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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 sexual development.

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 of girls.

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 women.

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 said.

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."

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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