Psychology of Human Sexuality – Answer two question

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Course: Psychology of Human Sexuality
Read the gender role reading – the task force report on the sexualization of girls. Answer the following questions:
-What are some of the consequences of sexualization for girls that are discussed in the reading?
-What are some of the approaches that the reading offers to counter sexualization or to counter the effects of sexualization on girls?
2 pages, double-spaced, APA format
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
Members
Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD (Chair)
Rebecca L. Collins, PhD
Sharon Lamb, EdD
Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD
Deborah L.Tolman, EdD
L. Monique Ward, PhD
Jeanne Blake (Public Member)
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
Available online at http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf
Printed single copies available from:
American Psychological Association
Public Interest Directorate
Women’s Programs
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
(202-336-6044)
Suggested bibliographic reference:
American Psychological Association,Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2010).
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Retrieved from
http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf
Copyright © 2010 by the American Psychological Association.This material may
be reproduced in whole or in part without fees or permission, provided that
acknowledgment is given to the American Psychological Association.This material
may not be reprinted, translated, or distributed electronically without prior permission
in writing from the publisher. For permission, contact APA, Rights and Permissions,
750 First Street, NE,Washington, DC 20002-4242.
This report was originally printed in 2007 and reprinted in 2008.
The current edition contains some updated references.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
ii
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .v
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
Definition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
Scope of This Report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
Evidence for the Sexualization of Girls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Cultural Contributions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Interpersonal Contributions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
Intrapsychic Contributions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
Summary of Evidence for the Sexualization of Girls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Consequences of the Sexualization of Girls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Mechanisms by Which Sexualization Has an Impact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Developmental Processes Relevant to the Sexualization of Girls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20
Impact on Girls’ Health and Well-Being . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20
Impact on Others . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
Impact on Society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30
Summary of Consequences of the Sexualization of Girls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34
Positive Alternatives and Approaches to Counteracting the Influence of Sexualization . . . . . . .35
Approach 1:Working Through Schools and Formal Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35
Approach 2:Working Through the Family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37
Approach 3:Working Directly With Girls and Girls’ Groups to Resist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38
Summary of Positive Alternatives and Approaches to Counteracting the Influence of Sexualization . . . .41
Recommendations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44
Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .65
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
iii
Table of Contents
Preface
At the recommendation of the American
Psychological Association (APA) Committee on
Women in Psychology (CWP) and with the
approval of the Board for the Advancement of Psychology
in the Public Interest (BAPPI) and the Board of Directors,
APA’s Council of Representatives established the Task
Force on the Sexualization of Girls in February 2005.
The Council charged the task force as follows:
The Task Force will examine and summarize the best
psychological theory, research, and clinical experience
addressing the sexualization of girls via media and other
cultural messages, including the prevalence of these
messages and their impact on girls, and include attention to
the role and impact of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic
status.The Task Force will produce a report, including
recommendations for research, practice, education and
training, policy, and public awareness.
APA has long been involved in issues related to
the impact of media content on children. In 1994,APA
adopted a policy resolution on violence in mass media,
which updated and expanded an earlier resolution on
televised violence. In 2004, the APA Task Force on
Advertising and Children produced a report examining
broad issues related to advertising to children.That report
provided recommendations to restrict advertising that is
primarily directed at young children and to include
developmentally appropriate disclaimers in advertising.
The report also included recommendations regarding
research, applied psychology, industry practices, media
literacy, advertising, and schools.The sexualization of
girls in advertising was outside the scope of that report,
however, and the issue was therefore not addressed. In
2005,APA adopted the policy resolution on violence in
video games and interactive media, which documented
the negative impact of exposure to violent interactive
media on children and youth and called for the
reduction of violence in these media.These resolutions
and reports addressed how violent media and advertising
affect children and youth, but they did not address the
issue of sexualization.
BAPPI appointed six psychologists plus a public
member to the Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls:
Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD (Chair); Rebecca L. Collins,
PhD; Sharon Lamb, EdD;Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD;
Deborah L.Tolman, EdD; L. Monique Ward, PhD; and
Jeanne Blake (Public Member, Blake Works, Inc.). Jessica
Henderson Daniel, PhD, served as liaison from the Board
of Directors. Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD, and Louise B.
Silverstein, PhD, served as liaisons from CWP.
Task force members are indebted to the following
individuals for their thoughtful reviews and comments on
earlier versions of this report: Denise Alston, PhD;Toni
Antonucci, PhD;Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD; Bonita Cade,
PhD; Joan Chrisler, PhD; Ellen Cole, PhD; Lillian
Comas-Diaz, PhD; Deborah Cox, PhD; Jessica Henderson
Daniel, PhD; Melissa Farley, PhD; Barbara Fiese, PhD;
Jennifer Gibson, PhD; Mary Gregerson, PhD; Janet Shibley
Hyde, PhD; Lisa Jaycox, PhD; Joe Kelly; Susan Linn, EdD;
Jeanne Marecek, PhD; Susan Newcomer, PhD; Jaquelyn
Resnick, PhD; Glenda Russell, PhD; Julia da Silva;
Louise Silverstein, PhD; Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD;
Lisa Thomas, PhD; and Maryanne Watson, PhD.
The task force also expresses its appreciation to
Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD (Executive Director, Public
Interest Directorate), for her guidance and support.APA
staff who worked with and supported the task force in
developing this report include Leslie A. Cameron, Gabriel
H. J.Twose, and Tanya L. Burrwell. Gabriele McCormick
assisted in the preparation of the draft.Women’s Programs
Office intern Ashley Byrd and visiting middle-school
student Alexis Hicks also provided helpful comments.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
v
Report of the Task Force on
the Sexualization of Girls
Introduction
There are many examples of the sexualization of girls
and girlhood in U.S. culture.Toy manufacturers produce
dolls wearing black leather miniskirts, feather
boas, and thigh-high boots and market them to 8- to 12-
year-old girls (LaFerla, 2003). Clothing stores sell thongs sized
for 7– to 10-year-old girls (R. Brooks, 2006; Cook & Kaiser,
2004), some printed with slogans such as “eye candy” or
“wink wink” (Cook & Kaiser, 2004; Haynes, 2005; Levy,
2005a; Merskin, 2004); other thongs sized for women and
late adolescent girls are imprinted with characters from Dr.
Seuss and the Muppets (e.g., see www.princesscassie.com/
children/cat.shtml) (Levy, 2005a; Pollett & Hurwitz, 2004). In
the world of child beauty pageants, 5-year-old girls wear fake
teeth, hair extensions,and makeup and are encouraged to
“flirt” onstage by batting their long, false eyelashes (Cookson,
2001). On prime-time television, girls can watch fashion
shows in which models made to resemble little girls wear
sexy lingerie (e.g., the CBS broadcast of Victoria’s Secret
Fashion Show on December 6, 2005). Journalists, child
advocacy organizations, parents,and psychologists have
become alarmed,arguing that the sexualization of girls is a
broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls (Bloom,
2004;“Buying Into Sexy,” 2005; Dalton, 2005; Lamb &
Brown, 2006; Levin, 2005; Levy, 2005a; Linn, 2004; Pollet &
Hurwitz, 2004; Schor, 2004).
The Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls was formed
in response to these expressions of public concern. In this
report, we examine and summarize psychological theory,
research, and clinical experience addressing the sexualization
of girls.We (a) define sexualization; (b) examine the prevalence
and provide examples of sexualization in society and in
cultural institutions, as well as interpersonally and intrapsychically;
(c) evaluate the evidence suggesting that sexualization
has negative consequences for girls and for the rest of society;
and (d) describe positive alternatives that may help counteract
the influence of sexualization.
Definition
There are several components to sexualization, and these
set it apart from healthy sexuality. Healthy sexuality is an
important component of both physical and mental health,
fosters intimacy, bonding, and shared pleasure, and involves
mutual respect between consenting partners (Satcher, 2001;
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the
United States [SIECUS], 2004). In contrast, sexualization
occurs when
l a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal
or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
l a person is held to a standard that equates physical
attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
l a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a
thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person
with the capacity for independent action and decision
making; and/or
l sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
All four conditions need not be present; any one is an
indication of sexualization. Much of the evidence that we
evaluate in this report is specific to the third condition—
sexual objectification.The fourth condition (the inappropriate
imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children.Anyone
(girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized.
But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is
often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them.
Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not
sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate
exposure to information about sexuality.
We view the sexualization of girls as occurring along a
continuum, with sexualized evaluation (e.g., looking at
someone in a sexual way) at the less extreme end, and sexual
exploitation, such as trafficking or abuse, at the more
extreme end.We offer several examples of the sexualization
of girls to clarify our definition:
l Imagine a 5-year-old girl walking through a mall
wearing a short T-shirt that says “Flirt.”
l Consider the instructions given in magazines to
preadolescent girls on how to look sexy and get a
boyfriend by losing 10 pounds and straightening
their hair.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
1
l Envision a soccer team of adolescent girls whose sex
appeal is emphasized by their coach or a local journalist
to attract fans.
l Think of print advertisements that portray women as
little girls, with pigtails and ruffles, in adult sexual poses.
These examples illustrate different aspects of our definition
of sexualization. In the first example, we are concerned
with the imbuing of adult sexuality upon a child. In the
second, we are reminded that a specific and virtually
unattainable physical appearance constitutes sexiness for
women and girls in our society. In the third, we see that
sexuality is valued over other more relevant characteristics,
such as the girls’ athletic abilities. In addition, the girls are
being sexually objectified. In the fourth example, the adult
models are sexually objectified and the distinction between
adults and children is blurred, thus sexualizing girlhood.
Sexualization may be especially problematic when it
happens to youth. Developing a sense of oneself as a
sexual being is an important task of adolescence (Adelson,
1980;Arnett, 2000;W.A. Collins & Sroufe, 1999), but
sexualization may make this task more difficult. Indeed,
Tolman (2002) argued that in the current environment,
teen girls are encouraged to look sexy, yet they know little
about what it means to be sexual, to have sexual desires,
and to make rational and responsible decisions about
pleasure and risk within intimate relationships that
acknowledge their own desires.Younger girls imbued
with adult sexuality may seem sexually appealing, and
this may suggest their sexual availability and status as
appropriate sexual objects. Concomitantly, women are
often considered sexy only when they appear young, thus
blurring the line between who is and is not sexually
mature (Cook & Kaiser, 2004).
Scope of This Report
We propose that the sexualization of girls occurs within
three interrelated spheres.:
l The contribution by society—that is, the cultural1
norms,
expectations, and values that are communicated in
myriad ways, including through the media.A culture
can be infused with sexualized representations of girls
and women, suggesting that such sexualization is good
and normal.
l An interpersonal contribution—Girls can be treated as,
and encouraged to be, sexual objects by family, peers,
and others.
l Self-sexualization—Girls may treat and experience
themselves as sexual objects (Fredrickson & Roberts,
1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996). If girls learn that
sexualized behavior and appearance are approved of
and rewarded by society and by the people (e.g., peers)
whose opinions matter most to them, they are likely
to internalize these standards, thus engaging in
self-sexualization.
We review evidence concerning the prevalence of the
sexualization of girls and women in each of these three
spheres.We also review evidence that links sexualization to
a variety of harmful consequences.These consequences
include harm to the sexualized individuals themselves, to
their interpersonal relationships, and to society. For example,
there is evidence that sexualization contributes to
impaired cognitive performance in college-aged women,
and related research suggests that viewing material that is
sexually objectifying can contribute to body dissatisfaction,
eating disorders, low self-esteem, depressive affect, and even
physical health problems in high-school-aged girls and in
young women.The sexualization of girls may not only
reflect sexist attitudes, a societal tolerance of sexual violence,
and the exploitation of girls and women but may
also contribute to these phenomena.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
2
1
Although there are many sociocultural groups in the United States, most people, in particular young people, receive a great deal of exposure to what is
often referred to as the “dominant” U.S. culture (White, middle-to-upper-class, young-to-middle-aged, heterosexual). One especially salient dimension of
this dominant culture is “pop” (or popular) culture. For the purposes of this report, culture and cultural generally refer to this dominant culture.
Much of the research reviewed in this report concerns
the sexualization of women (college age and older) rather
than girls.2 One reason for this is the paucity of research
specifically on the sexualization of girls—research that is
urgently needed. However, research on both the prevalence
and the effects of the sexualization of women is highly
relevant to understanding the sexualization of girls for
several reasons.
First, there is a developmental argument that focuses
on the importance of modeling as a developmental process
(Bandura, 1986, 1994). Girls develop their identities as
teenagers and as women, and they learn the socially
acceptable ways to engage in intimate relationships by
modeling what they see older girls and young women
doing (Bussey & Bandura, 1984, 1992; Lips, 1989) and by
imitating the ways in which women are represented in the
media (Huston & Wright, 1998). Concomitantly, parents
and other adults may overtly or inadvertently communicate
expectations that girls should embody the appearances,
attitudes, and behaviors that are exemplified by sexualized
adult women (of course, parents might instead encourage
girls to reject these sexualized models).As this report
documents, there is no question that girls (and boys) grow
up in a cultural milieu saturated with sexualizing messages.
Thus, research on the sexualization of women is highly
relevant to the sexualization of girls.
Second, there is a methodological argument.Although
many of the existing studies on media effects have tested
college students and have examined their media exposure
levels and corresponding sexual attitudes and behavior,
this research is not just about the here and now. Most of
these studies have been conducted under the premise of
cultivation theory (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli,
1994), which argues that exposure to consistent themes over
time leads viewers to adopt a particular perspective of the
world, one that coincides with the images they have been
viewing.Although researchers typically test this premise by
demonstrating that current exposure levels are associated
with current attitudes, this is usually done merely for the
sake of convenience.The underlying assumption is that a
lifetime of exposure to comparable images and messages
has led to such attitudes.We must deduce, therefore, that
what young women believe about themselves and how
they feel in the present moment were shaped by how
they were treated and what they were exposed to when
they were girls. Knowing how young women feel about
and respond to sexualization, then, is entirely relevant to
understanding how girls feel about and respond
to sexualization.
Much of this report focuses on the media, in large part
because this cultural contribution to the sexualization of
girls and women has been studied most extensively. In
addition, children and adolescents spend more time with
entertainment media than they do with any other activity
except school and sleeping (D. Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout,
2005).We recognize that there are other important
socialization influences, including churches, schools, peers,
siblings, parents, and other adults in girls’ lives, and where
studies concerning these socialization sources exist, we
review them.We also acknowledge that the media are not
just a means of creating or strengthening cultural values.
Fueled by consumer culture, they are also a delivery system
for already-existing cultural values. Finally, we do not
assume that girls are “empty vessels” into which information
from the media is poured but that they are actively
engaged in choosing and interpreting the media in their
lives, with increasing independence as they mature from
girlhood to late adolescence (Rubin, 2002; Steele, 1999).
We emphasize the importance of appreciating
developmental processes and the enormous differences in
girls as they develop.Thus, the effects of sexualization are
likely to vary depending on a girl’s age, so that what is
inappropriate for a 6-year-old might be perfectly appropriate
for a high school girl.The perspectives and experiences
that a young girl brings to her exposure to sexualizing
images and experiences, as well as her cognitive, intellectual,
social, and even physical development, might
profoundly influence the effect that such exposure
would have on her, rendering it quite different from
what a teenage girl would experience.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
3
2
Age ranges for childhood, preadolescence,and adolescence vary across the research summarized in this report.Where relevant, age ranges reported reflect definitions
from individual studies. Tween, though not a scientific term, is used by advertisers and marketers, and the report discusses the tween population in that context.
Ethnic and sociocultural differences are also relevant.
Immigrant girls and girls and women of color have
historically suffered stereotypes that focus on their sexuality
and their bodies (Hill Collins, 2004). In addition, women’s
sexuality (e.g., attitudes, beliefs, behaviors) can vary widely
for women of different ethnicities (Greene, 2000; Hurtado,
2003). Negative stereotypes concerning the sexuality of
poor women are prevalent (Limbert & Bullock, 2005).
Sexual socialization is profoundly heterosexual and
heteronormative (Holland, Ramazanoglu, Sharpe, &
Thomson, 2004; Phillips, 2000;Tolman, 2006).Throughout
this report, therefore, where data are available, we address
how the prevalence and effects of sexualization may vary
among girls from different ethnic, socioeconomic, religious,
and family backgrounds, as well as among girls of different
sexual orientations.
It is important to note what the report does not cover.
It does not review evidence concerning the prevalence and
effects of sexually suggestive or sexually explicit material
per se. Rather, we are concerned with such material only
insofar as it fits within the four-part definition of sexualization
given previously.The report also covers extreme forms
of sexualization (e.g., prostitution, pornography, trafficking,
child sexual abuse) only briefly. Finally, we acknowledge
that this phenomenon and the concern about it is not, and
cannot be, limited by U.S. borders, in part because U.S. culture
is exported worldwide. For the purposes of this report,
however, our focus is on the United States. Expanding to
an international scope is a useful goal for the future.
The rest of the report is divided into four sections.
In Section 2, we provide evidence of the existence of the
sexualization of girls and women in three spheres: in U.S.
society or culture, in girls’ interpersonal relationships, and
within individual girls themselves. In the third section, we
describe the potential mechanisms by which the sexualization
of girls occurs and the known and likely effects of the
sexualization of girls: on girls themselves, on others with
whom girls have interpersonal relationships (boys, men,
adult women), and on U.S. societal institutions. In the
fourth section, we outline positive alternatives to the
sexualization of girls and describe promising methods
of ameliorating the effects of sexualization when it
does occur. Finally, in the fifth section, we make
recommendations for action, beginning with a call for
research to develop a body of knowledge specifically on
the sexualization of girls as well as to expand our
knowledge of the prevalence and effects of sexualization
more generally.
Evidence for the Sexualization
of Girls
Cultural Contributions
Media
With the plethora of media options available today, it is
possible to access the latest news or the most popular song
almost anywhere and anytime, yet it is also possible to be
inundated by unwanted messages and material. Media
content responds to demand and is a reflection of culture,
but it also contributes to it.Throughout U.S. culture, and
particularly in mainstream media, women and girls are
depicted in a sexualizing manner.These representations can
be seen in virtually every medium, including prime-time
television programs (e.g., Grauerholz & King, 1997;
L. M.Ward, 1995), television commercials (e.g., Lin, 1997),
music videos (e.g., Gow, 1996; R. C.Vincent, 1989), and
magazines (e.g., Krassas, Blauwkamp, & Wesselink, 2001,
2003; Plous & Neptune, 1997).
Girls are major consumers of media and receive and
engage with these messages every day.According to
Nielsen Media Research (1998), the average child or teen
watches 3 hours of television per day, and the numbers are
higher for Black and Latino youth.When various media
are combined, children view 6 hours 32 minutes per day.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (2003) reported that 68% of
children have a TV in their bedroom, that 51% of girls play
interactive games on their computers and video game consoles,
and that girls, like boys, are on their computers about
an hour each day visiting Web sites, listening to music, frequenting
chat rooms, playing games, and sending messages
to friends (D. Roberts et al., 2005). Massive exposure to
media among youth creates the potential for massive
exposure to portrayals that sexualize women and girls and
teach girls that women are sexual objects.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
4
Television
On television, young viewers encounter a world that is
disproportionately male, especially in youth-oriented
programs, and one in which female characters are
significantly more likely than male characters to be
attractive and provocatively dressed (Eaton, 1997). Sexual
comments and remarks are pervasive on television (L. M.
Ward, 2003), and research has shown that they disproportionately
sexually objectify women. For example, in her
analysis of prime-time programs popular among children
and adolescents, L. M.Ward (1995) found that 11.5% of the
verbal sexual messages coded involved sexually objectifying
comments, nearly all of which were about women.
Similarly, Lampman et al. (2002),
studying sexual remarks made on
prime-time comedies, found that 23%
of the sexual behaviors coded were
leering, ogling, staring, and catcalling at
female characters.Additionally, 16.5% of
the sexual remarks detected were about
body parts or nudity.A majority of
these comments (85%)
came from men.
In their analysis of sexual harassment
on prime-time programming,
Grauerholz and King (1997) reported a
similar focus on the denigration of women that alluded to
their sexuality and lack of intellect and that objectified
their bodies. Of the 81 episodes analyzed, 84% contained at
least one incident of sexual harassment, with an average of
3.4 incidents per program.The most frequent acts were
sexist comments (33.3% of the incidents) in which a wide
variety of deprecating words were used to describe women
(e.g., broad, bimbo, dumb ass chick, toots, fox, babe, blondie).The
next most frequent occurrences were verbal sexual comments
(32% of the incidents).These comments typically
focused on women’s bodies or body parts, especially
breasts, which were referred to as jugs, boobs, knockers,
hooters, cookware, and canned goods.The third most common
category was body language (13%) and generally involved
men or adolescent boys leering at women or girls. In
total, the authors reported that approximately 78% of the
harassment focused on demeaning terms for women or on
the sexualization of their bodies.
In a more recent analysis of sexual harassment in
workplace-based situation comedies, Montemurro (2003)
made further distinctions, separating gender harassment
(jokes, looks, calls) from quid pro quo sexual harassment
(touches, favors, dates).Analyzing 56 episodes drawn from
five different programs, she found an average of 3.3
incidents of gender harassment per episode and 0.50
incidents of sexual harassment. Dominant were jokes
referring to women’s sexuality or women’s bodies and
comments that characterized women as sexual objects; 74%
of the episodes analyzed contained at least one incident
of gender harassment in the form of jokes, most of which
were accompanied by laugh tracks.
Music Videos
Content analyses indicate that 44%–81%
of music videos contain sexual imagery
(Gow, 1990; Greeson & Williams, 1986;
Pardun & McKee, 1995; Sherman &
Dominick, 1986). Sexually objectifying
images of women constitute a large portion
of this sexual content. In music
videos, women more frequently than men
are presented in provocative and revealing
clothing (e.g.,Andsager & Roe, 1999;
Seidman, 1992), are objectified (Sommers-Flanagan,
Sommers-Flanagan, & Davis, 1993), and typically serve as
decorative objects that dance and pose and do not play any
instruments (e.g.,Arnett, 2002; Gow, 1996).They are often
displayed in ways that emphasize their bodies, body parts,
facial features, and sexual readiness. R. C.Vincent, Davis,
and Boruskowski (1987) found that 57% of the videos
featured a woman portrayed exclusively as a decorative
sexual object. In the 182 videos analyzed by Seidman
(1992), 37% of women wore revealing clothing, compared
with 4.2% of men. L. M.Ward and Rivadeneyra’s (2002)
more recent analysis of the most popular music videos
on Black Entertainment Television found sexual imagery
in 84% of the videos; the two most frequently occurring
sexual behaviors were sexual objectification and
women dancing sexually. Seventy-one percent of
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
5
Massive exposure
to media among youth creates
the potential for massive
exposure to portrayals that
sexualize women
and girls and teach
girls that women are
sexual objects.
women in these videos were dressed in mildly
provocative or provocative clothing or wore no clothing
at all, compared with 35% of male characters.
In contrast to public perception, these patterns are not
restricted to pop or hip-hop videos. In one analysis of
country music videos, 42% of female artists were coded as
wearing alluring clothing (Andsager & Roe, 1999). In their
analysis of 40 MTV music videos, Sommers-Flanagan et al.
(1993) found objectification in 44.4% of the 30-second
segments coded.They commented,“given . . . the frequency
of objectification within these videos, the concept of
a whole person involved in a complex relationship
with another whole person is clearly absent from the
video’s message” (p. 752).
Music videos convey information about female
sexuality not only through the images and story lines of
individual videos but also through the changing personas of
the artists themselves. In their analysis of the last 20 years of
music videos, communication scholars Andsager and Roe
(2003) noted that one of the distinct ways in which sex is
used is as a metamorphosis.They show how teen artists
exploit their sexuality to establish a more mature and
“edgier” version of their former selves as they cross the
threshold from teenage icon to adult musician.According to
the authors, this process is exemplified by Christina Aguilera,
Faith Hill,and Britney Spears, who displayed her “mature”
image at the 2001 MTV Awards in a nude body stocking.
The authors commented that such tactics often provoke
sexualized discussion of the artist—that is, discussion focuses
not on her talent or music but rather on her body and
sexuality.These transformations likely drive home the
point that being a successful sexual object is the way to be
perceived as mature and successful in the music industry.
Music Lyrics
Although studies have documented the sexualization of
women in music videos, sexualizing content in the lyrics
that accompany these videos has not been documented as
extensively. References to relationships, romance, and
sexual behavior are commonplace in popular music
lyrics and videos (Christenson & Roberts, 1998). One
comprehensive analysis of sexual content in adolescents’
“media diets” demonstrated that sexual content appeared
more frequently in adolescents’ musical choices than in
their television, movie, or magazine choices (Pardun,
L’Engle, & Brown, 2005); however, there are no recent
content analyses to determine how often sexual content
consumed by teens objectifies girls or women. It is evident
that the lyrics of some recent popular songs sexualize
women or refer to them in highly degrading ways, or both.
Some examples include the following:
l “So blow me bitch I don’t rock for cancer/I rock for
the cash and the topless dancers” (Kid Rock,“f*ck
off,” 1998)
l “Don’tcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”
(Pussycat Dolls, 2005)
l “That’s the way you like to f*** . . . rough sex make it
hurt, in the garden all in the dirt” (Ludacris, 2000)
l “I tell the hos all the time, Bitch get in my car”
(50 Cent, 2005)
l “Ho shake your ass” (Ying Yang Twins, 2003)
As part of a recent study of the effects of listening to
popular music on sexual behavior (Martino et al., 2006),
researchers coded the content of 164 songs from 16 artists
popular with teens. Overall, 15% of songs contained
sexually degrading lyrics. Most of these lyrics were
concentrated within the work of rap and R&B artists;
as many as 70% of individual artists’ songs included
degrading sexual content.
Movies
Adolescents constitute the largest demographic segment of
moviegoers (Strasburger, 1995), and a good number of
movies with sexual themes have plots that appeal primarily
to teen and young adult audiences (e.g., Cruel Intentions,
American Pie). Children are also consumers of movies, with
13% attending movie theaters on a typical day and 39%
watching a video or DVD (D. Roberts et al., 2005).Yet few
empirical data have been gathered on the sexual content of
feature films or the prevalence of sexualizing portrayals
of girls and women. One pattern that has been studied,
however, is the asymmetrical presence of nudity. In R-rated
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
6
movies of the 1980s, instances of female nudity were
reported to exceed those of male nudity in a 4 to 1
ratio (B. S. Greenberg et al., 1993).
Another notable trend is the near absence of female
characters in the top-grossing motion pictures (Bazzini,
McIntosh, Smith, Cook, & Harris, 1997) and in G-rated
movies (Kelly & Smith, 2006). Kelly and Smith evaluated
the 101 top-grossing G-rated films from 1990 to 2004.
Of the over 4,000 characters in these films, 75% overall
were male, 83% of characters in crowds were male, 83%
of narrators were male, and 72% of speaking characters
were male. In addition, there was little change from
1990 to 2004.This gross underrepresentation of women
or girls in films with family-friendly content reflects
a missed opportunity to present a broad spectrum
of girls and women in roles that are
nonsexualized.
Cartoons and Animation
Much of children’s programming
features cartoons.Although the
prevalence of sexualization in
children’s cartoons or teen animation
(e.g., anime) has not yet been systematically
studied, there is anecdotal evidence
that cartoons may contain sexualizing
images of girls and women.
Several authors (Lamb & Brown, 2006;
Levin, 2005) have expressed concern about the presence
of sexualized content in some recent movies and television
programs for children (e.g., sexy costumes that don’t match
the characters’ roles in Ella Enchanted, the parody of a
stripper in Shrek 2). Others have noted that Disney’s
female characters today (e.g.,The Little Mermaid,
Pocahontas) have more cleavage, fewer clothes, and are
depicted as “sexier” than those of yesteryear (e.g., Snow
White, Cinderella) (Lacroix, 2004).And the currently
popular and sexily clad Bratz dolls (discussed in the
Products section of this report, pp. 13–15) are the subject
of an animated cartoon.This product tie-in could reinforce
the appeal of the cartoon Bratz dolls and their potential
power to influence girls. Studies do show that, with a few
notable exceptions (e.g., Dora the Explorer), cartoons
primarily portray girls as domestic, interested in boys, and
concerned with their appearance (Thompson & Zerbinos,
1997), suggesting an overemphasis on the self as a romantic
object, if not necessarily a sexual one.
Magazines
The number of teen-focused magazines has increased dramatically
from 5 in 1990 to 19 in 2000, and most teens
regularly read magazines (“Teen Market Profile,” 2005). For
example, one study (D. Roberts et al., 2005) found that
47% of 8- to 18-year-olds reported having read at least 5
minutes of a magazine the previous day, and 22% reported
having read a magazine for 20 minutes or more the previous
day; on average, 8- to 18-year-olds reported reading
magazines 14 minutes a day.
Much of the research analyzing the
sexual content of magazines focuses heavily
on teen girls’ and women’s magazines (e.g.,
Carpenter, 1998; Durham, 1998; Garner,
Sterk, & Adams, 1998; McMahon, 1990).
One of the dominant themes about
sexuality reported across these studies
and across magazines is that presenting
oneself as sexually desirable and thereby
gaining the attention of men is and
should be the focal goal for women.
Girls and young women are repeatedly
encouraged to look and dress in specific ways to look
sexy for men, a phenomenon labeled “costuming for
seduction” (M. Duffy & Gotcher, 1996), and to use
certain products in order to be more attractive to and
desired by males.
These studies document that attracting the attention of
boys by looking “hot” and “sexy” is the point of many of
the articles, text, cover lines, ads, and photographs.
Repeated attempts are made, in the form of advice about
hairstyles, cosmetics, clothing, diet, and exercise, to remake
the reader as an object of male desire (McMahon, 1990).
Nearly everything girls and women are encouraged to do
in the line of self-improvement is geared toward gaining
the attention of men. Even articles on physical fitness
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
7
This gross underrepresentation
of women or girls
in films with family-friendly
content reflects a missed
opportunity to present a
broad spectrum of girls
and women in roles that
are nonsexualized.
analyzed in Seventeen and the now defunct YM (Durham,
1998) centered on the need for girls to increase their
sexual desirability through exercise rather than on
improving their health or well-being.
Similar results were reported by Garner et al. (1998),
who analyzed advice given about sex in five magazines
aimed at girls, adolescents, and young women: YM,Teen,
Seventeen, Glamour, and Mademoiselle.The authors reported
that the content of these magazines encouraged young
women to think of themselves as sexual objects whose lives
were not complete unless sexually connected with a man.
Female readers were given advice on how to look and
dress to attract men and on which attributes were most
successful in attracting men (i.e., innocence) and which
were least successful and should be avoided (e.g., being
pushy or bossy, acting like a mom, being too demanding,
pushing too early for commitment).
Thus, much of the content of mainstream magazines
geared toward adolescent girls and young women heavily
emphasizes the centrality of heterosexual relationships for
women and the need to achieve rigid norms of physical
attractiveness through the consumption of products such
as cosmetics and fashionable clothing (Durham, 1998).
As M. Duffy and Gotcher (1996) concluded from their
analysis of YM,
the world of YM is a place where young women . . . must consume
and beautify themselves to achieve an almost impossible physical
beauty ideal.And, it is a place where sexuality is both a means and
an objective, where the pursuit of males is almost the sole focus of
life. In fact, the objective of attracting males is the only objective
presented—it is an unquestioned “good.” (p. 43)
Sports Media
A large body of research shows that media coverage of
women’s sports is minimal compared with the extensive
coverage of men’s sports, despite the boom in female
athletic participation since the passage of Title IX and the
development of professional women’s teams (e.g.,Amateur
Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, 2001; M. C. Duncan,
Messner, & Williams, 1991; Kane, 1996; Messner, Duncan,
& Jensen, 1993; Pedersen & Whisenant, 2003; J.Vincent,
Imwold, Johnson, & Massey, 2003).This paucity of research
means that what is covered must suffice to represent
women’s sports more broadly.Thus, it is particularly
problematic that when women’s sports are featured,
coverage is often selective (Kane, 1996), and commentary
often sexually objectifies female athletes as well as female
fans in the audience (Messner, Duncan, & Cooky, 2003;
Schultz, 2005).
Although scholars have documented differential and
sexist treatment of female athletes for over a decade
(e.g., Kane & Greendorfer, 1994; Messner et al., 1993,
2003), available evidence suggests a trend for increasing
sexualization of female athletes comparable to their overall
increasing visibility. Male athletes are rarely depicted solely
as sexual objects in their endorsement work, but several
female athletes have recently posed nude or in provocative
poses in national magazines. For example, eight Olympic
athletes were featured in the September 2004 issue of
Playboy, swimmer Amanda Beard appeared in Sports
Illustrated’s 2005 swimsuit edition, and soccer player
Brandi Chastain was in Gear Magazine in 1999.
Several targeted studies of specific media genres, sports,
or sporting events have documented the frequency with
which female athletes are sexualized. Fink and Kensicki
(2002) explored the coverage of female athletes in
Sports Illustrated (SI) and Sports Illustrated for Women (SIW)
from 1997 to 1999.They found that only 10% of the
photographs in SI during this 3-year period were of
female athletes. Five percent of these photographs were
“pornographic/sexually suggestive,” defined as women
dressed provocatively or photographed in such a way as
to focus solely on sexual attributes (e.g., photograph
framed on an athlete’s breasts). Only .2% of the
photographs of men fell into this category. Sixty-six
percent of the photographs of men showed them actively
engaged in a sport versus 34% of the photographs of
women. Representations of women in SIW were
only slightly better; 56% of photographs of women in
SIW depicted them actively engaged in sports, and
2% were pornographic.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
8
Shugart’s (2003) study on print and television coverage
of the 1999 U.S. women’s soccer team lends further support
for a pattern of sexualizing female athletes. Shugart
argued that media coverage of the team was sexualized in
three ways:
l Subtle sexualization occurred through passive
objectification—for example, photographs that favored
an athlete’s face rather than her athletic performance.
l Less subtle sexualization was shown in commentators’
remarks—for example, when Brandi Chastain removed
her jersey after scoring the winning goal of the World
Cup.Although this specific behavior was identical to
that of male soccer players in the same circumstances, in
Chastain’s case, sportscasters called it a “striptease” and
deemed her “the owner of the most talked-about breasts
in the country” (pp. 12-13). In several media sources, the
team was referred to as “booters with hooters” (p. 13).
l “Vigilant heterosexuality” was evident in commentary
that placed the femininity of female athletes and their
family lives in the foreground to suggest that they were
not lesbians (regardless of their real-life sexual
orientation).This form of sexualization marginalizes the
athleticism of female athletes:“Female strength has been
redefined as male pleasure” (p. 27).This assessment is
echoed by Hill Collins (2004), who argued in an
analysis of depictions of several African American
athletes that their appearances in passive “sexy” poses in
various media counteracted their aggression and passion
on the court or field.
Video/Computer Games
The vast majority of children play video games: 87% of
younger children and 70% of adolescents (Paik, 2001).A
gender divide in heavy video game play exists, with 41%
of boys playing games for more than an hour a day and
only 18% of girls doing so (D. Roberts et al., 2005). Girls,
however, spend an average of 40 minutes per day playing
games online or on home systems (D. Roberts et al., 2005).
Games made for specialized systems and those made
for personal computers contain highly sexualized content
and few strong female protagonists (Dietz, 1998). In a
recent study, Haninger and Thompson (2004) sampled 80
“Teen”-rated3 video games from a population of 396
games in release in 2001.They observed sexual themes in
27% of games. Games were significantly more likely to
depict female characters partially nude or engaged in sexual
behaviors than to depict male characters in this way.When
the authors expanded their definition of “sexual theme” to
include “pronounced cleavage, large breasts, or provocative
clothing,” the percentage of female characters so depicted
rose to 46%.
Beasley and Standley (2002) examined 64 games for
sexualizing themes.Women were seldom depicted in any of
these games (14% of all characters were female).When the
clothing of female characters was compared with that of
males, female characters’ clothing was more likely to
expose skin. Dill, Gentile, Richter, and Dill (2005) found
that in the 20 top-selling games in 1999, only female characters
were portrayed as highly sexualized.
Internet
Girls use the Internet frequently and for many purposes (D.
Roberts et al., 2005). In recent years, studies have shown
that girls and boys use the Internet in equal numbers
(Lenhart, Lewis, & Rainie, 2001; D. Roberts et al., 2005),
with girls leading boys in Internet use in the early
middle-school years (Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005).
The wide popularity of sites like MySpace.com as well as
blog centers has encouraged youth, including girls, to
describe themselves on the Internet. Recently, public
attention has focused on the sexualized self-presentations
by some girls on these Web sites and the dangers inherent
in this practice (Kornblum, 2005), although there is
currently no research that has assessed how girls portray
themselves or how dangerous this practice is. Some girls
have posed in provocative clothing and posted notices of
their sexual availability.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
9
3 According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (n.d.),“T” or teen-rated video games have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older.Titles in
this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
The recent and global proliferation of Web sites of all
kinds that may be of interest to girls makes it difficult to
assess the sexualization of girls and women. Lambiase
(2003) examined the sexualization of girls and women on
one specific type of Web site that targets and attracts girls
and teens: official and fan Web sites of male and female
celebrities. She found that female celebrities were far more
likely than male celebrities to be represented by sexualized
images, regardless of whether the site was official or produced
by fans. She also found that female musicians were
more likely to be sexualized than other female celebrities.
Pornography is readily available on the Internet (Griffiths,
2000), with one source estimating that 12% of all Web sites
are pornography sites, and 25% of all search engine requests
are for pornography (English, 2005). Extensive data on
children’s and adolescents’ exposure to sexually objectifying
material online is lacking; however, a Kaiser Family
Foundation (2001) study found that 70% of teens 15–17
years of age had accidentally encountered pornography
on the Internet, with 23% saying this happened somewhat
or very often.
Advertising
The sexualization of women is particularly prominent in
the world of advertising. In prime-time television commercials,
for example, Lin (1997) demonstrated that women
more often than men were shown in a state of undress,
exhibited more “sexiness,” and were depicted as sexual
objects (9.2% of men vs. 20.8% of women). Similar findings
have appeared in analyses of commercials on MTV
(Signorielli, McLeod, & Healy, 1994), on Spanish-language
programming (Fullerton & Kendrick, 2000), and in countries
around the world, such as Turkey and Japan (Akima,
2003; Uray & Burnaz, 2003). Beer commercials have
emerged as a particularly rich source of images that
sexualize young women. Of the 72 beer and nonbeer
ads randomly selected from prime-time sports and
entertainment programming, 75% of the beer ads and
50% of the nonbeer ads were labeled as “sexist,” featuring
women in very limited and objectifying roles (Rouner,
Slater, & Domenech-Rodriguez, 2003).
Magazine advertisements also sexualize women. First,
studies indicate that women are frequently featured as
sexual objects in such ads (e.g., Baker, 2005; Lindner, 2004;
W. J. Rudman & Verdi, 1993). In one analysis of women
appearing in advertisements in Time and Vogue from 1955
to 2002, Lindner (2004) reported that an average of 40% of
ads featured women as decorative objects.When women
are featured as “decorations” in ads (e.g., shown standing
seductively next to a car to enhance the image of the car),
their major purpose is to be looked at.They are treated as
appendages to the product rather than as active consumers
or users of the product.
Differences in these patterns emerge based on the
magazine’s intended audience and are particularly high in
magazines targeting men. For example, Baker (2005)
reported that in magazines targeting Black men or White
men, 68.2% of women appearing in magazines for Black
men and 53.3% in magazines for White men could be categorized
as filling the decorative object role.This was the
case for 22.0% and 15.8% of women in magazines targeting
Black women and White women, respectively. Similarly,
Reichert and Carpenter (2004) found that whereas women
were suggestively dressed, partially clad, or nude about half
the time in ads in women’s magazines (e.g., Redbook)
published in 2003, almost four out of five women (78%)
were depicted in this manner in ads in men’s magazines
(e.g., Esquire).Analyses of photographs from Maxim
and Stuff (two popular men’s magazines) revealed that
80.5% of the women were depicted as sex objects
(Krassas et al., 2003).
Magazine advertisements sexualize women in a second
way. Evidence indicates that such sexual objectification
occurs more frequently for women in magazine ads than
for men (Plous & Neptune, 1997; Reichert, 2003; Soley &
Kurzbard, 1986). For example, Reichert, Lambiase,
Morgan, Carstarphen, and Zavoina (1999) found that
women were three times more likely than men to be
dressed in a sexually provocative manner in ads. In their
analysis of fashion and fitness magazine advertisements
published in 1992,W. J. Rudman and Verdi (1993) found
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
10
that female models were more likely than male models to
be placed in submissive, sexually exploitive, and violent
positions. In approximately 80% of the ads in their sample,
female models were posed in sexually exploitive postures.
In half of the ads studied, female models were “dismembered”
(i.e., body parts were excluded or obscured) by the
camera angle or logo placement.This was the case for only
17% of men in ads.
Findings document that such patterns have been
increasing over time. Sullivan and O’Connor (1988)
reported a 60% increase since 1970 in the portrayals of
women in purely “decorative” roles. In an analysis of 1,871
ads from 1959, 1969, 1979, and 1989, Busby and Leichty
(1993) found an increase in the number of decorative or
alluring roles for women—from 54% in 1959 to 73% in
1989. Kang (1997) reported an increase in the display of
women’s bodies in advertisements—from 25% of ads in
1979 to 32% in 1991. In comparing the sexual imagery in
ads from six magazines published over a 20-year-period,
Reichert and Carpenter (2004) found a significant increase
over time in the explicitness of female dress, male dress, and
physical contact between women and men. Here, 28% of
women were shown as suggestively dressed, partially clad,
or nude in ads in 1983, and this increased to 49% in 2003.
Only one study found no change over time in
objectification or body display for women from 1955
to 2002 (Lindner, 2004). Overall, research shows
magazines’ growing focus on women’s bodies as sexual
objects for others’ viewing pleasure.
Some researchers have found that such patterns differ
depending on the race of the woman pictured or targeted
as an audience for the magazine. In her analysis of images
of women’s sexuality in advertisements in eight Black- and
White-oriented women’s and men’s magazines, Baker
(2005) found that White women in women’s magazines,
more often than Black women in women’s magazines, were
represented with their faces hidden (thus placing an
emphasis on their body and physical attributes).White
women were also more likely than Black women to be
represented as a decorative object in men’s magazines.
Similar findings were reported by Sanchez-Hucles,
Hudgins, and Gamble (2005) in their comparison of
women in ads in mainstream, Black-oriented, and Latina
magazines. In this study, 42% of ads in Cosmopolitan were
found to contain suggestive body exposure, compared with
13% in Ebony, 32% in Essence, 0% in Filipinas, and 21% in
Latin Girl.These patterns appear to persist over time.
Plous and Neptune (1997) examined 10 years of fashion
advertisements drawn from six magazines geared
toward White women (Cosmopolitan, Glamour), Black
women (Ebony, Essence), and White men (Esquire, GQ).
They found that body exposure of White women increased
significantly over the 10 years, from approximately 34% in
1985-1986 to nearly 50% in 1993-1994.Ads displaying
cleavage of White women nearly doubled, from 22.8% in
1985–1986 to 42.8% in 1993–1994. Breast exposure of
Black women increased from 30% of ads in 1986-1988 to
more than 40% by 1993–1994. If breast exposure is included
with other types of body exposure, the percentage of
1993–1994 ads with body exposure rises to 52.9% for
Black women and 61.6% for White women.
Despite evidence that ads are more sexual than ever
(Lin, 1998; Reichert et al., 1999), there is also some
indication that this is not what the public wants.A 1999
Adweek poll showed that 70% of respondents thought there
was too much sexual imagery in advertising (Dolliver,
1999). Moreover, evidence indicates that such tactics may
not be as effective as advertisers think.Advertising and
marketing researchers have studied sex in advertising since
the 1960s, and a general finding has been that attention
and processing resources are directed toward sexual material
including nudity, sexual behavior, and embedded sexual
material (Lang,Wise, Lee, & Cai, 2003). Recent evidence,
however, indicates that drawing attention does not always
translate into selling products. In an experimental investigation
involving 366 adults 18–54 years of age, Bushman
(2005) demonstrated that participants exposed to programming
featuring sexual commercials were less likely to
remember the advertised brands and expressed less interest
in buying those brands than participants who had seen ads
with no sexual content.
These data indicate that young women and adult
women are frequently, consistently, and increasingly
presented in sexualized ways in advertising, creating an
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
11
environment in which being female becomes nearly
synonymous with being a sexual object.Although advertisers
are typically careful not to sexualize young girls directly,
several advertising techniques do so indirectly:
l There is some empirical evidence that children, and girls
especially, are sometimes depicted as sexual objects or as
counterparts to adult versions. In their analysis of children
appearing in advertisements drawn from five popular
magazines (e.g., Ladies Home Journal, Newsweek) over
a 40-year-period, O’Donohue, Gold and McKay (1997)
found 38 ads (1.5%) that portrayed children in sexual
ways. Moreover, 85% of these ads focused on girls, and
this depiction of sexualized girls was found to increase
significantly over time. In these ads, girls often appear
with sexualized adult women and are posed in matching
clothing or seductive poses.
l Advertising imagery presents the public with both a “trickle
up” and a “trickle down” framework on girls and women
(Cook & Kaiser, 2004); thus, the distinction between women and
girls may become blurred. In this framework, young girls are
“adultified” and adult women are “youthified.” Merskin
(2004) wrote that advertising is full of photographs in
which women are “dressed down” to look like little girls
and young girls are “dressed up” as grown women.
Evidence for trickle-up includes the launching of new
magazines CosmoGirl and ElleGirl in 2001 and Teen Vogue
in 2003.These magazines “downsize” the sexualizing
messages of their “mother” publications: how to please
your man becomes how to please your prom date. The
trickle-down or “youthification” side of the equation
includes sexual portrayals of adult women as young girls in
advertising (Kilbourne, 1999), often wearing schoolgirl
clothing and licking lollipops or popsicles or wearing
scaled-up versions of children’s clothing styles like babydoll
dresses and tops, knee socks, and Mary Janes, all
marketed as adult women’s wear.This trend has led some
critics to denounce “pedophilic fashion” (Menkes, 1994).
As another example, a recent television fashion show (the
Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show on CBS in December 2005)
featured a Christmas-themed segment in which the
highly sexualized runway models were dressed like little
girls in baby doll teddies, pulling stuffed animals, and
surrounded by toys.
l Individual ads have employed youthful or “barely legal”
celebrity adolescents in highly sexual ways. News stories
over the last 25 years have reported on these ads—
both successful and controversial—that have been
debated and sometimes pulled because of their
presentation of sexualized young girls: the Brooke
Shields/Calvin Klein jeans ad, and in more recent years,
the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue, the Calvin Klein
child underwear ads, the Christina Aguilera/Skechers
ads, and the Paris Hilton/Carl’s Jr. hamburger ads. Such
ads often take a star popular with teens and preteens and
present her in highly sexualized poses. Some explicitly
play up innocence as sexy, as in one of the Skechers
“naughty and nice” ads that featured Aguilera dressed
as a schoolgirl in pigtails, with her shirt unbuttoned,
licking a lollipop. Merskin (2004) concluded that
the message from advertisers and the mass media to girls (as eventual
women) is they should always be sexually available, always have sex
on their minds, be willing to be dominated and even sexually aggressed
against, and they will be gazed on as sexual objects. (p. 120)
Products
Products designed for children and adolescents are big
business; toy sales alone amounted to over $21 billion in
2005 (Ackman, 2006).These products are one of the
sources of societal-level socialization and can shape
children’s development in a variety of ways. For example,
cultural model theorists (Bachen & Illouz, 1996; Duveen
& Lloyd, 1990) have argued that marketers present schemas
to young people for life events about which they have little
experience and which then become cultural models
for them.Although few systematic studies have been
conducted to examine the prevalence or psychological
impact of products that sexualize girls or women, the
following sections on dolls, clothing, and cosmetics
present examples of products marketed to girls that
present images of sexy, sexualized persons.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
12
Dolls. Doll play is a popular activity for children, especially
girls (Sutton-Smith, 1986). It is therefore of concern when
sexualized dolls are marketed to girls. One series of dolls
popular with girls as young as age 4 are the Bratz dolls, a
multiethnic crew of teenagers who are interested in fashion,
music, boys, and image (see www.bratz.com). Bratz
girls are marketed in bikinis, sitting in a hot tub, mixing
drinks, and standing around, while the “Boyz” play guitar
and stand with their surf boards, poised for action (Brown
& Lamb, 2005; Lamb & Brown, 2006). Moreover, Bratz
dolls come dressed in sexualized clothing such as
miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and feather boas.Although
these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls
or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome
when dolls designed specifically for
4- to 8-year-olds are associated with
an objectified adult sexuality.The
objectified sexuality presented by
these dolls, as opposed to the healthy
sexuality that develops as a normal
part of adolescence, is limiting for
adolescent girls, and even more so
for the very young girls who represent
the market for these dolls.
With the success of the Bratz dolls,
other doll manufacturers have followed
suit. Mattel created “My Scene Barbie”
and was promptly sued by Hasbro for “serial copycatting”
(DeSmedt, 2006).The pudgy, cuddly, and asexual troll dolls
that sold by the millions in the 1960s have been reinvented
as Trollz (à la Bratz), hip teenagers who are “BFFL” (Best
Friends for Life; see www.trollz.com) (Sheff, 2005).The
full-lipped Sapphire,Amethyst, Onyx, Ruby, and Topaz
sport big hair, miniskirts, bare midriffs, and “magical belly
gems” and are being marketed to girls as young as 4–8
years old (Sheff, 2005). Recently, Hasbro was poised to
release a series of dolls modeled after the musical group
The Pussycat Dolls (a former burlesque troup known for
their revealing clothing and highly sexualized lyrics),
designed for 4- to 8-year-old girls.A grassroots protest
campaign convinced them to pull this line of dolls
(Goldiner, 2006).
Although the hugely popular American Girl dolls,
known for their championing of multiethnic girls’ histories,
have not been overtly sexualized,American Girl’s recent
co-branding with Bath & Body Works (T.Turner, 2005)
may lead to product tie-ins that will encourage girls to
develop a precocious body consciousness and one
associated with narrowly sexual attractiveness.
Clothing. Whereas girls may have little control over how
they are represented in the media, they have more control
over the identity they create via their clothing choices
(Cook & Kaiser, 2004). Labre and Walsh-Childers (2003)
argued that teen magazines combine fashion and beauty
into one category and that girls are encouraged to express
their individuality through fashion choices.
Indeed, as Lamb and Brown (2006)
indicated, marketers specifically sell
unique identity to girls via clothing, often
pointing out how a girl might choose
one day to look “punk” and another to
look “innocent.”
Given that girls may be developing
their identity in part through the clothing
they choose, it is of concern when girls
at increasingly younger ages are invited to
try on and wear teen clothes designed to
highlight female sexuality.Wearing such
clothing may make it more difficult for girls to see their
own worth and value in any way other than sexually.The
sexualization of girls in clothing advertisements appeared at
least as early as 25 years ago, with such advertisements as a
girl in jeans, dropping her rag doll by her side, with the
headline “13 going on 18” (1981), and the controversial
Calvin Klein ad in which the 15-year-old Brooke Shields
declared,“Nothing comes between me and my Calvins”
(Cook & Kaiser, 2004).
What seems to be a more recent phenomenon,
however, is the production of “sexy” clothing in child and
teen sizes. Pollett and Hurwitz (2004) noted that the
thong, an item of clothing based on what a stripper might
wear, is now offered in “tween” stores as well as children’s
wear departments, often with decorations that will specifiReport
of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
13
. . . the thong, an item
of clothing based on what
a stripper might wear, is
now offered in “tween”
stores as well as women’s
wear departments, often with
decorations that will specifically
appeal to children.
cally appeal to children. Retail stores such as Limited Too
that focus on the so-called tween population (defined by
the store as ages 7 up to teen years) sell sexy lingerie such
as camisoles and lacy panties, items that once would have
been marketed solely to adults (Lamb & Brown, 2006).
In a recent content analysis of Halloween costumes, Nelson
(2000) found that there was greater variation in the types
of costumes marketed to boys than in those marketed to
girls and that girls’ costumes nearly always emphasized
physical attractiveness (e.g., beauty queens and princesses).
Among the few female villain costumes, sexual eroticism
was emphasized (e.g.,“Sexy Devil” or “Bewitched”).
Cosmetics.The cosmetics industry has also seen the value of
marketing their products to younger and younger girls.Toy
shops sell “Girls Ultimate Spa and Perfume Kit” (“for use by
up to eight kids and perfect for spa parties, sleepovers, and
rainy days”); the Body Shop has lip glosses intended for
teens and fruity lip glosses for preteens; Claire’s, an accessory
store in thousands of malls, sells lip gloss and perfume to
young girls. Barbie has perfumes called “Free Spirit,”
“Summer Fun,” and “Super Model.”
French perfumeries have introduced perfumes to the
market specifically for little girls (e.g.,“smellies”).Villeneuve
and de Grandi (1996) stated that “very young girls are targeted
with a whole range from the leading brands, with
Fleur d’interdit by Givenchy and Tendre Poison by Dior, lighter
versions of Interdit and Poison,a reminder of the ‘grown-up
version’at gentler prices.”The marketers at Yves Rocher
write of their Blackberry Cream perfume,“Little girls love to
wear fragrance just like Mom.” Publishers of teen magazines
such as CosmoGIRL! advertise cosmetics, perfumes, and personal
hygiene products, along with fashion, to their anticipated
audience of preteens and teens.These pitches appear
to be effective. Marketing surveys show that the average 12-
to 19-year-old girl uses fragrances five times a week
(Chaplin, 1999).Although there is nothing wrong with girls
wanting to smell nice and look attractive, advertisements for
adult women’s perfume overwhelmingly advertise seduction
and sex appeal through the use of scent. Cosmetics and
perfume are often associated specifically with the desire
to be sexually attractive,a desire that seems misplaced in prepubescent
girls.
Summary of Cultural Contributions
The evidence reviewed in this section demonstrates that
women and girls are more likely than men and boys to be
objectified and sexualized in a variety of media outlets
(including television, magazines, sports media, and music
videos), in advertising, and in several products that are
marketed to children.Although much of this research has
focused on adult or college-aged women rather than on
girls or teenagers, portrayals of adult women provide girls
with models that they can use to fashion their own behaviors,
self-concepts, and identities.Although media images of
girls directly affect girls, media images of women can also
affect them through this indirect process.
Interpersonal Contributions
Societal messages that contribute to the sexualization of
girls come not only from media and merchandise but also
through girls’ interpersonal relationships (e.g., with parents,
teachers, and peers) (Brown & Gilligan, 1992). Parents,
teachers, and peers exist within the context of society’s sexualizing
representations and can be affected by them.Thus,
these individuals may contribute to girls’ sexualization
when they convey their support for these cultural messages,
either subtly or overtly. In addition, parents, teachers,
and peers, as well as others (e.g., other family members,
coaches, or strangers) sometimes sexually harass, abuse, or
assault girls, a most destructive form of sexualization.
Research suggests that parents’ gender schemas have a
significant effect on children’s gender self-concepts and
gender-related attitudes toward others (Tenenbaum &
Leaper, 2002). Fathers’ attitudes in particular influence the
gender typing of children’s activities and whether children
conform to this gender typing (McHale, Crouter, &
Tucker, 1999).Although these studies investigated gender
schemas rather than sexualization, they suggest that if
parents’ schemas include sexualized ideas about girls
(which is likely given that the sexualization of women
and heterosexual interactions are a key dimension of
dominant cultural femininity; Bartky, 1990; Brown, 2003),
these beliefs will be conveyed to their daughters and sons.
Because the current standard for sexy physical appearance
for girls requires that girls be quite thin, research on
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
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the “thin ideal” is relevant to the sexualization of girls.
There is evidence that parents, peers, and the media all support
a “culture of dieting” for girls (Levine, Smolak, &
Hayden, 1994; Nichter, 2000). Several studies (with mostly
White participants) have shown that mother–daughter
interactions affect how adolescent girls respond to cultural
messages about thinness (Ogle & Damhorst, 2004) and that
mothers’ investment in their own slenderness and mothers’
criticisms of their daughters’ weight are correlated with disordered
eating in their daughters (Hill,Weaver, & Blundell,
1990; Levine, Smolak, Moodey, Shuman, & Hessen, 1994).
More recently, in a 3-year qualitative, longitudinal study
of eighth and ninth graders, Nichter (2000) found that
White mothers routinely engaged in “fat talk” about their
own bodies and the bodies of their daughters, concluding
that “girls seemed to be surrounded by excessive concerns
over physical appearance and talk of feeling
fat” (p. 120). Fewer girls received
messages from fathers, but when they
did, it was in the form of criticism,
“appraising looks, kidding quips, putdowns,
and snide comments like ‘When
did you start getting boobs?’” (p. 140).
This last comment suggests that body
comments and fat talk do, at least for
fathers, include specific references to sexuality
and that comments on a girl’s body are often conflated
or experienced as comments on her sexuality. In addition,
such encouragement for girls to look at their bodies rather
than attend to their feelings teaches them to treat their
bodies as objects to be decorated and made desirable for
others; as they mature into adolescence, such looking
becomes sexualized (Lamb, 2002, 2006;Tolman, 2002).
Nichter (2000) found a different pattern for African
American girls, who received much more positive feedback
about their appearance and “style” from their parents.They
also said that they looked up to their mothers as role
models who would teach them how to succeed in a hostile
world.Although African American girls reported dieting at
almost the same rates as European American girls, they also
reported greater body satisfaction and self-esteem and less
concern about their weight. Both African American and
European American girls thus seem to be internalizing the
messages, whether positive or negative, they receive from
their parents.
Parents can also contribute to the sexualization of their
daughters in very direct and concrete ways—for example,
by entering their 5-year-old daughter in a beauty pageant
in which she and the other contestants engage in behaviors
and practices that are socially associated with sexiness:
wearing heavy makeup to emphasize full lips, long eyelashes,
and flushed cheeks, high heels to emulate adult women,
and revealing “evening gowns.”Although relatively few
girls actually participate in such pageants, they have
become a topic of interest in the news, documentaries, and
advertising, in particular regarding whether this
precocious sexualization is problematic for these or other
girls. In this way, the participation of a few may in fact
contribute to the sexualization of many.
Some parents have agreed to let
their daughters undergo plastic surgery in
order to become sexier or more attractive.
Over 77,000 invasive surgical procedures
were performed on teens 18 years old and
younger in 2005, a 15% increase since
2000 (American Society of Plastic
Surgeons, 2006a). Minors cannot obtain
such surgery unless their parents consent;
parents typically finance the surgery, as well. Because these
procedures are expensive (and generally not covered by
health insurance), only girls from upper-middle-class or
wealthy families are likely to have access to them.
Teachers may also contribute to the sexualization of
girls. In her ethnographic research in preschools, Martin
(1998) found that girls were encouraged to play dress up
more than boys and that teachers encouraged girls in their
dress-up games to play at being sexualized adult women.
This often involved looking in mirrors, walking in “fancy”
high heels, and “vamping.”Teachers may also communicate
messages to girls that promote a thin-ideal body image.
For example, one study showed that teachers have negative
attitudes toward girls whose bodies do not conform to the
thin ideal (Villimez, Eisenberg, & Carroll, 1986). In this
study, teachers rated children in kindergarten through
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
15
African American girls . . .
reported greater body
satisfaction and self-esteem
and less concern about
their weight.
fourth grade. Heaviness and body “bulk” were negatively
correlated with teachers’ ratings of girls’ competence but
positively correlated with their ratings of boys’ competence.Although
the thin ideal is conceptually distinct
from sexualization, the two are often connected. In another
study (Rolón-Dow, 2004), middle-school teachers’
descriptions of their Latina (Puerto Rican) students
focused almost exclusively on the appearance and sexuality
of the girls.The girls’“hypersexuality” was seen as being
incompatible with academic achievement.
Peers also participate in the sexualization of girls.
Thorne’s (1993) research on girls and boys together on the
playground showed that girls are marked as sexual by boys
at a very early age, quite independent of their own behavior.
Nichter (2000) and Eder (1995) found that girls police
each other to ensure conformance with ideals of thinness
and sexiness, and Brown (2003) found that teenage girls
will seek revenge by negatively sexualizing girls whom
they perceive as a threat (e.g., by labeling them as “sluts”).
Several authors (Levy, 2005b; P. Paul, 2005; Pollet &
Hurwitz, 2004) have argued that girls now equate
popularity with sexiness and view behaving in a sexual
way with boys as a pathway to power. Indeed, previous
research has shown that girls’ popularity is based in part
on physical attractiveness and social precocity regarding
interest in boys (Adler, Kless, & Adler, 1992). Merten’s
(2004) ethnographic study of (mostly White) suburban
Chicago junior high school girls also supports this idea.
He found that popularity required girls to construct a
femininity that focused on physical attractiveness and
“emphasized the male gaze” (p. 364).
Sexual harassment by boys and men is a regular part of
school and work life. In the American Association of
University Women’s (2001) “Hostile Hallways” study, 63%
of girls reported experiencing sexual harassment “often” or
“occasionally.”The most common form of harassment was
being made the object of sexual jokes, comments, gestures,
or looks; next most frequent was being touched, grabbed,
pinched, or brushed up against in a sexual way. Of girls
who reported physical sexual harassment, 90% had been
harassed by a student, 45% by a former student, and 6% by
a teacher.
Peers appear to play a very direct role in the sexualization
of girls, making sexual commentary and evaluation in
school. One recent study explored early adolescents’ experiences
with sexual harassment from peers (Lindberg,
Grabe, & Hyde, 2007). Even 10- to 12-year-olds, most of
whom had not yet completed the fifth grade, reported significant
and frequent experiences of sexual harassment in
school.Although both boys and girls reported such experiences,
the nature and effects of these experiences differed.
Girls’ pubertal development predicted more peer sexual
harassment.That is, girls experience more sexually harassing
comments as their bodies mature.These experiences, in
turn, lead girls to experience greater feelings of shame
about their bodies.
Particularly damaging forms of sexualization include
sexual abuse and being prostituted or sexually trafficked.
Estimates of the prevalence of child sexual abuse vary, in
part because of methodological differences between studies
(e.g., how sexual abuse is defined). However, epidemiological
and other nationally representative studies generally
place lifetime prevalence rates for women at 15%-25%,
with men experiencing sexual abuse less frequently (Elliott,
1997; Molnar, Buka, & Kessler, 2001;Tjaden & Thoennes,
1998;Vogeltanz et al., 1999).
Girls and women in prostitution are by definition
sexualized—objectified and treated as sexual commodities.
In the case of girls under age 18, prostitution is legally considered
sexual abuse; it is often instead described as commercial
sexual exploitation of children or child prostitution.
Most women over the age of 18 in prostitution began
prostituting when they were adolescents. Boyer, Chapman,
and Marshall (1993) interviewed 50 women prostituting in
escort services, on the street, in strip clubs, through phone
sex, and in massage parlors (brothels) in Seattle,WA.All of
these women began prostituting between the ages of 12
and 14. In another study, Nadon, Koverola, and
Schludermann (1998) found that 89% of their respondents
had begun prostitution before the age of 16. It is difficult
to accurately assess the number of girls currently in prostitution,
but a multimethod study by Estes and Weiner
(2001) estimated that between 244,000 and 325,000
American children and adolescents are at risk each year of
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
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being victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Childhood sexual abuse puts girls at risk for prostitution
(Nadon et al., 1998; Silbert & Pines, 1981, 1982).
Intrapsychic Contributions
Many parents as well as marketers would likely argue that
girls want the clothes and accessories that make them
“sexy” and that it is difficult to convince teenagers and
younger girls to make less sexualizing choices.As girls
participate actively in a consumer culture (often buying
products and clothes designed to make them look
physically appealing and sexy) and make choices about
how to behave and whom to become (often styling their
identities after the sexy celebrities who populate their
cultural landscape), they are, in effect, sexualizing themselves.
Keen observers of how social processes operate, girls
anticipate that they will accrue social advantages, such as
popularity, for buying into the sexualization of girls (i.e.,
themselves), and they fear social rejection for not doing so
(Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Nichter, 2000;Tolman, 2002).
A focus on physical attractiveness is not new; over 3
decades ago, Unger (1979) argued that physical beauty can
translate into power for girls. But the definition of attractiveness
differs depending on the tastes of the culture.
Whereas yesterday’s culture may have equated “domesticity”
with attractiveness in women, today’s culture equates
“sexy” with attractiveness (Wolf, 1991). Moreover, there is
evidence that physical appearance was not always the
prime currency for girls’ social success. Brumberg (1997)
examined diaries of adolescent girls in the United States
over the past 100 years to explore how they discussed
self-improvement.Whereas girls of earlier eras focused
on improving their studies and becoming more wellmannered,
in the last 20 years that Brumberg studied,
girls almost exclusively described changing their bodies
and enhancing their physical appearance as the focus of
their self-improvement.
Girls sexualize themselves when they think of themselves
mostly or exclusively in sexual terms and when they
equate their sexiness with a narrow standard of physical
attractiveness.They also sexualize themselves when they
think of themselves in objectified terms. Psychological
researchers have identified self-objectification (Fredrickson &
Roberts, 1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996) as a key process
whereby girls learn to think of and treat their own bodies
as objects of others’ desires. In self-objectification, girls
internalize an observer’s perspective on their physical selves
and learn to treat themselves as objects to be looked at and
evaluated for their appearance.Though portraying oneself
solely as a sexual object to be looked at is sometimes
viewed by girls and women as exercising control over their
sexuality (e.g., at some social networking Web sites), presentation
of the self in this way can be viewed as a form of
self-objectification.
There is ample evidence that self-objectification is
common among girls and women. For example, Slater and
Tiggemann (2002) found that girls as young as 12 years old
placed greater emphasis on their body’s appearance than on
its competence. In addition, many studies have demonstrated
that girls and women self-objectify more than boys and
men do (e.g., Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn, &
Twenge, 1998; Strelan & Hargreaves, 2005).
Most studies have focused on European Americans, but
one study of ninth- and tenth-grade girls showed that most
girls, regardless of race, engaged in self-objectification
(McConnell, 2001).That is, they internalized an observer’s
standard of appearance and engaged in activities designed
to enhance their sexual attractiveness. In addition,African
American and White girls did not differ in the amount of
time they spent enhancing their physical appearance,
although African American girls spent more time on their
hair and White girls spent more time on their makeup.
Nichter’s (2000) study, however, suggests that the time
African American girls spend on their appearance may have
more to do with creating an individualized and ethnically
derived “style” (i.e., one that involves personality and
attitude, in addition to physical appearance) than with
adhering to the narrow vision of the “ideal girl” depicted
in the media.Thus, ethnic differences concerning the
meaning attached to self-objectifying practices may exist.
In addition to making sexualizing choices regarding
clothing, hair, and makeup, girls and teens sometimes “act
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
17
out” in sexually precocious ways. Given the highly sexualized
cultural milieu in which most girls are immersed, these
behaviors may simply be the result of modeling. It is important
to note, however, that sexualized behavior in children
(e.g., compulsive sex play, persistent and sometimes public
self-stimulation, inappropriate sexual overtures to others) is
one of the common sequelae of childhood sexual abuse
(Friedrich et al., 2001; Kendall-Tackett,Williams, &
Finkelhor, 1993; Letourneau, Schoenwald, & Sheidow, 2004).
In this case, girls are sexualizing themselves through their
behavior (i.e., they are presenting themselves as sexual objects
for others to use and/or they are engaging in age-inappropriate
sexual behavior). It would be inaccurate, though, to state
that girls are freely choosing these behaviors. Rather, the
mental functions and cognitive processes necessary for
healthy sexual decision-making have likely been damaged
through the experience of sexual abuse victimization
(Zurbriggen & Freyd, 2004), leading to precocious or
inappropriate sexual behavior.
These data support the contention that girls sometimes
participate in and contribute to their own sexualization.
However, the surrounding cultural milieu (and, for some
girls, their experiences of childhood sexual abuse victimization)
have encouraged and facilitated this process.Thus, girls’
choices are not fully independent of cultural or past interpersonal
influences. In addition, it is important to remember
that girls are fully capable of agency and resistance in this
area. (We return to this point in the Positive Alternatives and
Approaches to Counteracting the Influence of Sexualization
section, pp. 36–42.)
Summary of Evidence for the Sexualization of Girls
Many studies have suggested that the culture delivers
abundant messages about the objectification and
sexualization of adult women and that this is the cultural
milieu in which girls develop. Parents, schools, and peers
sometimes contribute to the sexualization of girls, and
girls themselves sometimes adopt a sexualized and selfobjectified
identity.Additional research is needed that
(a) focuses specifically on girls rather than on adult
women; (b) further explores the ways in which parents,
schools, and peers sexualize girls; and (c) addresses girls’
self-sexualization—how often it occurs and what factors
encourage it. In the next section, we examine research and
theory suggesting that the sexualization of women and
girls may have a variety of negative consequences for
girls as well as for others in our culture.
Consequences of the Sexualization
of Girls
I
n this section we describe psychological theories
concerning mechanisms whereby people (girls
included) might be affected by sexualization.We also
describe some of the special vulnerabilities due to developmental
stage that are relevant to the sexualization of girls.
We then describe research showing that the sexualization
of girls is associated with many negative consequences.
Mechanisms by Which Sexualization Has an Impact
Psychology offers several theories to explain how the
sexualization of girls and women could influence girls’
well-being:
l Socialization theories describe how girls receive
and anticipate direct rewards and punishments from
socialization agents regarding sexualization.
l Sociocultural theories point out that girls exist within a
cultural milieu in which direct reinforcement is not
always necessary for internalization or activation of a
sexualized standard to be cultivated or for girls to
engage in early sexualized behaviors.
l Cognitive theories highlight the automatic and
unconscious nature of some of the schemas and other
cognitive structures that develop through socialization.
l Psychoanalytic theories point to early experiences as
formative in the development of the self.
l Objectification theory combines all of these approaches
to argue that girls’ observations of the world around
them contribute to an internalization that produces
self-sexualization.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
18
Socialization Theories
Social learning theory (e.g., Bussey & Bandura, 1999),
cognitive developmental theory (e.g.,Warin, 2000), and
gender schema theory (e.g., Bem, 1985) all offer explanations
for the learning of culturally appropriate gender roles,
ideologies, practices, and behaviors via reinforcement from
others and modeling.According to socialization theories,
girls learn about women’s expected roles in the world and
strive to enact these expectations, because doing so brings
specific rewards and because being consistent with
expectations is itself rewarding. In addition, violations of
the boundaries of these roles or ideologies can be met with
punishment, denigration, and even violence. Socialization
theories help us see that girls’ understanding of appropriate
femininity is not “natural” or innate but is acquired
through developmental processes whereby girls draw
information from the adults and peers, real and fictional,
around them.
Sociocultural Theories
Other psychological theories emphasize the culture or
context within which girls develop and through which
meanings are created.According to these theories,
choices about one’s appearance and behavior, as well as
reinforcement from socialization agents, exist within a
cultural milieu in which only certain options are available,
recognized as existing, or sanctioned. Cultivation theory
(Gerbner et al., 1994) proposes that when people are
exposed to media content or other socialization agents,
they gradually come to cultivate or adopt beliefs about the
world that coincide with the images they have been viewing
or messages they have been hearing.Agenda setting and
framing theories (Kosicki, 1993) highlight the fact that
important media outlets focus attention on certain issues
or domains, in effect telling girls what is and is not salient
or important. Feminist psychodynamic theories (e.g.,
Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991) and social
construction theories (e.g., Hare-Mustin & Marecek, 1988)
emphasize the messages culture delivers regarding femininity
and the ways in which such messages maintain gender
relations as power relations.
Cognitive Theories
Social psychologists have demonstrated that many attitudes
and beliefs operate, at least in part, on an “implicit” or
unconscious (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995) and automatic
(Bargh & Ferguson, 2000) level. For example, in numerous
studies, most White participants show an automatic
association between African Americans’ names or faces
and negative adjectives (Cunningham, Preacher, & Banaji,
2001).This is true for children as well as adults (Baron &
Banaji, 2006).Automatic gender stereotypes and attitudes
operate in both women and men (Banaji & Greenwald,
1995; L. Rudman & Kilianski, 2000), and other types of
automatic associations (e.g., a link between power and sex;
Zurbriggen, 2000) are present in some people.Although
these attitudes, beliefs, and associations are automatic, they
are not immutable (Dasgupta & Greenwald, 2001). For
example, exposure to female leaders led to a decrease
in women’s automatic gender stereotyping (Dasgupta
& Asgari, 2004). Schemas and beliefs concerning
objectification and sexualization may also operate
implictly and automatically.
Psychoanalytic Theories
Psychoanalytic theories argue that “parental seduction” in
the form of overstimulation or boundary crossing can cause
guilt and conflict and can produce symptoms that affect the
very character of developing children as well as their ability
to form relationships in the future (J. Greenberg, 2001;
Shengold, 1989).Trauma theory and research show that
the early introduction of adult sexual material and behavior
in the lives of children through abuse can cause lifelong
struggles with their sexual development and with their
ability to form intimate relationships (Herman, 1992;
Scharff & Scharff, 1994). Shengold (1989) argued that the
mechanism through which such effects occur supposes
a natural progression of development, which, when
interrupted by the introduction of material or behaviors
that are too much for a child to bear, causes overwhelming
feelings that must be defended against. In psychoanalytic
theories, the defenses that explain self-sexualization and
risky sexual behavior that leads to retraumatization are
sometimes called “enactment” and sometimes “repetition”
(Rachman, Kennedy, & Yard, 2005).
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
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Objectification Theory
Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997;
McKinley & Hyde, 1996) is the theory that most
directly describes the process by which girls internalize
the sexualizing messages of culture.This theory focuses
particularly on the impact of the sexual objectification of
female bodies as the cultural milieu in which girls exist and
develop.According to this theory, girls internalize and
reproduce within their own self-schemas this objectified
perspective, an effect referred to as “self-objectification.”
Self-objectification involves adopting a third-person perspective
on the physical self and constantly assessing one’s
own body in an effort to conform to the culture’s standards
of attractiveness. Self-objectification in a
culture in which a woman is a “good
object” when she meets the salient cultural
standard of “sexy” leads girls to evaluate
and control their own bodies more in
terms of their sexual desirability to others
than in terms of their own desires, health,
wellness, achievements, or competence.
Developmental Processes Relevant to
the Sexualization of Girls
Cognitive Development
Children’s cognitive development affects their ability to
critically process cultural messages.According to
researchers, very young children are highly susceptible to
marketing (e.g., Borzekowski & Robinson, 1999), they
have difficulty distinguishing between commercial and regular
programming on TV (Atkin, 1982), and only after they
are approximately 8 years old can they recognize that the
purpose of advertisements is to persuade them to want to
purchase something (Kunkel & Roberts, 1991). Girls’
understanding of sexuality is also limited by their cognitive
development. Linn (2005) therefore asked rhetorically,
“How does a 7-year-old understand the plastic sexuality
of Britney Spears? How do 10-year-olds cope with
pressure to dress and act in sexually provocative ways?”
(p. 115). Girls have much less ability than adults to
comprehend and cope with cultural messages.
Identity Formation
Identity formation is a developmental hallmark of adolescence
in Western cultures. Research has shown identity to
be a major concern for adolescent girls (e.g., Brown, 1991),
for whom every day can feel like a struggle to fit in.
Strasburger and Wilson (2002) argued that preadolescents
and adolescents are like actors as they experiment with
different features of their newly forming identities and try
on different social “masks.”This plasticity may make them
especially susceptible to the messages society conveys,
particularly when marketers link popularity and social
acceptance to their products.Thus, sexualized messages
and products may be more easily accepted during this
developmental stage.
Age-Related Changes in
Self-Esteem
Just at the time when girls begin to
construct identity, they are more likely
to suffer losses in self-esteem. Research
has documented losses in self-esteem
for girls in adolescence (e.g., Harter,
1998; Major, Barr, & Zubek, 1999), and
perceived physical attractiveness is
closely linked to self-esteem (PolceLynch,
Myers, & Kilmartin, 1998). In particular,Tolman,
Impett,Tracy, and Michael (2006) have shown that in the
eighth grade, girls who objectify their bodies more have
much lower self-esteem. For this reason, diminishing selfesteem
arising in early adolescence may make girls particularly
vulnerable to cultural messages that promise them
popularity, effectiveness, and social acceptance through
the right “sexy” look. On the other hand, the drop in
self-esteem may be related to how responsive they are to
these cultural messages.
Impact on Girls’ Health and Well-Being
In this section, we describe and document the consequences
of the sexualization of girls and women.Ample
evidence indicates that sexualization has negative effects in
a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning,
physical and mental health, sexuality, and attitudes and
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
20
“How does a 7-year-old
understand the plastic
sexuality of Britney Spears?
How do 10-year-olds cope
with pressure to dress
and act in sexually
provocative ways?”
beliefs.We also briefly review some of the negative consequences
of sexual abuse and exploitation (extreme forms of
sexualization), noting that because sexual exploitation often
involves violence, some of the findings reported in this section
might not be applicable to sexualization more broadly.
Cognitive and Physical Functioning
Perhaps the most insidious consequence of self-objectification
is that it fragments consciousness. Chronic attention
to physical appearance leaves fewer cognitive resources
available for other mental and physical activities. One study
demonstrated this fragmenting quite vividly (Fredrickson et
al., 1998).While alone in a dressing room, college students
were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a
sweater.While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the
garment, they completed a math test.The results revealed
that young women in swimsuits performed significantly
worse on the math problems than did those wearing
sweaters. No differences were found for young men. In
other words, thinking about the body and comparing it to
sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity. Recent
research has shown that this impairment occurs among
African American, Latina, and Asian American young
women (Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004) and extends beyond
mathematics to other cognitive domains including logical
reasoning and spatial skills (Gapinski, Brownell, &
LaFrance, 2003).
The implications are stunning and suggest that
sexualization may contribute to girls’ dropping out of
higher level mathematics in high school. Studies show that
as girls develop through adolescence, their science and
math self-concepts are less stable than those of boys (e.g.,
Simpkins, Davis-Kean, & Eccles, 2006). For example, girls
begin to underestimate their math ability relative to boys
and show diminished interest in upper level, optional math
classes in high school (Linver, Davis-Kean, & Eccles, 2002).
Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) have pointed out that
these declines in estimations of ability and the value girls
place on math begin around puberty, when their bodies
mature. Studies show that single-sex math classes lead
girls to feel less self-conscious and improve their math
performance substantially (Rutti, 1997).This may not
be solely because boys would otherwise dominate the
classroom (one popular explanation for the success of
single-sex math classes for girls) but also because without
boys, girls can literally take their minds off their own
bodies and think more effectively.
Self-objectification appears to disrupt physical performance
as well. One study explored self-objectification’s
relation to the commonly observed phenomenon of
“throwing like a girl” (Young, 1980). Girls do indeed
appear to have a distinctive way of throwing. Compared
with boys, girls tend not to bring their whole bodies into a
throw, instead remaining relatively immobile except for the
throwing arm, which is often not extended completely
(Roberton & Halverson, 1984). Fredrickson and Harrison
(2005) had 200 Anglo and African American girls, 10–17
years of age, throw a softball as hard as they could against a
distant gymnasium wall.They found that the extent to
which girls viewed their bodies as objects and were
concerned about their bodies’ appearance predicted
poorer motor performance on the softball throw. Selfobjectification,
it appears, limits the form and effectiveness
of girls’ physical movements.
Ample research shows that physical activity leads to
experiences of positive mood and feelings of confidence
(Plante, 1993), is associated with achieving and maintaining
physical health (President’s Council on Physical Fitness and
Sports, 1997), and improves cognitive performance (Etnier
et al., 1997). If the practices of sexualization and the resultant
self-objectification in which many girls engage serve to
limit their physical activities, then girls and women are
likely to suffer a wide range of consequences for their
overall health and well-being. For example, Dowling (2000)
suggested that girls and women who are physically active
and confident are more able to defend themselves from
physical attack and abuse.
Taken together, the work on the cognitive and physical
decrements associated with self-objectification suggests that
sexualization practices may function to keep girls “in their
place” as objects of sexual attraction and beauty, significantly
limiting their free thinking and movement in the world.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
21
Body Dissatisfaction and Appearance Anxiety
Sexualization and objectification undermine confidence in
and comfort with one’s own body, leading to a host of
negative emotional consequences, such as shame, anxiety,
and even self-disgust.The evidence to support this claim
comes from studies of self-objectification (mostly using
college-aged samples) and from experimental and
correlational studies of exposure to media emphasizing
a narrow ideal of women’s sexual attractiveness.
Studies based on objectification theory have shown
that the near-constant monitoring of appearance that
accompanies self-objectification leads to increased feelings
of shame about one’s body (e.g., Fredrickson et al., 1998;
McKinley, 1998, 1999;Tiggemann & Slater, 2001). Shame
is an emotion that occurs when one perceives one’s failure
to meet cultural standards of conduct (Lewis, 2000).
Individuals who feel shame deem the whole self as
deficient and typically have the urge to hide or disappear.
Given that so few women meet the dominant cultural
standard for an attractive, sexy appearance (Wolf, 1991), it is
not surprising that a girl’s chronic comparison of her own
body to this impossible cultural standard would result in
feelings of inadequacy and shame.
A second emotional consequence of self-objectification
is appearance anxiety, which is manifested by checking and
adjusting one’s appearance. Not knowing exactly when or
how one’s body will be looked at and evaluated creates
anxiety about exposure. Girls’ fashions arguably compound
the opportunities for this kind of anxiety:Tight-fitting
“belly shirts,” micro-miniskirts, and plunging necklines
require regular body monitoring and a kind of chronic
vigilance about whether everything is in place. Indeed,
numerous studies have shown stronger appearance anxiety
in those young women who internalize a sexualizing gaze
as their primary view of self (e.g.,Tiggemann & Lynch,
2001); other studies have shown that young women, in
general, will have stronger appearance anxiety after viewing
media portrayals of idealized women’s bodies (Monro &
Huon, 2005) or after being exposed to sexualizing words
that commonly appear on magazine covers, such as sexy or
shapely (T-A. Roberts & Gettman, 2004).
In one study of adolescent girls, Slater and Tiggemann
(2002) found that self-objectification correlated with both
body shame and appearance anxiety. For girls as young as
12 and 13 years of age, viewing oneself primarily from the
perspective of an observer and emphasizing features like
“attractiveness” and “sex appeal” with respect to one’s body
were related to higher levels of anxiety about appearance
and feelings of shame.
In addition to leading to feelings of shame and anxiety,
sexualizing treatment and self-objectification can generate
feelings of disgust toward one’s physical self. Girls may feel
they are “ugly” and “gross” or untouchable. In the study in
which college students were asked to try on and evaluate
swimwear, young women, regardless of body size, responded
to the experience with feelings of “disgust, distaste, and
revulsion” compared with those who tried on a sweater
(Fredrickson et al., 1998).The authors speculated that
standing alone in a dressing room and seeing their
bodies in the mirror led the young women to imagine
critical viewers, and this made them feel not only ashamed
but repulsive.
Complementing the evidence from studies on selfobjectification,
strong empirical evidence indicates that
exposure to ideals of sexual attractiveness in the media is
associated with greater body dissatisfaction among girls and
young women (for recent reviews, see Groesz, Levine, &
Murnen, 2002; Holmstrom, 2004).At least 38 experiments,
32 surveys, and 2 interview studies have been conducted
investigating these harmful connections, most of which
yielded the expected, statistically reliable results. For
example, Hargreaves and Tiggemann (2004) exposed
high school girls and boys either to “beauty ideal” or to
“nonappearance” commercials. Girls exposed to beauty
ideal commercials expressed significantly increased body
dissatisfaction. S. L.Turner, Hamilton, Jacobs,Angood, and
Dwyer (1997) examined the impact of exposure to fashion
magazines on women’s body image.Young women who
viewed fashion magazines versus news magazines preferred
to weigh less, were less satisfied with their bodies, were
more frustrated about their weight, were more preoccupied
with the desire to be thin, and were more afraid of getting
fat than were their peers who viewed news magazines.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
22
Many of the studies to date have mostly consisted of
White samples. Because the cultural ideal for female
beauty is racialized (i.e., the idealized beautiful woman is
White), exposure to these idealized images may affect girls of
color differently. Indeed, the evidence from studies of African
American girls suggests that identification with the
idealized standard may be an important predictor of negative
outcomes.When exposed to sexualized women in the media
who are White,African American girls did not demonstrate
negative body-image effects of objectifying media (Frisby,
2004; Makkar & Strube, 1995). Moreover, qualitative interviews
of Black and White high school girls (Duke, 2000;
Milkie, 1999) suggest that Black girls are largely uninterested
in the beauty images of mainstream teen
magazines because they conflict with
African American standards of attractiveness
and appeal.
Frisby (2004) found, however, that
when Black women were exposed to
idealized images of African American
models, those who were initially lower
in self-esteem were later less satisfied
with their own bodies. Furthermore,
Botta (2003) found that for both White
and Black teenage girls, the more they
idealized TV images and compared themselves and their
friends to those images, the stronger their drive was to be
thin and the more dissatisfied they were with their bodies.
Parmariega, Gustavson, and Gustavson (1994) found that
many Black female stars in the film, music, and fashion
industry are now just as thin as their White counterparts.
This finding, combined with the results reported
previously, suggest that body dissatisfaction among
African American girls may increase.
Body dissatisfaction may spur teens to seek plastic
surgery, a decision that incurs health risks and comes at a
high financial cost. Between 2000 and 2005, there was a
15% increase in teen (age 18 and younger) invasive
cosmetic surgery and a 7% increase in minimally invasive
cosmetic procedures (e.g., botox injections, chemical peels,
laser hair removal), according to the American Society of
Plastic Surgeons (2006a). Given that the most common
procedures sought by teenagers are breast enlargements,
nose and ear reshaping, and liposuction (“More Teens Opt
for Plastic Surgery,” 2000), it is safe to assume that the
majority of teens receiving plastic surgery are girls.
Indeed, from 2002 to 2003, the number of girls 18
years old and younger who got breast implants nearly
tripled, from 3,872 to 11,326 (Olding & Zuckerman,
2004). In one study, two thirds of 16-year-old girls in a
suburban high school knew someone who had undergone
cosmetic surgery (Pearl & Weston, 2003). Many of these
girls desired it themselves, and the most desired procedures
were liposuction for the reduction of fat in the hips, thighs,
and belly and breast augmentation (Pearl
& Weston, 2003).The fact that parents
must consent to these procedures for their
daughters under age 18 (and that parents
often pay for the procedures) illustrates
that girls’ self-sexualization desires and
practices occur in a broader context. In
this case, they are likely to be directly
supported by parents.
Body image dissatisfaction
may also support girls’ use not only of
cosmetics and beauty products but also of
expensive salon treatments such as facials,
manicures, pedicures, waxing, and eyebrow shaping.
Teenage girls 12 to 19 years of age spent over $8 billion on
beauty products (cosmetics, fragrances, and hair/beauty
salons) in 1997—spending more in this product category
than in any other except clothing/jewelry (Parks, 1998).
Expensive beauty products and treatments are unlikely to
be affordable for low-income girls. Self-sexualization may
serve, then, to widen the gulf many lower-income girls
undoubtedly feel between themselves and those with the
financial means to look “sexy” and thus be socially popular.
Mental Health
Research links sexualization with three of the most
common mental health problems of girls and women:
l eating disorders
l low self-esteem
l depression or depressed mood
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
23
. . . for both White and
Black teenage girls, the more
they idealized TV
images and compared
themselves . . . to those
images, the stronger their
drive was to be thin and
the more dissatisfied they
were with their bodies.
Frequent exposure to cultural beauty ideals via the
media has been shown to be associated with higher rates of
eating disorders, both for individuals and for the population
at large. Indeed, Lucas, Beard, O’Fallon, and Kurland (1991)
studied the incidence of anorexia nervosa among 10- to
19-year-old girls during a 50-year period and found that it
paralleled changes in fashion and idealized body image.
The thin ideal preceded the times when the rates of
anorexia nervosa were highest. For individual women,
findings across several studies indicate associations between
exposure to female beauty ideals and disordered eating
attitudes and symptoms, such that greater exposure to
thin-ideal media has been associated with higher levels of
dieting, exercising, and disordered eating symptomatology
(e.g.,Abramson & Valene, 1991; Harrison, 2000; Hofschire
& Greenberg, 2001; Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, &
Stein, 1994;Thomsen,Weber, & Brown, 2002). For
example, Botta (2000) reported that more frequent
television viewing was associated with increased bulimic
symptomatology for White teenage girls. Indeed, a recent
meta-analysis testing links between media exposure and
women’s behavior and beliefs related to eating reported a
small (d = .29) but statistically reliable effect of media
exposure across 8 experimental and 12 correlational
studies (Grabe,Ward, & Hyde, 2008).
Particularly strong evidence of the media’s role in shaping
girls’ body image can be seen in before and after analyses
of cultures that are new to Western media. For example,
in a study on adolescent ethnic Fijian girls in Western Fiji,
Becker (2004) found that the beginnings of weight and
body shape preoccupation, purging behavior to control
weight, and body disparagement were linked to the introduction
of television. Before television, traditional Fijian
culture emphasized a robust body shape and based notions
of identity not on the body but on family, community, and
relationships.Three years after television was introduced,
girls’ eating behaviors and attitudes about their bodies had
shifted, and rates of disordered eating had increased.
Research also links exposure to sexualized female
ideals with lower self-esteem, negative mood, and
depressive symptoms among adolescent girls and young
women.These associations have been examined in at least
five correlational studies and in multiple experiments,
demonstrating causal connections. For example, adolescent
girls exposed to advertisements featuring idealized women
reported significant increases in state depression scores
(Durkin & Paxton, 2002). Similar effects have been shown
for undergraduate women exposed to idealized images,
especially among those who were already dieting (Mills,
Polivy, Herman, & Tiggemann, 2002).At the same time,
frequent exposure to mainstream media that feature female
ideals, such as movies, prime-time television, and music
videos, were associated with lower self-esteem among
Black and Latino/a youth (Rivadeneyra,Ward, & Gordon,
2007; L. M.Ward, 2004b).
Studies also show that self-objectification is associated
with negative mental health outcomes in adolescent girls.
For example,Tolman et al. (2006) found that in early adolescence,
girls who had a more objectified relationship with
their bodies were more likely to experience depression and
had lower self-esteem. Similarly, Harrison and Fredrickson
(2003) reported that among Black and White adolescent
girls, self-objectification was a significant predictor of
depression, body shame, and disordered eating, even when
controlling for race, grade in school, and body mass index.
In one demonstration of these trends, Hawkins,
Richards, Granley, and Stein (2004) exposed undergraduate
women to 40 full-page photographs from Cosmopolitan,
Vogue, and Glamour. For students in the experimental
group, these ads contained female models; for those in the
control group, only no-model ads were used. Findings
indicated that young women exposed to the idealized
models indicated more eating disorder symptoms than
women in the control group, as well as more negative
mood states and lower self-esteem.
Physical Health
In addition to the mental health consequences of sexualization,
research suggests that girls’ and women’s physical
health may also be negatively, albeit indirectly, affected. For
example, studies have established an important link
between body dissatisfaction and the onset of cigarette
smoking among adolescent girls (e.g., Stice & Shaw, 2003).
One theorized reason for this relationship is girls’ belief
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
24
that smoking will enable them to control their weight and
thus meet standards of physical appearance considered
desirable (Camp, Klesges, & Relyea, 1993). Newer research
has shown that this relationship may be mediated by
self-objectification, a feature of sexualization. In one study,
college-aged women who had a more sexually objectified
standard for their physical appearance (emphasizing sexual
attractiveness, for example, over health and competence)
were more likely to be smokers (Harrell, 2002).These
studies begin to suggest that sexualization experiences may
lead to dangerous addictive health behaviors.
Sexuality
Sexual well-being is an important part of healthy
development and overall well-being (Satcher, 2001).
Research indicates that among adults,
healthy sexuality is related to greater
intimacy (Weekes, 2002), higher selfesteem
(Hurlbert & Whittaker, 1991),
low levels of stress (Ellison, 2000;
Weekes, 2002), personal happiness
(Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, &
Michaels, 1994), and other positive
benefits (Planned Parenthood, 2003).Yet
emerging evidence suggests that the
sexualization of girls has negative
consequences on girls’ ability to
develop healthy sexuality.
Self-objectification has been linked directly to
diminished sexual health among adolescent girls. More
specifically, Impett, Schooler, and Tolman (2006) found
that White and Latina adolescent girls with a more
objectified view of their bodies had diminished sexual
health, measured by decreased condom use and diminished
sexual assertiveness. Studies also show that supporting
women’s sexual objectification may affect how women
view their own reproductive body functions. L. M.Ward,
Merriwether, and Caruthers (2006b) found that
undergraduate women who frequently watch music
videos or read women’s magazines, who attribute greater
realism to media content, or who identify strongly with
popular TV characters were also more accepting of sexually
objectifying notions of women and of other traditional
gender ideologies.At the same time, accepting these views
of women and their bodies was associated with expressing
more negative attitudes toward breastfeeding and
toward the “functional” aspects of one’s own body
(e.g., menstruation, body sweat).
Other evidence suggests that frequent exposure to
narrow ideals of attractiveness may affect adolescents’
perceptions of their own sexual experiences, perhaps
contributing to unrealistic expectations. For example,
Baran (1976) found that high school students who
thought that TV accurately portrayed sexual behavior
were more likely to be dissatisfied with either their first
experience of intercourse or with their virginity. Similarly,
L. M.Ward and Averitt (2005) reported
that heavier reading of popular men’s
magazines and stronger identification
with popular male TV characters was
associated with undergraduate (male
and female) virgins’ expectation that
their first coital experience would be
more negative.T-A. Roberts and
Gettman (2004) found that after
exposure to objectifying words found
on magazine covers, young women
expressed reduced interest in sexual
relationships. Moreover, Strouse and
Buerkel-Rothfuss (1987) found that for undergraduate
women, MTV consumption was the most powerful
predictor of their notions about sexuality and love
relationships, which was not true for men.
Both theoretical arguments and empirical evidence
suggest that, in addition to effects that occur during
adolescence, the sexualization of girls may ultimately
influence adult women’s sexuality by contributing to
women’s body shame and self-objectification.The
sexualization and objectification of women induce
negative feelings in girls about their bodies in
adolescence, which ultimately may lead to sexual
problems in adulthood (Brotto, Heiman, & Tolman, 2009;
Graham, Saunders, Milhausen, & McBride, 2004;Tolman,
Spencer, Rosen-Reynoso, & Porche, 2003;Wiederman,
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
25
. . . studies have
established an important
link between body
dissatisfaction and the
onset of cigarette
smoking among
adolescent girls.
2000).A woman who has learned to fear
negative evaluations of her body may be more focused on
her partner’s judgments of her than on her own desires,
safety, and pleasure. Focusing critically on one’s own
appearance can limit the pleasure drawn from these sexual
experiences (Wiederman, 2001) and can make it difficult
for women to enact safer sex practices (Wingood &
DiClemente, 1992).At the same time, a woman who has
been socialized to separate from her inner feelings and
experiences of arousal and desire may find it difficult to
assert her desires or feel entitled to satisfaction in sexual
situations. She may instead opt to let events unfold based
on her partner’s wants and interests.
Empirical evidence supports these concerns. Findings
indicate that women with high body dissatisfaction engage
in less sexual activity and are especially apprehensive about
sexual situations in which their bodies can be seen.
Conversely, women who feel more positively about and
comfortable with their bodies are more comfortable with
their own sexual feelings (Ackard, Kearney-Cooke, &
Peterson, 2000; Faith & Schare, 1993;Trapnell, Meston, &
Gorzalka, 1997;Wiederman, 2000). For example, women
who report more body dissatisfaction report a later onset of
masturbation (Wiederman & Pryor, 1997) and are less
likely to receive (but not less likely to perform) oral sex
(Wiederman & Hurst, 1998). In addition, Schooler,Ward,
Merriwether, and Caruthers (2005) found that greater
levels of body discomfort and body self-consciousness
each predicted lower levels of sexual assertiveness, sexual
experience, and condom use self-efficacy, as well as higher
levels of sexual risk-taking.When self-objectification was
experimentally induced in one study, women reported
decreased interest in the physical aspects of sex (T-A.
Roberts & Gettman, 2004).These findings suggest that
body shame may inhibit women’s ability to advocate for, or
even acknowledge, their own sexual feelings or pleasure.
Girls with disabilities may experience particular
challenges in developing a healthy sexuality. Health care
professionals have historically viewed individuals with
disabilities as inanimate objects, communicating an
unspoken message that they are not fully human (Leeds
Metropolitan University, 2005). Especially for girls with
disabilities, this view may negatively affect identity
development and exacerbate the effects of cultural messages
that reduce girls to sexual objects. Moreover, with instances
of abuse estimated to be 33%–83% depending on the type
of disability and the definition of abuse (Schaller &
Lagergren Frieberg, 1998), girls and young women
with disabilities struggle to develop a healthy concept of
sexuality and of themselves.
Attitudes and Beliefs
A central concern raised in this report is that frequent
exposure to media images that sexualize girls and women
may affect how girls conceptualize femininity and sexuality,
leading them to accept more constrained and stereotypical
notions about gender roles and sexual roles (i.e., that
women are sexual objects). Findings across several studies
indicate that this appears to be the case. Girls and young
women who more frequently consume or engage with
mainstream media content also offer stronger endorsement
of sexual stereotypes that paint women as sexual objects
(L. M.Ward, 2002; L. M.Ward & Rivadeneyra, 1999;
Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006). For example, findings
indicate that among undergraduate women, more frequent
viewing of reality dating television programs was correlated
with greater acceptance of a sexual double standard and
the belief that dating is a game and that men and women
are adversaries (Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006).
Similarly, among Black high school girls, stronger
identification with one’s favorite TV character and with
more objectifying music artists was associated with greater
support of stereotypes about women as sex objects
(Gordon, 2004). Experimental work exploring connections
between media use and girls’ acceptance of sexual objectification
yields similar results. For example, L. M.Ward (2002)
reported that young women exposed to images from
prime-time TV that depicted women as sexual objects
offered stronger support of this notion than did women in
control groups. Similarly, Johnson,Adams,Ashburn, and
Reed (1995) reported that Black adolescent girls exposed
to sexualized rap videos expressed greater acceptance of
teen dating violence than those not exposed. It appears that
exposure to mainstream (i.e., sexually objectifying) media
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
26
encourages girls to objectify women and to see other
women as less than human.
Media exposure has been found to constrain young
women’s conceptions of femininity by putting appearance
and physical attractiveness at the center of women’s value.
For example, Zurbriggen and Morgan (2006) reported that
more frequent viewing of reality TV programming among
young women was associated with a stronger belief in the
importance of appearance. Indeed, when asked to rate the
importance of particular qualities for women,White and
Black high school students who consumed more mainstream
media attributed greater importance to sexiness
and beauty than did students who consumed less
(L. M.Ward, 2004a; L. M.Ward,
Hansbrough, & Walker, 2005). Similarly,
Tan (1979) reported that girls who
viewed beauty commercials subsequently
rated physical attractiveness as more
personally important and as a more
important determinant of popularity
than did girls who viewed neutral
commercials.The sexualization and
objectification of women in the media
appear to teach girls that as women, all
they have to offer is their body and face
and that they should expend all their
effort on physical appearance.
Effects of Sexual Exploitation on Girls
Childhood sexual abuse victimization is an extreme
form of sexualization, one that always involves both
sexual objectification and the inappropriate imposition
of sexuality. Reviewing the sequelae of sexual abuse may,
therefore, be relevant to understanding the effects of
sexualization. It is important to remember, however, that
sexual abuse may also involve or co-occur with violence
or threats of violence, demands for secrecy, physical
abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect.Thus, negative effects
associated with sexual abuse victimization are unlikely to
be due solely to sexualization. It is nevertheless useful to
review these negative sequelae.
Childhood sexual abuse victimization is associated
with a host of negative effects, both during childhood
(Kendall-Tackett et al., 1993) and subsequently as an adult
(Browne & Finkelhor, 1986). Childhood sexual abuse has
been linked to increased rates of dissociation (Putnam &
Trickett, 1997), depression (Briere & Conte, 1993; Briere &
Runtz, 1988), anxiety (Briere & Runtz, 1987; Molnar,
Buka, & Kessler, 2001), posttraumatic stress disorder
(Rodriguez,Van de Kemp, & Foy, 1998), body shame
(Andrews, 1995), eating disorders (Smolak & Murnen,
2002), physical health impairment (Leserman, 2005), and
difficulty in interpersonal relationships (Colman & Widom,
2004). Negative effects are more pervasive when the abuse
is frequent, severe, or of long duration,
involves force, or is perpetrated by
someone close to the victim (Banyard &
Williams, 1996; Kendall-Tackett et al.,
1993; Mullen, Martin,Anderson,
Romans, & Herbison, 1993).The
responses of others (Ullman, 2003) and
girls’ own perceptions and attributions
(Haaken & Lamb, 2000; Hoagwood,
1990; Lamb, 1996, 1999) have also been
shown to affect the likelihood and
intensity of negative effects.
Of special interest is the
relationship between childhood sexual abuse victimization
and sexual behavior.A common symptom of sexually
abused children is sexualized behavior (e.g., self-sexualization;
Friedrich et al., 2001; Kendall-Tackett et al., 1993;
Letourneau, Schoenwald, & Sheidow, 2004).The sexually
abused child may incorporate the perpetrator’s perspective
into her identity, eventually viewing herself as good for
nothing but sex (Herman, 1992; Putnam, 1990).The
constricted sense of self of the sexually abused child and
the coercive refusal of the perpetrator to respect the child’s
physical boundaries may result in subsequent difficulties in
asserting boundaries, impaired self-protection, and a
greater likelihood of being further victimized as an adult
(Classen, Palesh, & Aggarwal, 2005), including becoming
involved in prostitution (Nadon et al., 1998; Silbert &
Pines, 1981, 1982). Childhood sexual abuse victimization is
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
27
The sexualization
and objectification of
women in the media
appear to teach girls
that as women, all they
have to offer is their body
and face, and that they
should expend all their
effort on physical appearance.
also linked to risky sexual behavior in adolescence and
adulthood (Quina, Morokoff, Harlow, & Zurbriggen, 2004).
Impact on Others
In addition to the consequences for girls described
previously, the sexualization of girls may also affect boys,
men, and adult women. Evidence relevant to possible
negative effects for these groups is described below.
Boys and Men
The sexualization of girls can have a negative impact on
boys and men. Exposure to narrow ideals of female sexual
attractiveness may make it difficult for some men to find
an “acceptable” partner or to fully enjoy intimacy with
a female partner (Schooler & Ward, 2006). Several experimental
studies have shown that exposure to pornography
(which often sexually objectifies women; Jensen & Dines,
2004) leads men to rate their female partners as less attractive
(Weaver, Masland, & Zillmann, 1984), to indicate less
satisfaction with their intimate partners’ attractiveness, sexual
performance, and level of affection (Zillmann & Bryant,
1988), and to express greater desire for sex without emotional
involvement (Zillmann & Bryant, 1988).
Even viewing a single episode of an objectifying
television program such as Charlie’s Angels may lead men to
rate real women as less physically attractive (Kenrick &
Guttieres, 1980). Frable, Johnson, and Kellman (1997)
found that undergraduate men who regularly viewed
pornography spontaneously generated more sexual terms
to describe the construct “women” than did those who
viewed pornography less regularly.The two groups did not
differ in their descriptions of the construct “men,” suggesting
that viewing pornography is associated specifically with
sexualizing women and may not have a more generalized
and gender-neutral effect.
Objectifying girls/women and sex itself is integral
to masculinity beliefs (Connell, 1987; Kimmel, 1996;
Tolman, 2002), but these beliefs may jeopardize men’s
ability to form and maintain intimate relationships with
women (G. Brooks, 1995; Kindlon & Thompson, 1999;
Pollack, 1998). Burn and Ward (2005) found that undergraduate
men’s satisfaction with their romantic relationship
was negatively correlated with most masculinity beliefs,
including ones that are relevant to the objectification of
women (i.e., dominance [“I should be in charge”], power
over women [“In general, I control the women in my
life”], and playboy [“If I could, I would frequently change
sexual partners”]). Empathy may be important in understanding
the relationship between objectification and relationship
satisfaction.When one person objectifies another,
it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to treat that person
with empathy (Herman, 1992), an important predictor of
satisfaction and stability in intimate relationships (Davis &
Oathout, 1987; Long & Andrews, 1990).
If girls and women are seen exclusively as sexual
beings rather than as complicated people with many
interests, talents, and identities, boys and men may have
difficulty relating to them on any level other than the
sexual.This could dramatically limit the opportunities
boys and men have to interact intellectually with girls and
women, to compete with and against them in sports or
games, to create art or make music with them, to work
together for higher causes (e.g., volunteer work or
activism), or to enjoy their company as friends.
Women
A cultural milieu in which women and girls are sexualized
harms adult women in all the ways that it harms girls
(detailed previously).That is, there are negative repercussions
for women’s cognitive functioning, body satisfaction, mental
and physical health, sexuality, and attitudes and beliefs. Selfsexualization
and self-objectification by adult women,
although perhaps less common in women as they age (T-A.
Roberts, 2004), have the same causes and consequences as in
girls and young women (Prichard & Tiggemann, 2005;
Tiggemann & Lynch, 2001).There are additional consequences,
however, for adult women in at least one domain
that is less relevant for girls—the workplace.
Although a meta-analysis of experimental studies
suggests that the employment-related benefits of physical
attractiveness are as strong for women as they are for men
(Hosoda, Stone-Romero, & Coats 2003), these studies have
focused on attractiveness rather than on sexiness per se. In
contrast, Glick, Larsen, Johnson, and Branstiter (2005)
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
28
manipulated the sexiness of a female job applicant and held
physical attractiveness constant.They found that when the
sexy job applicant was applying for a managerial job, she
was rated as less competent and less intelligent than the
conservatively dressed job applicant; participants also indicated
that they would experience fewer positive emotions
and more negative emotions toward the sexy applicant
(compared with the conservatively dressed applicant) if
she were hired. None of these differences was found when
the applicants were described as applying for a job as a
receptionist.These data imply that self-sexualization or
sexualization by others is likely to have a negative impact
on women seeking professional careers.
A cultural milieu in which girls are sexualized may
have additional consequences for adult
women.The sexualization of girls
contributes to the idealization of youth
as the only good and beautiful stage
of life. If one accepts fashion “supermodels”
as representing the culturally
accepted standard of idealized female
beauty, the ideal age appears to be about
17. Girls as young as 11 or 12 have
achieved modeling success, and many of
the most famous models became internationally
well known before they were
16 (Moore, 2003). Of the six champions
on the popular television program America’s Next Top Model
(2006)(which requires contestants to be at least 18,
presumably for legal reasons), the oldest champion was 23,
and the average age of the champions was 20.2. Given this
ideal, it is not surprising that as women age, they become
increasingly invisible in the culture (Arber & Ginn, 1991;
Cook & Kaiser, 2004;Wolf, 1991).
Many women respond to this cultural standard by
making every effort to remain and look as youthful as possible.
Sales of “anti-aging” beauty products increased by
10.7% in 2005 (to over $11 billion worldwide), showing
the greatest increase in any category of skin-care product
(O. Phillips, 2006).An analysis of plastic surgery rates
(especially for procedures that lift and tuck aging body
parts) provides further evidence that some aging women
feel strong pressure to look younger. Data from the
American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows that common
procedures designed to “freshen” the body and keep it
looking young have been steadily increasing. Between 2000
and 2005, annual rates of Botox injections rose from
roughly three quarters of a million to almost 4 million,
amounting to a 388% increase. In the same 5-year period,
there was also a 115% increase in tummy tucks (from
62,713 to 134,746 annually), a 283% increase in buttock
lifts (from 1,356 to 5,193 annually), as well as a stunning
3,413% and 4,101% increase in upper arm and lower body
lifts, respectively (American Society of Plastic Surgeons,
2006c). Many of these procedures were age specific.
Although younger and older women receive rhinoplasty
and breast augmentations at relatively
equal rates, the rates for women 35–50
years of age who receive breast lifts, buttock
lifts, tummy tucks, and liposuction
are approximately double those of women
19–34 years of age (American Society of
Plastic Surgeons, 2006b).
Even with plastic surgery, it is
impossible for an adult woman to maintain
the look of a 17-year-old adolescent.
This inability to meet the culturally
imposed standard of beauty may lead to
body shame, lowered self-esteem, and a
reduced sense of well-being.There is evidence that exposure
to thin-ideal images in the media and subsequent
thin-ideal internalization have negative effects on adult
women. For example, across two studies, Dittmar and colleagues
(Dittmar & Howard, 2004; Halliwell & Dittmar,
2004) found that adult women (e.g., 20–60 years of age)
exposed to ads featuring thin models expressed more
body-focused anxiety than those exposed to average-sized
or no models, and this was especially true for those who
strongly internalized the thin ideal.
Exposure to a “White-ideal” in the media may be
damaging to women of color who cannot match that ideal;
research showing a negative correlation between music
video exposure and self-esteem in African American adolescents
(L. M.Ward, 2004b) supports this supposition. It is,
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
29
Some aging women feel
strong pressure to look
younger. . . . Even with plastic
surgery, it is impossible for
an adult woman to
maintain the look of a
17-year-old adolescent.
therefore, reasonable to hypothesize that exposure to a
“young ideal” in the media will be similarly damaging to
“older” (i.e., not teenage) women of all ethnicities.
The perpetuation of an extremely narrow range of
desirable ages may also have repercussions for women’s
ability to succeed and advance in the workplace. If women
strive to appear as youthful as possible in order to more
closely match the ideal of female beauty, their competence
and skills may be questioned because of their youthful
appearance.This double bind was apparent in the data of
C. Duncan and Loretto (2004). In their study, both women
and men reported experiencing age discrimination for
being too young, but women were more likely than men
to report that this discrimination was specifically related to
their youthful appearance (as opposed to other characteristics
associated with youth, such as experience).
Moreover, women but not men recounted experiences
of sexualized ageism (e.g, a 35-year-old woman reported
being referred to as “a dried up old maid”). More evidence
for the double bind was found in data from men and
women in their 30s.Among this group, 25 of the 27 men
who reported age discrimination stated that it was because
of their youth; only 2 stated that it was because they were
too old. But of the 25 women in this demographic, 13
reported age discrimination because they were too young
and 12 because they were too old.
Impact on Society
In addition to the serious consequences for girls that have
been outlined previously, the sexualization of girls is likely
to have numerous negative consequences for society and its
other members, including boys, men, and women, which
will impact girls indirectly. Cultural institutions such as
schools and workplaces may be affected. More important,
general social attitudes and expectations about sexuality
and gender may change in problematic ways as a result of
media objectification and sexualization. Pressing social
problems that disproportionately affect girls both directly
and indirectly, including violence against girls and women,
sexual exploitation of girls, forms of pornography, and
prostitution of girls, may be maintained or even increased if
there is a continued and escalating sexualization of
girls. Some of these consequences are explored in the
following sections.
Sexism
The sexualization of girls and women may contribute to
broader societal consequences, such as sexism, sex bias, and
sexist attitudes. Evidence in support of this assertion comes
from several types of studies. One group of studies tests
whether exposure to sexualized or sexually objectifying
content shapes viewers’ attitudes toward women in general.
A second group of studies uses experimental means to
investigate whether exposure to such content affects
people’s perceptions of real women.A third group tests
whether experimental exposure to this content affects
people’s actions toward real women.Although these
exposure studies focus on content that sexualizes adult
women, the resulting consequences are noted for viewers
of all ages, including adolescent boys and girls as well as
young women and men.We hypothesize that exposure to
sexualized girls likely leads to sexist attitudes about girls
and women as well.
Among the first set of studies that test links between
exposure to objectifying content and the development of
sexist attitudes, findings indicate that frequent, regular
exposure to genres high in sexualized imagery (such as
music videos) and deeper levels of media involvement are
both associated with greater acceptance by men and
women of attitudes that sexualize and sexually objectify
women (e.g., Strouse, Goodwin, & Roscoe, 1994; L. M.
Ward, 2002; L. M.Ward & Friedman, 2006; L. M.Ward et
al., 2005). For example, L. M.Ward, Merriwether, and
Caruthers (2006a) discovered that undergraduate men
who were frequent readers of men’s magazines such as
Maxim and Sports Illustrated, who attributed greater
realism to media portrayals, and who watched TV
more intently to learn about the world were also more
accepting of traditional masculinity ideologies, including
the sexual objectification of women.
These correlational findings are strengthened by outcomes
from experimental work that reach the same conclusion.Across
several studies, women and men exposed to
sexually objectifying images of women from mainstream
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
30
media (e.g., R-rated films, magazine advertisements, music
videos) were found to be significantly more accepting of
rape myths (e.g., the belief that women invite rape by
engaging in certain behaviors), sexual harassment, sex role
stereotypes, interpersonal violence, and adversarial sexual
beliefs about relationships than were those in control
conditions (e.g., Kalof, 1999; Milburn, Mather, &
Conrad, 2000; L. M.Ward, 2002). For example,White
undergraduates exposed to a sexually objectifying music
video were more likely to endorse adversarial sexual
beliefs than were students exposed to a nonsexual music
video (Kalof, 1999). Exposure to sexist magazine ads
featuring women as sexual objects produced a stronger
acceptance of sex role stereotyping and
of rape myths among male undergraduates
(Lanis & Covell, 1995; MacKay &
Covell, 1997).Additionally, high school
students exposed to content featuring
women as sexual objects drawn either
from music videos (L. M.Ward et al.,
2005) or prime-time television programs
(L. M.Ward & Friedman, 2006)
expressed more support of these attitudes
than did students who did not
receive this exposure.
A second line of research demonstrates
that experimental exposure to sexualized or sexually
objectifying images of women affects people’s perceptions
or judgments of other women.The findings here are few,
yet provocative. Hansen and Hansen (1988) reported that
undergraduate students who had watched three neutral
music videos later perceived a man’s “hitting on” a
female colleague to be akin to sexual harassment, yet
students who had viewed sexist music videos perceived his
sexual advances to be appropriate and thought less favorably
of the woman if she rejected him. Gan, Zillmann, and
Mitrook (1997) examined how exposure to sexualized
images of Black women in R&B music videos affects
White students’ perceptions of neutral Black and White
women.They reported that whereas video exposure was
inconsequential for judgments of White women, the Black
women encountered later were judged least good, most
bad, and furthest from the “ideal.” It appears that exposure
to sexually enticing rap videos fostered perceptions of
diminished positive traits and stronger negative traits in
Black women in general.
Finally, exposure to sexualized content has been shown
to affect how women actually behave and how men treat
and respond to real women in subsequent interactions.
These studies have generally found that after men are
exposed to sexualized content, their behavior toward
women is more sexualized, and they treat women like
sexual objects. For example, undergraduate men exposed to
16 sexist and objectifying commercials later asked more
sexist questions of a female confederate
posing as a job applicant, recalled more
about her appearance and less about her
personal background, and rated her as
friendlier, more suitable to hire, but
less competent than did controls (L.
Rudman & Borgida, 1995). Similarly,
McKenzie-Mohr and Zanna (1990)
found that after exposure to a 15-minute
pornography tape, stereotypically
masculine men were perceived by a
female experimenter to be more
sexually motivated, they positioned
themselves closer to her, and they recalled more
information about her physical appearance than did men
in other conditions.
Using a similar paradigm, Jansma, Linz, Mulac, and
Imrich (1997) reported a pattern in which gender-typed
men appeared to rate a female partner lower on intellectual
competence after viewing a sexually explicit film and
higher after viewing a nonsexual film. Non-gender-typed
men appeared to respond in the reverse. Overall, it is
argued that exposure to sexualized depictions of women
may lead to global thoughts that “women are seductive and
frivolous sex objects” (Lavine, Sweeney, & Wagner, 1999)
and “foster an overall climate that does not value girls’
and women’s voices or contributions to society”
(Merskin, 2004).
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
31
Exposure to sexist
magazine ads
featuring women as
sexual objects produced
a stronger acceptance of
sex role stereotyping and
of rape myths among
male undergraduates.
Girls’ Educational Success and Achievement
Aspirations. If, as the self-objectification literature suggests,
girls’ preoccupation with appearance ties up cognitive
resources, girls will have less time and mental energy for
other pursuits. Girls may be learning to prioritize certain
rewards (male attention) over other rewards (academic
accomplishment), thus limiting their future educational and
occupational opportunities. If they perceive occupations
relating to science, technology, engineering, and math
(STEM) as less consistent with a sexy self-image, they may
be induced to want to be a model, fashion designer, or pop
star in order to embody the sexualized look that they
know is valued for women rather than choose to be a
chemist, computer programmer, or engineer. If girls
perceive what research shows—that women who
choose male-identified professions are least preferred
(in college samples) as romantic partners
(Yoder & Schleicher, 1996)—then
they will perceive some social costs to
choosing careers that are not consistent
with a “sexy” image. On the other hand,
if girls continue along a nonfeminine
career path, presenting a sexy image
will also be costly and may result in
being perceived as less competent
(Glick et al., 2005).
Two studies exploring stereotype
threat exposed college-aged women to
highly feminine-stereotyped television commercials, which
emphasized a young woman’s sexual attractiveness and
physical beauty (Davies, Spencer, Quinn, & Gerhardstein,
2002; Davies, Spencer, & Steele, 2005).After exposure to
the sexy/pretty ads, compared with the gender-neutral
or counterstereotypic ads, women indicated less interest
in vocational options that emphasize quantitative reasoning
(e.g., math and science) and also endorsed lower leadership
aspirations, suggesting that sexualization may indeed
“prime” lower achievement orientation among young
women.
Earlier research has shown different vocational aspirations
for adolescent boys and girls (e.g., Corder & Stephan,
1984; Gottfredson, 1981; Grotevant & Thorbecke, 1982)
and differential aspirations (e.g., Kerr, 1983, 1985) and
achievement (favoring boys) for gifted girls and gifted boys
(e.g., Eccles, 1985; Hollinger & Fleming, 1992).Although
girls today have higher educational and occupational
aspirations than they have had in the past, we do not
know to what extent preoccupation with looks or even
sexualization interferes with these aspirations. Given limited
research suggesting that self-objectification practices
may limit cognitive resources, exploring further whether
sexualization exposure and experiences are responsible for
a kind of “brain drain” among young girls and women is
an important priority for future research.
Sexual harassment in school. Despite the fact that many
girls believe that a sexy appearance brings them power,
quite the opposite may be true.Although sexy dress does
not justify sexual harassment nor has it
been shown to provoke sexual harassment
in school studies, the belief that girls are
sexual objects may be related to boys’
tendency to sexually harass girls in school
and in this way could affect girls adversely.
Sexual harassment by boys and men is
a regular part of school and work life.
Peers perpetrate 79% of the sexual harassment
in schools (American Association of
University Women, 2001), and much of
this harassment is in the form of sexual
jokes, leering, touching or grabbing areas
like the breasts or buttocks, and comments on physical
appearance (e.g., J. Duffy,Wareham, & Walsh, 2004).The
consequences of sexual harassment are far-reaching, can
be long lasting (J. Duffy et al., 2004), and move beyond
psychological effects on girls to educational consequences
(Houston & Hwang, 1996; Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham,
2000), costs to schools, and consequences to society in
general. One study of the estimated economic cost of
sexual harassment in the U.S.Army, for example, found
that in one year alone, the cost of sexual harassment was
over $250 billion (Faley, Knapp, Kustis, & Dubois, 1999).
Several studies suggest that the sexualization of girls
contributes to sexual harassment and coercion. In a survey
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
32
Girls may be learning to
prioritize certain rewards
(male attention) over
other rewards (academic
accomplishment), thus
limiting their future
educational and
occupational opportunities.
of university faculty, staff, and students, O’Hare and
O’Donohue (1998) found that respondents who reported
that their male coworkers held sexist attitudes reported
more experiences of gender harassment, sexual harassment,
and sexual coercion. Quinn’s (2002) qualitative study of
adult men’s accounts of “girl-watching” in the workplace
highlighted the role that objectification and (low) empathy
with the targeted women played in this type of sexual
harassment.Angelone, Hirschman, Suniga,Armey, and
Armelie (2005) found that college men who were exposed
to a sexist confederate (one who made objectifying comments
about a female actress and denigrating comments
about women on campus) told more sexual jokes to a
female confederate than did men exposed to a nonsexist
confederate.Taken together, these studies suggest that boys
exposed to sexualization portrayals of girls may be more
likely to commit sexual harassment.
Some studies of the effects of school uniforms on
students’ perceptions also lend indirect support for the
notion that sexualizing clothing may be a factor in
harassment of girls.When students dress in uniforms, fellow
students as well as teachers rate them as higher in academic
ability and positive school-related behavior than students in
standard dress (Behling, 1994). Furthermore, one study
showed that girls who wear uniforms report more positive
perceptions of safety and peer relationships in school than
girls in regular clothes (Fosseen, 2002). It is important to
underscore that girls do not “cause” harassment or abusive
behavior by wearing sexy clothes; no matter what girls
wear, they have the right to be free of sexual harassment,
and boys and men can and should control their behavior.
But when sexualized clothing is part of a larger cultural
context in which girls are sexually objectified, standardized
uniforms may help to change those cultural messages and
understandings of who girls are and what they are capable
of, thereby reducing the incidence of sexual harassment
in general.
Violence and Exploitation
Violence against girls. Numerous studies have shown a
connection between stereotypical attitudes about women’s
sexuality and aggressive sexual behavior. For example,
adversarial sexual beliefs, rape myth acceptance, and
sexist beliefs about women are related to aggressive sexual
behaviors (Dean & Malamuth, 1997; Murnen,Wright, &
Kaluzny, 2002; Osland, Fitch, & Willis, 1996; Spence,
Losoff, & Robbins, 1991;Truman,Tokar, & Fischer, 1996;
Vogel, 2000).
Other studies have connected media exposure to sexist
beliefs and acceptance of violence against women. Several
studies have shown that women and men exposed to
sexually objectifying images of women from mainstream
media (e.g., R-rated films, magazine advertisements, music
videos) were found to be significantly more accepting of
rape myths, sexual harassment, sex role stereotypes, interpersonal
violence, and adversarial sexual beliefs about
relationships than were those in control conditions (Kalof,
1999; Lanis & Covell, 1995; MacKay & Covell, 1997;
Milburn et al., 2000; L. M.Ward, 2002; L. M.Ward et al.,
2005). In one of the few studies using children rather than
college-aged men and women as participants, Strouse et al.
(1994) found that for boys and girls who were 11–16 years
of age, frequent TV viewing and greater exposure to Rand
X-rated films were each related to stronger acceptance
of sexual harassment. Given that viewing sexualized and
objectifying portrayals of women is associated with many
of these attitudes, viewing sexualized portrayals of girls may
also lead to these same effects and to a greater acceptance
of child sexual abuse myths, child sexual abuse, and viewing
younger and younger girls as acceptable sexual partners.
Sexual exploitation. There is little or no research on the
effects on adults of viewing sexualized images of girls or
even sexualized images of adult women made up to look
like girls (a common practice in magazine advertisements).
Several scholars (e.g., Merskin, 2004; O’Donohue et al.,
1997) have noted the urgent need for such research. But
there may be negative effects at a societal level in addition
to possible negative effects to individual viewers; these
include providing justification and a market for child
pornography and the prostitution and sexual trafficking of
children. Because the consequences of child sexual abuse
and child prostitution are so great, it is important to consider
the possible connections carefully.Although there is
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
33
some disagreement in the literature on the relationship
between pornography and sexual aggression, the most
rigorous reviews (e.g.,Allen, D’Alessio, & Brezgel, 1995;
Allen, D’Alessio, & Emmers-Sommer, 2000;Allen, Emmers,
Gebhardt, & Giery, 1995; Malamuth,Addison, & Koss,
2000) have concluded that there are reliable associations
between viewing pornography and committing sexually
aggressive acts.These associations are strongest when
considering violent pornography and/or men who
possess other risk factors for sexual aggression.
When specifically considering child pornography,
however, almost no experimental research has been
conducted. One exception is a study by B. Paul (2004)
designed to assess the effects of viewing child pornography.
Paul used “barely legal” pornography as the stimuli in
an experiment. In “barely legal” pornography, adult
women are made to look like children.Thus, while the
pornography is legal (the models are above the age of 18),
the viewer perceives a sexualized child.The findings
were that viewing such pornography led to a stronger
mental association between neutral (nonsexual) images
of children and words related to sex (e.g., arousing, sexy).
These findings suggest that viewing sexualized portrayals
of girls could lead viewers to associate children with sex,
even when they are not being sexualized.
One particularly pernicious effect of the constant exposure
to sexualized images of girls is that individuals and
society may be “trained” to perceive and label sexualized
girls as “seductive.” Studies have shown that adult men often
misperceive friendliness in adult women as sexual interest
(Abbey, 1982, 1987). Images of young girls who are made to
look like adult women may evoke similar responses.
Another area of slippage concerns consent. Children
are not legally able to give consent to sexual activity with
an adult.When girls are dressed to resemble adult women,
however, adults may project adult motives as well as an
adult level of responsibility and agency on girls. Images of
precocious sexuality in girls may serve to normalize abusive
practices such as child abuse, child prostitution, and the
sexual trafficking of children.
Finally, the sexualization of girls may also contribute to
the trafficking and prostitution of girls by helping to create
a market for sex with children through the cultivation of
new desires and experiences. If the idealized female sexual
partner is a 15- or 16-year-old girl, male consumers may
demand pornography featuring such girls and the
opportunity to pay for sex with them.A 2005 report noted
a disturbing new trend in the recruitment of children into
pornography: Pedophiles and “johns” look in online
chat rooms for teens with Web cameras linked to their
computers and then seduce them into performing sex acts
for money in front of the camera (Eichenwald, 2005).
Summary of Consequences of the Sexualization
of Girls
The research summarized in this section offers evidence of
negative consequences for girls when they are sexualized or
exposed to sexualized images and when others are exposed
to such images. First, there is evidence that girls exposed
to sexualizing and objectifying media are more likely to
experience body dissatisfaction, depression, and lower selfesteem;
research to date suggests that these effects are not as
pronounced for African American girls.There is no research
to date on lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered youths. Selfobjectification
has been shown to diminish cognitive ability
and to cause shame.This cognitive diminishment, as well as
the belief that physical appearance rather than academic or
extracurricular achievement is the best path to power and
acceptance, may influence girls’ achievement levels and
opportunities later in life.
Girls’ sexual development may also be affected as they
are exposed to models of passivity, and studies indicate that
the media may influence a girl’s perceptions of her own
virginity or first sexual experience. Interpersonally, girls’
relationships with other girls are affected, as such relationships
can become policing grounds where girls support or
reject other girls for reasons having to do with conformity
to a narrow beauty ideal that involves a sexualized presentation
or competition for boys’ attention. Girls’ relationships
with boys and men are affected in that exposure to sexualizing
and objectifying media has been shown to relate to
girls’ and boys’ views on dating, boys’ sexual harassment of
girls, and attitudes toward sexual violence.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
34
Positive Alternatives and Approaches
to Counteracting the Influence
of Sexualization
The research presented in the initial portion of
this report focused on concerns that girls are
sexualized by the current culture, by other people,
and by themselves and that this sexualization is likely to
lead to a host of negative effects. Despite the concerns
raised throughout this report, however, there are several
indications that negative outcomes are neither inevitable
nor universal. Some girls and their supporters, now and in
the past, have resisted mainstream characterizations of girls
as sexual objects.Through media education and literacy, the
creation of media subcultures, participation in athletics,
comprehensive sex education programs, activism, and
religious/spiritual practices, girls, their peers, adults in
their lives, and institutions that support them help to
challenge the narrow prescriptions for girls in this culture.
The following sections describe existing programs and
practices that counter sexualization and note others that,
if implemented, have the potential to do so.We look, in
turn, at approaches implemented through the schools,
through families, and by girls themselves.
Approach 1:Working Through Schools and
Formal Education
Schools can contribute in several ways to greater awareness
of the sexualization of girls in the media and can help girls
and their peers resist these negative influences.
Media Literacy
Because the media are important sources of sexualizing
images, the development and implementation of schoolbased
media literacy training programs could be key in
combating the influence of sexualization.There is an
urgent need for girls to view media critically.Although
components vary from program to program, media
literacy training in general provides media consumers
with analytical tools that promote autonomy and critical
understanding of media.The goal is to create active
interpreters of messages rather than passive consumers.
Training encourages media consumers to notice the
messages inherent in media, to think about who is sending
those messages and why, and to challenge their realism
(Potter, 2004). Several nonprofit organizations, some that
have girls serving on their boards, have designed media
literacy programs.These programs aim not only to educate
girls who consume media but also to raise awareness of
how girls and women are represented and to advocate for
improvement by providing resources to media producers,
teachers, and parents.The Girls,Women + Media Project
(www.mediaandwomen.org) is one such organization (see
the Appendix for a list of others).
Research on the effectiveness of media literacy
programs has not yet focused on the sexualization of girls
and women, but it has examined the related topic of body
image. One study of college women found that three
media literacy programs were effective in increasing
women’s skepticism about the realism of images that
promote a thin ideal of beauty, compared with a control
group receiving no intervention (Irving & Berel, 2001).
Another study found that high school girls who participated
in a media literacy program had less internalization
of the thin ideal and more questions about the realism of
images than girls in a control group (Irving, DuPen, &
Berel, 1998).Yamamiya, Cash, Melnyk, Posavac, and
Posavac (2005) found that participation in a media literacy
education program prior to exposure to stereotypical
images prevented adverse effects. Studies indicate that
media literacy programs addressing alcohol use (e.g.,Austin
& Johnson, 1997) and television violence (e.g.,Voojis &
Van der Voort, 1993) have also been effective. Programs
directly targeting the sexualization of girls and women
may benefit the school-aged girls who consume sexualized
media, as well as their male peers who are also exposed
to these media images and who may treat girls differently
as a result.
Athletics
Another school-based strategy is to provide access to
athletics and other extracurricular activities that encourage
girls to focus on body competence instead of body
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
35
appearance.Although girls’ and women’s participation
in sports and physical activity can be dismissed, ignored,
sexualized, or co-opted, participation in physical activity
may be one of girls’ best means of resisting objectification
and sexualization. Because athletic activities inherently
require a focus on body competence, agency, and action,
they provide girls with the opportunity to develop a selfconcept
founded on what they can do rather than on
how they look. Children’s and adolescents’ participation in
sports and physical activities is related to increased selfesteem
(Abernathy,Webster, & Vermeulen, 2002; Bonhauser
et al., 2005; Crews, Lochbaum, & Landers, 2004; McAuley,
1994), and this association may be especially strong among
children with economic disadvantages or those who have
mental, emotional, or physical disabilities (Gruber, 1986).
Sports participation is also linked to increased levels of
body self-esteem (Bissell, 2004; DiBartolo & Shaffer, 2002).
That these increases in self-esteem relate to healthier
sexual development is suggested by evidence that sports
participation is inversely related to engaging in risky sexual
behavior (Lehman & Keorner, 2004; Miller, Barnes,
Melnick, Sabo, & Farrell, 2002).The effects found by
Lehman and Koehler were mediated by increased empowerment/self-efficacy
and functional body orientation.
Functional body orientation refers to the extent to which
one thinks of one’s own body in terms of the things it can
do and is capable of performing.Tracy and Erkut (2002)
have shown that an additional pathway to less risky sexual
behavior via sports participation is through the decreased
feminine gender role orientation of girl participants.
Because physical activity may be a powerful means
of negating self-objectification and other negative
consequences of sexualization, the sexualization of women
and girl athletes may be especially dangerous or harmful
for girls. If this domain becomes co-opted and turned into
yet another venue where girls are taught to focus on how
they look rather than on what their bodies can do, they
will have been deprived of an important method of resistance
and healthy development.
Extracurricular Activities
Some studies of adolescent risk behavior (e.g., early sexual
activity and substance use) suggest that extracurricular participation
and the development of a talent may be protective
factors for these outcomes (Savage & Holcomb, 1998;
Shilts, 1991). No studies to date, however, have examined
extracurricular activities in relation to objectification of
girls’ bodies or sexualization practices. It may be that
participation in certain extracurricular activities, in addition
to or instead of sports, protects girls against the negative
effects of sexualization and objectification of girls and
women in the media, particularly when the activity does
not support feminine gender role ideals. It will thus be
important for future researchers attempting to understand
the effects of extracurricular activity on youth to differentiate
those extracurricular activities that lend themselves to a
narrow body image standard with an emphasis on sexiness,
attractiveness, or thinness (e.g., some forms of dance) from
those that require talents that are different (e.g. drama club,
marching band,African drumming, dance forms such as
hip-hop and modern). Schools that provide a variety of
extracurricular activities, including activities that have generally
been associated with boys’ interests (e.g., computer
and video gaming), are giving girls alternatives to activities
that emphasize beauty, thinness, and sex appeal.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education
A central way to help youth counteract distorted views
presented by the media and culture about girls, sex, and the
sexualization of girls is through comprehensive sexuality
education.Although guidelines for comprehensive sexuality
education vary, all include the presentation of accurate,
evidence-based information about reproduction and
contraception, the importance of delaying intercourse
initiation for young people, and the building of communication
skills. Most relevant to combating sexualization,
many also address media, peer, and cultural influences on
sexual behaviors and decisions (SIECUS, 2004) and promote
a notion of sexual responsibility that includes respect
for oneself and an emphasis on consensual, nonexploitative
sexual activity (Office of Population Affairs, 1999).
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
36
This kind of sex education may reverse the negative
effects of the sexualization of girls. It is also likely to have
other positive effects and unlikely to have adverse
consequences. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher’s (2001)
report on sexual health and responsible sexual behavior
indicates that the most effective sex education for preventing
teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections is
comprehensive. Research indicates that comprehensive
programs do not increase the frequency of sex or the number
of sex partners, nor do such programs lower the age of
first intercourse (Kirby, 2001).
Approach 2:Working Through the Family
Parents and other family members can
help girls interpret sexualizing cultural
messages in ways that mitigate or prevent
harm. Because sexualization is often so
pervasive as to seem normal and thus not
even discernible to many girls, parents
can make sexualization visible by
discussing media and other cultural
messages with girls. Religious practices
and social or political activism are also
helpful strategies.
Mediation and Co-Viewing
Traditionally, suggestions on how to combat potential
negative effects of media use, such as aggression and
stereotyping, have centered on the roles of parental
mediation and co-viewing. Here, the notion is that having
parents comment on appropriate and inappropriate
content while watching TV with their children can alter
the influence of the messages.Although media literacy
and co-viewing were initially discussed and tested in the
1970s and early 1980s, renewed attention has been given
to this approach in recent years. Findings from several
experimental studies demonstrate the benefits of such
interventions in promoting parent–child interactions
involving media.
In one study, grade school children viewed four TV
clips portraying stereotypical gender roles (Nathanson,
Wilson, McGee, & Sebastian, 2002). For children in one
condition, the experimenter inserted comments contradicting
the stereotypical behavior. In another condition, she
did not. Results indicated that children in the mediation
condition evaluated the program less positively and
expressed greater acceptance of nontraditional gender roles
for men than did children who received no mediation.
Similar results have been obtained in experimental
work testing children’s responses to media violence
(Nathanson, 2004).
A 2003 field study also suggested that parents can
influence the way children interpret sexual content on
television. R. L. Collins, Elliott, Berry,
Kanouse, and Hunter (2003) interviewed
a national sample of adolescents (ages
12–17 years) shortly after the airing of
an episode of the sitcom Friends. The
episode centered on discussion of a
condom failure that had resulted in the
pregnancy of one of the show’s main
characters. One in four teen viewers saw
condoms as less effective in preventing
pregnancy than they had in a survey 6
months earlier.Viewers who reported
talking with an adult about the program,
however, actually viewed condoms as more effective than
they had previously.These studies hold promise that girls’
co-viewing and active discussions with parents may decrease
the influence of viewing sexualized images.
Religion, Spirituality, and Meditation
Organized religious and other ethical instruction often
begins within the family and can offer girls important
practical and psychological alternatives to the values
conveyed by popular culture.When parents, through their
religious or ethical practices, communicate the message
that other characteristics are more important than sexuality,
they help to counteract the strong and prevalent message
that it is only girls’ sexuality that makes them interesting,
desirable, or valuable. By insisting that girls be allowed to
remain girls and not be pushed into a precocious sexuality,
they provide a haven where girls can develop at their own
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
37
Parents and other
family members can help
girls interpret sexualizing
cultural messages in
ways that mitigate or
prevent harm.
pace. In addition, although some religious institutions resist
comprehensive sex education classes, others are open to
such programs (Coyne-Beasley & Schoenbach, 2000) and
may even be actively involved in designing them (e.g., the
Our Whole Lives workshops by the Unitarian Universalist
Church) (Casparian, 2000; Goldfarb, 2000; Sprung, 1999;
Wilson, 1999).
Religion may also counteract the effects of media
representations. L. M.Ward (2004b) found that religiosity
buffered the effects of increased media use on self-esteem
among Black adolescents. Negative effects of increased
media use on self-esteem were seen only for those low in
religiosity. She noted, however, that religiosity might be a
proxy variable for involvement in the Black community,
with social networks being the true buffering factor.
In addition to organized religion, a more diffuse sense
of spirituality, or a self-directed spiritual practice, can also
be a force for resistance. Just as many African American
women recount using prayer and spirituality to cope with
racism and sexism (Shorter-Gooden, 2004) or recover from
childhood sexual violence (Bryant-Davis, 2005), so girls of
all ethnicities may rely on spirituality to protect them from
some of the effects of objectification and sexualization.
Finally, meditative practices common in many spiritual
traditions and mindful body-centered practices such as
yoga, tai chi, or qigong have been shown to have mental
and physical health benefits, including increased selfunderstanding,
self-acceptance, and well-being (Walsh &
Shapiro, 2006). Moreover, these practices typically facilitate
the attainment of a mental state of calm, centered awareness
that may be incompatible with self-objectification.
Although many types of meditation involve a detached
observation of the self (e.g., of one’s breath or body
movements), such self-observation has an introspective
quality.This is in marked contrast to self-objectification,
which develops from continually imagining how one looks
or appears to an outside observer.
This reasoning finds support in the results of a recent
study comparing yoga practitioners, aerobics practitioners,
and a nonexercise group (Daubenmier, 2005). In addition
to exhibiting greater body awareness and body satisfaction
than the two comparison groups, the yoga practitioners
also scored lower on self-objectification.This suggests that
if girls regularly engage in meditation or other mindful
practices, they might be protected against self-sexualization.
Activism by Parents and Families
Action by parents and families can have an impact in
confronting sources of sexualized images of girls. In
response to a May 2006 grassroots letter-writing campaign
initiated by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free
Childhood (www.commercialexploitation.org/) and Dads
and Daughters (www.dadsanddaughters.org/), Hasbro
cancelled a planned line of dolls based on the Pussycat
Dolls, a music group known for their sexualized lyrics and
dance routines (Goldiner, 2006).A dozen years earlier, a
letter-writing campaign by one woman convinced
Hyundai not to advertise in Sports Illustrated’s annual
swimsuit edition (Horovitz, 1993). It is hoped that focused,
sustained pressure on corporate sources of sexualization
will lead to other such successes.
Approach 3:Working Directly With Girls and
Girls’ Groups to Resist
Alternative Media
Another approach to minimizing the impact and existence
of sexualization is to encourage girls to become activists
who speak out and develop their own alternatives.
Prominent examples of this approach include “zines”
(homemade magazines distributed in print form or on
the Web), blogs (Web logs written by individuals), and
feminist magazines, books, and Web sites. One of the most
attractive features of these alternatives is that they provide a
forum to teach girls to critically examine the sexualizing
images presented by society and corporations.
Several studies have examined how bodies are discussed
in zines. Ogle and Thornburg (2003) conducted a content
analysis of body-related content in the zine Girl Zone
(www.girlzone.com/), which is not created by girls but is
nevertheless widely read by them.They identified three
themes: girls’ concerns about and experiences with their
changing bodies (i.e., the pubertal process), the deconstruction
and critique of body-related images in mainstream
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
38
media and society, and discussion of strategies to cope with
body-related societal pressures. Schilt (2003) analyzed 33
girl-made zines to understand how girls used this vehicle
to explore, construct, and experience their lives. She argued
that zines offer an antidote to consumer-based empowerment
strategies (e.g., buying a T-shirt with a “girl power”
slogan) that do not encourage girls to express their own
ideas and opinions.When girls create a zine rather than
buy a commercially available product, they become cultural
producers rather than consumers, an experience that
enables them to be more effective cultural critics.
Web pages (including Web logs or “blogs”), reflecting a
vast range of topics and perspectives, are a fast-growing
form of communication among adult and teen computer
users. For girls,Web pages, whether created
by adults or teens, can provide alternatives
to what girls see in mainstream
media as well as strategies for resistance,
including recognition of sexualizing and
objectifying cultural processes, along with
language and support for describing related
feelings (e.g., shame, anger).The
Appendix provides a list of Web sites that
offer articulate critiques of the media.
Some of these are specific to particular
groups of girls (e.g., girls of specific racial
or ethnic backgrounds) and document
the particular forms of objectification and sexualization to
which these specific groups of girls are subjected. For
example, Bamboo Girl (www.bamboogirl.com) is described
by a girl-positive site (see www.thoughtworm.com) as
a “zine that challenges the issues of racism/sexism/
homophobia from the point of view of smart, loud
non-traditional girls of color” (Thoughtworm, 2006).
Bamboo Girl includes stories by Filipina/Asian/Pacific
Islander girls,“because life isn’t only Black & White”
and “there’s more to life than straight white male
patriarchy” (Bamboo Girl, 2006).
Still, all Web sites about girls are not equal.Web sites
with names that suggest that they are girl-friendly/girlsupportive
can also be places where aspects of sexualization
and objectification are reinscribed through advertising or
content.The Web has enormous potential to encourage
girls to critique the culture, explore cultural messages, and
develop agency. But the Web as a form of media must also
be approached with a critical eye.
A third form of alternative media is magazines, books,
and films created by feminists and feminist organizations. In
recent years, there have been more magazines published for
girls, young women, and people of all ages that advocate for
girls and identify and provide strong critiques of sexualization,
objectification, and the economic and societal engines
that fuel these practices. Some of these are cowritten with
girls rather than written just about them.The goal in producing
these magazines is to develop critiques and alternative
ways for girls to relate to and celebrate their own and other
female bodies, as well as to underscore
that they are more than the sexualized
objects that are projected in most media.
Teen Voices, run by the nonprofit Women
Express, is one such resource, and New
Moon Magazine is another.
Books such as Adios, Barbie:
Young Women Write About Body and
Identity (Edut, 1998) and Body Outlaws:
Rewriting the Rules of Beauty (Edut, 2003)
provide girls with information and
alternative perspectives on their bodies
and offer insights into how others
have struggled with and overcome specific forms of
sexualization and objectification. Independent films are also
available that explore sexualization and objectification in
the mainstream media (e.g., Dreamworlds, Killing Us Softly,
Killing Us Softly 2 and 3, and The Strength to Resist)
and in other contexts such as schooling, poverty, and
pregnancy (e.g., Desire, Four Girls).
Activism and Resistance
Girls can and do work together in groups, publicly and
visibly, to protest sexualization and to develop critical
perspectives on how girls and women are sexualized.
Several political and activist (feminist) movements and
groups support young women as they express their feelings
on these issues, develop critical perspectives, and participate
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
39
The Web has enormous
potential to encourage girls
to critique the culture,
explore cultural messages,
and develop agency. But
the Web as a form of media
must also be approached
with a critical eye.
in activities in the public sphere that lead to social change.
Many of these movements are local (e.g., Hardy Girls
Healthy Women and Mainely Girls in Maine), and some
operate under the leadership of older girls and young
women (e.g., the Center for Young Women’s Development
in San Francisco).
In addition to their work with local girls, many programs
also make available (primarily through Web sites)
descriptions of activities that other groups could implement
(e.g., writing and staging plays, holding fairs, and
developing innovative formats for girls and women to
work together to implement specific social and political
changes).The goals of these programs are typically to
oppose objectification and sexualization, as well as to help
girls identify and strengthen those characteristics that will
result in less personal objectification and sexualization.
One recent example of activism is the work of a group
of 13- to 16-year-old girls who protested Abercrombie and
Fitch (A&F) T-shirts printed with objectifying slogans such
as,“Who needs a brain when you have these?”Working
with the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern
Pennsylvania, these girls began a “girlcott” of A&F that
attracted national news attention;A&F eventually pulled
these T-shirts from stores (“Racy T-Shirt Messages Drawing
Girls’ Backlash,” 2005).Youth With Vision, a teen group in
Kansas City, MI, conducted a study of slogans printed on
T-shirts being sold in local stores (Uhlenhuth, 2006).They
held a press conference to feature their “Wall of Shame”—
examples of T-shirts that were demeaning and characterized
girls as sluts and as bad—and a much smaller “Wall of
Fame,” which showed the few examples of positive speech
they had identified in their research.They were featured on
the Today Show (May 11, 2006), where they talked about
their activism and their desire for stores to provide better
options.
Several research studies have explored how girls of
color are particularly effective in resisting mainstream
notions of female sexuality, femininity, and beauty. Central
to much of this research are feminist theories developed by
and for women of color. For instance, Hill Collins (2000;
see also Spillers, 1992) observed the significance of an oral
tradition among Black women that allows women to be
“bawdy, rowdy, and irreverent” and thus anchor resistance
to oppressions including objectification and resistance. J.
Ward (2002) researched the tradition of African American
parents actively socializing their children to identify and
resist racism. One strategy that J.Ward documented
involves Black parents teaching children and teens to
recognize the culture in which they live as being White
culture and to critique it accordingly.
Black women often reject Eurocentric ideals of beauty
as culturally irrelevant and often feel better about their
bodies than do White women (Duke, 2000; Milkie, 1999;
Nichter, 2000).A study of nine 7th-grade Latinas revealed
that although teachers perceived Puerto Rican girls in sexualized
ways (e.g., as “hypersexual”) and as uninterested in
education, the girls often resisted these labels and stereotypes
(Rolón-Dow, 2004). For example, the girls resisted
the notion that liking boys or dressing sexy was incompatible
with being a good student.They did not tolerate sexual
harassment, reporting it to school officials or resorting to
punching boys themselves when it occurred. Similarly,
Faulkner (2003) interviewed 30 Latina teens and women
(18–36 years of age) and found that many rejected
cultural imperatives for motherhood and virginity, were
angry at sexism, the lack of sexuality information, and
being labeled, and insisted on their right to be both
religious and sexually active.
Girl empowerment groups. There is a growing trend,
both nationally and locally, of what are called “girl
empowerment groups.”These groups are dedicated to
supporting girls in a variety of ways: helping them to
know what they want; teaching them how to make social
changes, especially in their communities; building their
leadership skills; and arranging for connections between
girls and women mentors. Girl empowerment groups, such
as GENaustin, Girls’ Empowerment Network, and
Girlsforachange, can be found throughout the country.
Several groups focus explicitly on how girls relate to
physical competence and health. For example, GirlSports,
a program of the Girl Scouts of America, allows girls access
to and experience with an array of physical activities.The
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
40
expressed goals of the program include teaching girls to
have fun playing sports; raising girls’ self-esteem and sense
of competence and achievement; and encouraging girls to
embrace physical fitness as a life-long practice.
Opinions about what is necessary to empower girls can
vary among the organizations and the individuals leading
them. Some groups include programming or activities to
encourage the development of girls’ critical thinking about
the treatment of girls and women, including objectification
and sexualization, but many groups have not incorporated
this, choosing instead to focus on other dimensions (e.g.,
mentoring or the development of entrepreneurial skills).
In addition, to work effectively with girls, the adult
women leading these groups need to have confronted their
own experience of sexualization, as well as other forms of
oppression they have experienced (Taylor, Gilligan, &
Sullivan, 1995). One counselor wrote that empowerment
groups for African American girls must be led by African
American women in order to help girls work through
their legacy of struggle with multiple oppressions
(Holcomb-McCoy, 2005).
Summary of Positive Alternatives and Approaches
to Counteracting the Influence of Sexualization
Girls, boys, and those who support them can work
through a number of venues to counteract the influence
of a sexualizing culture. Schools are beginning to recognize
the importance of media literacy.When media literacy
programs teach girls to critique and understand the
salience of sexualizing images in the media, the hope
is that they will be better protected from these images.
Comprehensive sex education can also address the issue
of sexualizing media, culture, and peers and counter
their influence by teaching girls and boys the importance
of autonomy and mutual respect in sexual relationships.
Furthermore, schools that provide athletic and other
extracurricular opportunities that help girls develop a more
empowering view of their bodies may also protect girls
from the influence of sexualization. Parents and other
adults, through co-viewing and discussion, can help young
minds think critically about what they see.They can also
influence youth through spiritual or moral education
programs. Many Internet magazines, alternative magazines
for girls, books, and films developed by feminist and
women’s organizations encourage girls to form their own
alternative perspectives to the sexualizing influences in the
culture. Girls of color have, in the past, shown a resistance
to damaging mainstream images, and studying the roots of
such resistance may lead to new practices and approaches
for combating the effects of sexualization. Girls themselves
can protest these sexualizing images just as the girls who
protested A&F T-shirts did. Support for these kinds of
efforts can come from girls’ groups, schools, families,
religious institutions, and especially from girls themselves.
Recommendations
I. Research
A solid research base has explored the effects of having an
objectified body image or viewing objectified body images in
the media. Much previous work, however, has focused on
women. Future studies focusing on girls are needed. In
addition, more culturally competent, focused work is required
to document the phenomenon of the sexualization of girls; to
explore the short- and long-term harm of viewing, listening
to, and buying into a sexualized pathway to power; and to
test alternative presentations of girlhood, sexuality, and power.
We recommend that psychologists conduct research to:
1. Document the frequency of sexualization, specifically of
girls, and examine whether sexualization is increasing.
2. Examine and inform our understanding of the
circumstances under which the sexualization of girls
occurs and identify factors involving the media and
products that either contribute to or buffer against the
sexualization of girls.
3. Examine the presence or absence of the sexualization
of girls and women in all media but especially in movies,
music videos, music lyrics, video games, books, blogs,
and Internet sites. In particular, research is needed to
examine the extent to which girls are portrayed in
sexualized and objectified ways and whether this has
increased over time. In addition, it is important that these
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
41
studies focus specifically on sexualization rather than on
sexuality more broadly or on other constructs such as
gender-role stereotyping.
4. Describe the influence and/or impact of sexualization
on girls.This includes both short- and long-term effects of
viewing or buying into a sexualizing objectifying image,
how these effects influence girls’ development, self-esteem,
friendships, and intimate relationships, ideas about femininity,
body image, physical, mental, and sexual health, sexual
satisfaction, desire for plastic surgery, risk factors for early
pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted infections,
attitudes toward women, other girls, boys, and men, as well
as educational aspirations and future career success.
5. Explore issues of age compression (“adultification” of
young girls and “youthification” of adult women),
including prevalence, impact on the emotional well-being
of girls and women, and influences on behavior.
6. Explore differences in presentation of sexualized images
and effects of these images on girls of color; lesbian, bisexual,
questioning, and transgendered girls; girls of different
cultures and ethnicities; girls of different religions; girls
with disabilities; and girls from all socioeconomic groups.
7. Identify media (including advertising) and marketing
alternatives to sexualized images of girls, such as positive
depictions of sexuality.
8. Identify effective, culturally competent protective factors
(e.g., helping adolescent girls develop a nonobjectified
model of normal, healthy sexual development and expression
through school or other programs).
9. Evaluate the effectiveness of programs and interventions
that promote positive alternatives and approaches to the
sexualization of girls. Particular attention should be given
to programs and interventions at the individual, family,
school, and/or community level.
10. Explore the relationship between the sexualization of
girls and societal issues such as sexual abuse, child pornography,
child prostitution, and the trafficking of girls.
Research on the potential associations between the
sexualization of girls and the sexual exploitation of girls is
virtually nonexistent, and the need for this line of inquiry
is pressing.
11. Investigate the relationships between international issues
such as immigration and globalization and the sexualization
of girls worldwide. Document the global prevalence of the
sexualization of girls and the types of sexualization that
occur in different countries or regions and any regional
differences in the effects of sexualization.Assess the effects
of sexualization on immigrant girls and determine whether
these effects are moderated by country of origin, age at
immigration, and level of acculturation.
12. Conduct controlled studies on the efficacy of working
directly with girls and girls’ groups that address these issues,
as well as other prevention/intervention programs.
13. Researchers who are conducting studies on related
topics (e.g., physical attractiveness, body awareness, or
acceptance of the thin ideal) should consider the impact of
sexualization as they develop their findings.
II. Practice
As practitioners, psychologists can perform a valuable service
by raising awareness of the negative impact of the sexualization
of girls—on girls, as well as on boys, women, and men.
As individuals and in collaboration with others, practitioners
are encouraged to address the sexualization of girls.
We recommend:
1.That APA make the Report of the Task Force on the
Sexualization of Girls available to practitioners working
with children and adolescents in order to familiarize them
with information and resources relevant to the sexualization
of girls and objectifying behavior on the part of girls.
2.That APA make the Report of the Task Force on the
Sexualization of Girls available to practitioners as a source
of information on assisting girls in developing the skills
necessary to advocate for themselves and counter these
adverse messages, taking into account the impact and influence
of family and other relationships.
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
42
III. Education and Training
Education and training focusing on the prevalence and impact
of the sexualization of girls are needed at all levels of
psychology to raise awareness within the discipline of
psychology and among psychologists about these important
issues.We recommend:
1.That APA disseminate information about the Report of
the Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls to instructors
at the middle-school, high-school, and undergraduate levels
and to chairs of graduate departments of psychology.
2.That information from the Report of the Task Force
on the Sexualization of Girls be considered for inclusion
in future revisions of the National Standards for High
School Psychology Curricula and Guidelines on the
Undergraduate Psychology Major by the groups charged
with revising these documents.
3.That chairs of graduate departments of psychology
and of graduate departments in other areas in which
psychologists work be encouraged to consider information
from the Report of the Task Force on the Sexualization of
Girls as curricula are developed within their programs and
to aid in the dissemination of the report.
4.That information from the Report of the Task Force on
the Sexualization of Girls be considered for development as
continuing education and online academy programming, in
partnership with APA’s Continuing Education in
Psychology Office.
5.That the Ethics Committee and APA Ethics Office consider
and use this report in developing ethics educational
and training materials for psychologists and make this
report available to the group responsible for the next
revision of the APA “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and
Code of Conduct.”
IV. Public Policy
APA, in collaboration with other organizations and through
its advocacy efforts, is encouraged to advocate for and better
support understanding of the nature and impact of the
sexualization of girls, as well as identification and broad
implementation of strategies to combat this serious societal
problem.We recommend:
1.That APA advocate for funding to support needed
research in the areas outlined above.
2.That APA advocate for funding to support the
development and implementation by public agencies and
private organizations of media literacy programs, including
interactive media, in schools that combat sexualization
and objectification.
3.That APA advocate for the inclusion of information
about sexualization and objectification in health and other
related programs, including comprehensive sex education
and other sexuality education programs.
4.That APA encourage federal agencies to support the
development of programming that may counteract damaging
images of girlhood and test the effects of such programs—for
example,Web “zines” (i.e.,Web magazines),
extracurricular activities (such as athletics), and programs
that help girls feel powerful in ways other than through a
sexy appearance.
5.That APA work with Congress and relevant federal
agencies and industry to reduce the use of sexualized
images of girls in all forms of media and products.
V. Public Awareness
The task force offers the following recommendations with the
goal of raising public awareness about this important issue.
Achieving this goal will require a comprehensive, grassroots,
communitywide effort. Participants and stakeholders will
include parents and other caregivers, educators, young people,
community-based organizations, religious communities, the
media, advertisers, marketing professionals, and manufacturers.
Overarching strategies will be needed to build linkages and
partnerships among the community members. If the goal of
raising public awareness is left unmet, the mission of this
work will be significantly curtailed.We recommend:
1.That APA seek outside funding to support the development
and implementation of an initiative to address the
issues raised in this report and identify outside partners to
collaborate on these goals.The long-term goals of this initiative,
to be pursued in collaboration with these outside
partners, should include the following:
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
43
l Develop age-appropriate multimedia education
resources representing ethnically and culturally diverse
young people (boys and girls) for parents, educators,
health care providers, and community-based organizations,
available in English and other languages, to help
facilitate effective conversations about the sexualization
of girls and its impact on girls, as well as on boys,
women, and men.
l Convene forums that will bring together members of
the media and a panel of leading experts in the field to
examine and discuss (a) the sexualization of girls in the
United States, (b) the findings of this task force report,
and (c) strategies to increase awareness about this issue
and reduce negative images of girls in the media.
l Develop media awards for positive portrayals of girls as
strong, competent, and nonsexualized (e.g., the best
television portrayal of girls or the best toy).
l Convene forums with industry partners, including the
media, advertisers, marketing professionals, and manufacturers,
to discuss the presentation of sexualized images
and the potential negative impact on girls and to
develop relationships with the goal of providing
guidance on appropriate material for varying
developmental ages and on storylines and programming
that reflect the positive portrayals of girls.
2.That school personnel, parents and other caregivers,
community-based youth and parenting organizations, and
local business and service organizations encourage positive
extracurricular activities that help youth build nurturing
connections with peers and enhance self-esteem based on
young people’s abilities and character rather than on their
appearance.
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Appendix
Empowering Girls: Media Literacy
This list of resources was provided to APA’s Council of
Representatives with the Report of the APA Task Force on the
Sexualization of Girls and has been filed with APA.This means
that the list of resources has not been adopted as a policy of APA
nor has APA endorsed each of the resources cited.This list of
resources is provided only for information and reference purposes.
About-Face

Home


ACT—Alliance for Children and Television
http://www.act-aet.tv/index_en.html
Advocates for Youth

Home


Beacon Street Girls
http://www.beaconstreetgirls.com
Center for Media Literacy
http://www.medialit.org
Dads and Daughters
http://www.thedadman.com
Girl Scouts of America
http://www.girlscouts.org
Girls Inc.
http://www.girlsinc.org/index.html
Girls Inc. Media Literacy
http://www.girlsinc.org/about/programs/
media-literacy.html
Girls,Women, + Media Project
http://www.mediaandwomen.org/resources.html
Hardy Girls Healthy Women
http://www.hardygirlshealthywomen.org
Mainely Girls
http://www.midcoast.com/~megirls
Media Awareness Network
http://www.media-awareness.ca
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
65
Media Literacy Clearinghouse

Home


medialiteracy.com
http://www.medialiteracy.com
New Moon Girls
http://www.newmoon.com
ParentFurther
http://www.parentfurther.com/technology-media
See Jane/Improving Gender Portrayals in
Children’s Media

Blog


Teen Voices/Women’s Express
http://www.teenvoices.com
Third Wave Foundation

Home


uniquely Me! The Girl Scout/Dove Self-Esteem
Program
http://www.girlscouts.org/program/program_
opportunities/leadership/uniquelyme.asp
Words Can Work
http://www.wordscanwork.com
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls
66
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