Critical Women's Issue: Sexualization of Girls in Media

International Women's Day (IWD) on Mar. 8 is coinciding with the close of the 51st session of the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on Mar. 9, both lobbying for the well-treatment of women in society.

Among many of the issues that have arisen such as increased equality in society, government, and the work force, many women have been emphasizing the need to address the sexualization of girls, which have lead to unhealthy behavior and mentalities among women today.

Closely linking to the sexualization of girls, the priority theme of this year's CSW, which began on Feb. 26, is "the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child." The Commission convenes each year to evaluate progress on gender equality and set global standards to promote women's rights.

Groups such as the Concerned Women for America (CWA), a Christian group active in politics, condemn the way that media portrays women, which has led to emotional, mental, and physical pain among maturing girls today.

The American Psychological Association (APA), a scientific and professional organization that represents psychology in the United States, released a report in February on research about the sexualization of girls, providing evidence that shows how advertising, merchandising, and media images can lower a woman's overall health.

The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls did their research on almost all media types, including television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the internet, as well as inspecting current advertising campaigns and merchandising of products aimed toward girls.

"The consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls' healthy development," said Dr. Eileen L. Zurbriggen, chair of the APA Task Force and associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in a statement. "We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development."

In the past years, sexualized images of women have been found all over media, especially in musical lyrics.

According to the report, the number of sexual illustrations has likely increased in number, because "new media" has been created and access to media has become universal.

Parents, siblings, and friends' attitudes have also enhanced these pressures towards sexualization.

"As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings, ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls," stated Zurbriggen in a statement. "The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents, boys and girls, that lead to healthy sexual development."

The APA task force defined sexualization as a mentality that someone's value comes only from their sexual appeal, excluding other qualities, or that a person has become sexually objectified, meaning they have become an object for another's sexual use.

According to the research results, the sexualization of girls has the following negative effects:

• emotional consequences including low self-esteem, image problems, lack of comfort with their bodies, shame, and anxiety;
• lower mental health which relate to problems such as eating disorders and depression;
• and consequences with their ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

Despite that both the IWD and CSW events are coming to a close, leaders from both affairs are encouraging men and women to tackle women's issues year round.

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