The media is saturated with highly sexualized messages that are harmful to young people. Every responsible, or semi-cognizant, parent has suspected this at one time or another, but the American Psychological Association released a report earlier this week affirming these persistent suspicions.
The 72-page report doesn’t us anything we can’t deduce from our own experience with media. Every medium, from advertising to video games, provides ample evidence of the sexualization of women. The troubling finding in this report is younger and younger girls are encouraged to “start acting like adults,” including the observation that clothing stores now sell thongs sized for 7- to 10-year-old girls.
Children aren’t necessarily sponges that absorb any message that comes in contact with them, but they are highly astute in detecting a society’s values. When children see images in the media that glamorize the objectification of women, they internalize these messages. As a result, these messages leave indelible, detrimental impressions that are hard to wipe away.
Certainly a person’s sexuality is an inseparable construct of his or her mature, developed personality – but it is only one of many pegs of a person’s self image. When so much of a person’s self concept hinges on a single peg, self-actualization is impossible to achieve.
It is hard to believe Anna Nicole Smith was content with her life as a Playboy pin-up and a pop-culture icon. In the wake of her death, the true tragedy is not how she died, but how few people knew anything about her beyond her physical attributes.
In extreme cases, an obsession with physical desirability and sexuality leads to eating disorders, pathological dieting, needless plastic surgery and depression. From the male perspective, boys are only able to relate to women as objects instead of as humans.
In one way or another, we all are rearing the rising generation. We can opt to merely advocate change from manufacturers and media producers, or we can initiate change on a more effective, personal level. We can actively participate in the media our children consume and teach girls to value themselves for who they are, rather than how they look, and boys to value girls as people.
To enact lasting changes requires more than just being adults – it requires a willingness to rise up and be parents.