Sexualized images of girls impact health,
according to San Francisco professor
By Elizabeth Daley, Bay City News Service
February 17, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Sexualized portrayals of girls
in advertising and media can cause health problems in girls and
women, according to a report released by the American Psychological
Association, and written in part by San Francisco State University
professor Deborah L. Tolman.
The report found that the proliferation of sexualized images
of girls and young women might cause women to experience problems
with cognitive health, mental health, physical health and healthy
Tolman, who serves as director of San Francisco State University's
Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality, said men might also
experience problems as a result of viewing highly sexualized images
Among the evidence of sexualization examined by researchers were
child beauty pageants in which young girls often wore makeup and
fake eyelashes and false teeth to replace baby teeth, thong underwear
made for young girls imprinted with Muppet or Dr. Seuss characters,
and thongs in sizes seven to 10 emblazoned with phrases such as
"eye candy" or "wink wink."
Researchers searched song lyrics finding phrases like "So
blow me bitch I don't rock for cancer, I rock for the cash and
topless dancers," in a song by Kid Rock or, "I tell
hoes all the time, bitch get in my car," in a 50-cent rap.
The study even found that female Disney characters have become
sexier, with Ariel the little mermaid showing much more skin than
modest Snow White ever did.
Authors found that men may be less likely to find satisfaction
with their female partners as a result of unrealistic expectations
created by media portrayals of women.
Posing the idea that objectifying women was one of the standard
tenets of masculinity, study authors worried that this objectification
would lead men to be unable to have empathy for women or interact
with them intellectually as peers.
According to the study, the more often men viewed pornography,
the more likely they were to employ sexualized terms when describing
However, Tolman conceded that the media and the advertising industry
would not continue to use sexualized images of women if they were
not somehow successful in selling goods.
Some women are even embracing sexualized portrayals. There is
an increasing trend in feminism to embrace pornography, which
Tolman appeared to disagree with.
"If you don't analyze what femininity is in our society,
if you just add [feminism] on, that's not effective because part
of what creates gender and equality in society are the qualities
and characteristics that get linked with femininity," she
Members of the APA task force that conducted the study looked
for sexualized images in virtually every form of media including
television, music videos, magazines, movies, video games on the
Internet and in merchandising and advertising campaigns.
"In our society, the sexualization of girls is so pervasive
that it can feel normal for young girls to look like teenagers
and for teenagers to look like older women," said Tolman.
According to Tolman, sexualization of women has become a global
phenomenon raising public concern.
"Sexualized images are projected to suggest sexual availability
to the exclusion of other personal characteristics and qualities,
which is inappropriate for any female," said Tolman.
Tolman suggests parents "engage in media with their children"
and "talk about how marketing techniques make girls' and
women's bodies look unnatural and focus people's attention on
their bodies as if that's all that's valuable about them."
Tolman hopes to combat the negative effect of sexualized images
by getting kids "to question what they are seeing and hearing."
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