A “Fashion Faux Pas”: The Unacceptable Sexualization of Girls

A “Fashion Faux Pas”: The Unacceptable Sexualization of Girls

While checking my e-mails, I came across a shocking, and quite honestly, disturbing link to a  Today Show segment that covered a story regarding a French women’s lingerie company, Jours Après Lunes, and their latest clothing line and marketing tactics. If you were not aware Jours Après Lunes has created an entire lingerie collection for girls as young as four years old!

This new collection is focused towards 4-12 year old girls and is called “Loungerie.” The clothing line has little girls posing in provocative and sexualized ways that would make any parent cringe. The company denies that there is anything outwardly sexual in nature about these ads, but it is as clear as day. This is an unfortunate, unacceptable and inexcusable example of the sexualization of girls and speaks to a growing and negative trend that is so harmful to girls.

Double standard of sexualization

There is an extensive amount of research that suggests that women are sexualized more than men. Specifically, women are more often: sexually objectified; portrayed in sexualized ways in mass media; valued based on their physical appearance to the exclusion of other characteristics; held to a narrow, and in many cases, impossible standard of physical beauty and attractiveness; and have sexuality forced onto them against their will (APA, 2007). These double standards perpetuate sexism, provide a catalyst for sexual harassment and sexual violence, and in this specific case promotion of child pornography.

Where do the messages come from?

We often point the finger at the media and its influence on shaping women’s perceptions of themselves, and the importance of sexuality to their self-worth. This is warranted. Television, radio, music lyrics and music videos, movies, magazines, sports media, video games, internet, and advertising are all forms of media that heavily sexualize women (APA, 2007). Yet, we also need to examine the role of parents. According to the American Psychological Association task force on the sexualization of girls, parents may reinforce societal messages about physical beauty by encouraging girls to maintain their physical attractiveness and beauty. Some parents even allow their daughters to have plastic surgery to make them look more attractive (APA, 2007). Let’s go back to the lingerie campaign. Did the children willingly and knowingly sign up for this ad campaign? Does a four year old want to wear lingerie? What is motivating these parents to put their children through this? Is it money and fame or the intrinsic wishes of their four-year-old daughter? You can make the case that these children are being exploited and taken advantage of by their parents who are pushing them into this. Perhaps these parents are just victims of the same societal messages around sexuality but that is not acceptable. There needs to be an emphasis placed on the welfare of our children and what is in their best interests.

We need to ask ourselves some important questions: What kind of message are we sending young girls? How can we expect our daughters, family members, and friends to grow up thinking that there is more to them than just their physical appearance?

Psychological Ramifications

Low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders are the three biggest mental health concerns that women face and the sexualization of women is linked to all of these problems. As well, women begin to internalize sexual messages that permeate through society. They start to hold the attitude and belief that “I am only worthy if I am physically attractive.” These beliefs lead to negative emotions such as shame, anxiety, and self-disgust with their own bodies.

The sexualization of women can impact negatively on men of all ages as well, in that they begin to hold women to high standards of physical beauty which is not realistic or attainable and carry a false sense of sexuality which can lead to problems in intimacy. I discussed the damaging psychological impact societal messages and pressures surrounding sexuality can have on some men here.

Another consequence of the sexualization of women as outlined by the American Psychological Association (2007) is  that less women seek careers in science, math, engineering, and technologies. Can you imagine then the impact sexualizing girls at the age of four will have on their motivation and interest in pursuing and valuing an education?

Where do we go from here?

The discourse around the sexualization of women needs to change.

Wanting to be physically attractive and proud of your beauty is not inherently bad. What is bad is the belief that you are ONLY worthy or valuable IF you are physically attractive. Self-worth should not be tied to physical attractiveness. Women need to develop a greater capacity for self-compassion and self-love.

That being said, girls should pay attention to examples of sexualization in the media and society, and understand the powerful impact these messages have on their own personal well-being. Parents, educators, and the media can help by paying more attention to the negative impact of sexualization on women, and the subtle or blatant ways in which they reinforce and promote these messages. For example, parents can have meaningful and candid discussions with their daughters about the societal and media messages around sexuality, what these messages mean to their daughters, and ways in which they may internalize them. Schools can organize empowerment groups that engage young girls in an active and collaborative manner by focusing on positive portrayals of women that go beyond sexuality. As well, these groups can serve to raise awareness.

Positive social messages and movements

I was on Facebook yesterday and one of my friends posted a positive and strong message about women being proud of who they are. When I asked her where it was from, she mentioned that it was part of a women’s movement. Here is the message:

“I’m not hot or gorgeous. I don’t have an amazing figure or a flat stomach. I’m far from being considered a model, but I’m ME. I eat food, have curves, love my desserts, and will go out without make up. I’m random and crazy, and I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not. I am who I am, love me or not, It won’t change ME!!!”

Another powerful film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom entitled Miss Representation is aimed at critically analyzing how women are represented in the media and the impact this representation has on their lives.

These are just two examples of how using social media in a positive way can increase awareness, move people to action, and lead to change.

Conclusions

Say yes to societal messages that promote women’s self-respect and self-esteem. Say no to Jour Après Lunes and their lingerie directed towards girls aged 4-12. Say no to promoting high heels, make-up, and physical attractiveness over being a good friend and daughter, learning through an education, playing and having fun, and dreaming of changing the world for the better.

Say no to all forms of sexualization of women, no matter the age because no matter how you look, you are valuable, and you have worth.

References

American Psychological Association. (2007). Sexualization of Girls. Electronic publishing: http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx

Miss Representation: www.missrepresentation.org

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