed."

Lambs statement is backed up by a research conducted by the See Jane project of Dads and Daughters. The research analyzed 101 G-rated film and found that 3 out of 4 characters were boys. When girls were present, they were just there as boys’ assistants, unable to do anything on their own.

Even the popular cartoon "Dora the Explorer" fell victim to the cultural and marketing trend. The cartoon described by APA.org as a "strong, female cartoon character" now has doll versions that traded her standard paraphernalia of backpack, map and compass for purses. Dora the Explorer dolls also now come in a "princess" edition.

After what Lamb calls the pretty-in-pink stage, girls are taught more and more to be sexy, to "find power in making themselves attractive to boys." Products that are used to be marketed to adult women like thongs and padded bras, are now made and marketed for girls as young as 6.

Similar to what Roberts said, Lamb explains that sexualized images are associated to depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders.

Battling sexualization of young girls

There are ways to combat the cultural and marketing trends that sexualize young girls.

Lamb stressed that psychologists can help by teaching parents and their kids to "understand media manipulation."

In turn, parents can protect their kids by teaching them values that they define, and not the cultural and marketing trends.

Parents can teach their kids how to analyze why their like the things they like, and to recognize when they are being deceived.

Lamb encourages people to question what’s being "presented" to them. "Why must female volleyball players always wear bikinis?" and "Why would a 6-year-old need a push-up bra?" said Lamb.

And, as what Roberts suggested, addressing manufacturers directly also works. Lamb says that parents and kids can write to manufacturers and support-advocacy groups to contend unhealthy media messages.

Source. APA.org