American girls are increasingly being fed a steady diet of products and images that pressure them to be sexy. From clothing to cartoons, choreography to commercials, the emphasis on sexuality undercuts parents’ efforts to instill purity in their daughters.
The American Psychological Association (APA) warns that this sexualization of girls is harmful to their self-image and healthy development. “[Girls are] experiencing teen pressures at younger and younger ages. However, they are not able to deal with these issues because their cognitive development is out of sync with their social, emotional and sexual development,” the APA reported.
The proliferation of sexual images also undermines a girl’s confidence in her own body. In fact, research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women – eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the cultural influences bombarding our daughters.
Have you shopped for girls’ clothing lately? Toddlers to teens are inundated with adult fashions. Pop singer Beyonce now has her own clothing line that introduces the red-light district to the school lunchroom.
Popular clothing items among teens include thong underwear and shorts displaying suggestive words across the backside. The abundance of racy clothing emphasizes the message: Dress sexy.
As young girls, most moms probably owned Barbie dolls and enjoyed collecting their clothing and accessories. Mattel today takes style to a new level with the introduction of Black Canary Barbie for adult collectors. Designed as a comic-book character, this doll is dressed in fishnet hose, a leather bikini bottom and a black leather jacket. She’s available in toy stores, right next to Ballerina Barbie. Explain that to your preschooler.
You can't walk through the grocery checkout aisle without seeing the latest shenanigans of young celebrities. The lives of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan fascinate young girls. The Hannah Montana phenomenon, while seemingly innocent at first, has been colored by provocative photos of teenage actress Miley Cyrus. The media push young starlets to move beyond "precocious and cute" to "sensual and sexy." All the while, impressionable tween fans stand by in wide-eyed wonder, wanting to be just like them.
Who's to blame?
While it's easy to blame media for these poisonous influences, we also need to scrutinize ourselves. How many of these influences have we allowed into our homes? Are we modeling a healthy biblical view of gender and sex? If we fret over physical appearance or enjoy media laden with sexual images, chances are we will pass on the same mind-set to our daughters.
We must take a fresh look at what messages enter our home. While it would be impossible to shield children from every damaging influence, we can certainly take a stand against the worst offenders. And we can inoculate our kids against the world's counterfeit sexuality by talking to them about God's good plan for men and women.
Our culture tries to convince our daughters that they amount to nothing more than the sum of their parts. Only by addressing this lie head-on will we equip our children with the truth. Our daughters need to know that God's standard for beauty is the only standard that matters.
This article first appeared in the February/March, 2009 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2009 Vicki Courtney. All rights reserved.