What it means to be a girl, according to the media

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As if adolescence isn’t hard enough, new research shows that girls as young as 6 prefer provocative clothing and feel dissatisfied with their body. And once again, it looks like popular media is the culprit.

Researchers in Australia asked 300 girls ages 6-9 about how much they watch several popular television shows or look at popular magazines (the “sexiness” of the shows was rated by independent coders). Researchers then showed the girls drawings of a girl wearing six different outfits, each a little more provocative than the last, and asked girls to point to the outfits (1) that look like the ones they wear, (2) that they like, (3) that are popular, and (4) that they think boys like best on girls. Girls were also asked to point to one of nine female silhouettes that they think most looks like them and which they would most like to look like, the difference being the size of their “body dissatisfaction.” Results showed that the more girls watched “sexualized” TV, the more they thought that boys would like the more provocative clothes. In addition, the more they were exposed to sexualized magazines, the more they preferred provocative clothing for themselves. While exposure to sexualized media was not directly related to body dissatisfaction, girls who preferred sexier clothing for themselves and who thought sexy clothing is popular with other girls tended to have higher body dissatisfaction.

This study adds to the growing evidence that what children watch affects their perceptions about what it means to be female today. Not only is media America’s #1 sex educator, it appears to be America’s #1 authority on the role of females in society. Can you see how backwards this is? Our daughters are learning what is important about their gender from a handful of corporations whose purpose it is to accrue wealth. These lessons should come from parents, not corporations. I realize this post is a little defeatist and depressing–I long for a world in which parents assume the responsibility of raising their children. A world in which media is used to supplement, instead of contradicting, lessons taught at home. I don’t think our society as a whole will ever get there. That depresses me, because it seems like there is nothing I can do to help. However, I can choose to make a difference for the girls living in my home. If I can’t change the world, at least I can guide my own children to deal with the world in a healthy way. And that means talking to them. That means having regular conversations about who they are and where their worth really comes from. And it means that we need to start talking now.

How do you teach your kids about the media’s portrayal of women? What do you say?

One comment

  1. Great blog. I’d like to see the same analysis done for boys..men…fathers and same life span work for females. I hypothesize the relevant processes and effects aren’t limited to kids. On an encouraging note I think this illustrates the importance of research on parental mediation that is specifically designed to produce actionable insights not just kids and media theory.


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