Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Bringing up Girls: Media & Sexualisation of Society

Have you seen the popular TV show 'The Only Way is Essex'?

I don't watch a lot of TV so I am often one of the last to hear about things like this. But after Facebook status updates mentioning 'Shut Up' so often I was intrigued. What is it about this show that has gripped the nation?

So last night I sat down and 'you-tubed' the show. I really wish I hadn't! Do these people actually exist and why is this show SO popular!?!  I showed it to my hubby and he was actually in shock and blinded by the orange hues! The biggest word used in the 45 minute episode I watched was 'tactile' and it was used in the wrong context and followed up with a woman saying "wha's tactile mean". The rest of the show is pretty much summed up by the picture above.

It scares me to think my daughter is growing up in a world where The Only Way is Essex Facebook page has almost 50 times the number that Question Time has (The Guardian: The Only Way Is Essex: beyond trash TV)

And then Google showed up THIS article. School Girls idolise these women? Why are their parents letting them watch this trash?

Add this to pop stars dressed as sex objects (take Rihanna and her new song S&M), Dolls aimed at young girls with fishnet tights, clothing (such as thongs) aimed at 7-10 year olds and everything else the media wants to throw at our little babies! 

"The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real," says Dr Zurbriggen, associate professor of psychology at the University of California.

"We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development."

I'm not sure where the answer lies. If shows like this continue to pull in such high viewing figures there will only be more of them as that is where the money is. A shocking 18% of children's television viewing is in their designated viewing time so legislation can't be the whole answer. Perhaps it is a parents responsibility? But then we can only control so much when they are with friends or at school. Children want to fit in and do what is 'cool'. 

Dr Zurbriggen adds: "If you look at teenage magazines, it's all about sex.
"We are a visually absorbed society - our views of people are dominated by how they look."

"One of the key things here is social responsibility - advertisers and other media need to be aware that the products they produce and images associated with them have an impact and it's not always a good impact," he said.

It scares me the way society is going. The whole Big Brother Culture, Child Beauty Pageants, the role models are children are being fed by the media. To be aware of it must be a step in the right direction but how do you limit the influence on your little girl. Hobbies and positive role models perhaps, oh and leading by example and not watching this trash yourself!

There are lots of great activist groups out there rejecting the harmful messages the media is putting on females these days and fighting against the sexualisation of young girls. Pop along and follow a few of my favs @TakeBackBeauty @RevoltRealWomen @AnyBodyOrg and @CollectiveShout

I would love to hear from people who have little girls or teen girls and what you have done to limit these influences. Or perhaps you are not concerned with what the media dishes out?


  1. I agree - it's VERY worrying. My little girl is 2 and I already filter out what she catches sight of on TV. I don't even have the news on incase she sees something which could frighten her! Wrapping her up in cotton wool maybe? But what's the alternative? She'll find out what a scary the place the world is soon enough and I want to keep her sheltered for the time being. As for sexualisation, it's horrendous. I guess the only thing we can do is to educate them and make sure they are influenced by us, their parents, rather than their peers or these so-called celebs. I just hope I do a good enough job of it as she grows up and she looks to be like me rather than like the influences she sees in the media!

    Anna (Moxie Marketing)

  2. In total agreement with you here, Carly! I was concerned about the influence on my own daughter (who's now 20) and couldn't imagine having a 7 or 8 year old now what with all the stuff I see in the media, on Disney channel and everywhere else. Yes, you can filter it out at home but the influence is everywhere and, if they aren't "clued up" then they fall foul of peer pressure at school.

  3. It's worrying, the media is a big influence on our children. As parents it's our role to show them there are other, more rewarding, ways to be. It's not a popular site with everyone but Mumsnet has been running a high-profile campaign on the sexualisation of girls for a while. I'm guilty of watching Jordan's show on Sky 1 and you see her at book signings surrounded by teenage girls who think she's wonderful. I scream at the telly, 'Why?!'

  4. I agree with you. I've just had a conversation with my teenage (16) daughter about this and she thinks that these sort of programmes do have a negative influence on young girls. She says that a couple of years ago she would have watched this and wanted to be like the girls in the show; now she watches and it confirms to her what she DOESN'T want to be like.

  5. I enjoy watching these programmes for fun and don't take them, or myself, too seriously. However, i am a 32 year old woman. There is no way children should be watching stuff like this and it is up to their parents to ensure they are brought up educated about body images and diet. Regardless of how we are portrayed in the media, i have what i consider to be a healthy body image. Thats because my mum and sisters were good role models for me. Hopefully my husband and i can do the same for our sons, but i feel for those of you with daughters as they seem to be affected more by issues like this.

  6. Oh such a fab post and I honestly couldn't agree more. I am so careful about what my children watch on tv and I wouldn't dream of letting them watch this sort of rubbish (even though I love a bit of trash tv myself!)
    My biggest problem at the moment though I have to say is music. I find it hard to 'censor' the music that in particular my 11 year old daughter wants to listen to. Some of the lyrics are just soooo inapropriate but what can I do? I feel like Mary Whitehouse! But the thought of her singing along to some of the Rhianna songs etc just makes me feel sick! Awful stuff :-(

  7. Great post! And also quite disheartening. Thanks so much for giving a shout-out to Beauty Redefined via our Twitter @TakeBackBeauty! We, along with other amazing orgs, are fighting hard to de-normalize all these sexualized and unhealthy media messages with which we are all surrounded. We CAN fight back and we can work to recognize and reject how harmful these profit-driven messages are and get on to anything more important in our lives. If you don't mind, my sister and I feature strategies for rejecting dangerous media ideals here, and they've proven quite helpful! http://www.beautyredefined.net/how-girls-and-women-can-take-back-beauty/

    Thank your for this post and for the uplifting, inspiring work you are doing!

  8. I have before now resorted to buying clothes and shoes in the "boy" section of shops because of their need to make young girl clothes too old or unpractical.
    There is a website called http://www.pinkstinks.co.uk/ which is a campaign for real role models for young girls.
    I have two girls and am very worried about their self esteem when faced with the role models available at the moment

  9. Super post and believe it or not I have a draft post in my blog which is very simailar and I am a mum of boys. I will link to this if you dont mind

  10. Great post, I wrote one last year about the same subject - http://violetposy.co.uk/2010/06/17/children-and-body-image/

    I have an eight year old and it's just so scary. She's tall for her age and now in 10-11 clothes and most of them are so inappropriate (tiny short skirts, slogan t-shirts, push up bras etc) even if she was that 11 they'd still be wrong. I've gotten to the point that I'm having to hunt for age appropriate clothes.

    Don't even get me started on magazines aimed at the 'tweeners' which are all makeup and boy bands. Luckily for me she's a sensible girl and I've explained photoshop, and the fakeness of it all, but I shouldn't have to when my daughter is still a child. I just feel I've been forced to.

  11. Thanks for all your comments, so pleased to know I am not alone and just being 'over the top'. It is a real issue.

    Thanks for the link on strategies for rejecting dangerous media ideals Lexie...going to have a read now.

  12. The sexualization of young girls is worrying, but it's not something that is new. I studied the "Lolita effect" and "masculine glare" in media back at Uni in 1999.

    Is it more in our face? Yes, but media in general is more in our face these days.

  13. I am currently reading a really good book about what parents can try to do to halt the sexualisation of young girls....I have three daughters aged 9, 7 and a half and 2 and worry that they will have to grow up too quickly. A lot of their friends at school are already wearing little bras and acting like tiny teenagers and if I'm totally honest it scares the living crap out of me. I don't want to stop them exploring things but at the same time I want them to have a good childhood where they're allowed to be children for as long as they want...It's so difficult to draw the line between holding them back from growing up and trying to help them make informed choices about their lives. My biggest worry is the pressure for young girls to be thin, I know at my girls school there are some 9 and 10 year olds who are on diets to try and lose weight even though they are perfect as they are! I could go on and on as it's a subject very close to my heart but I'll shush up now....great thought provoking post x

  14. Well said, Carly, I'm so pleased to read your stance on this subject. Your little girl is very lucky to have such responsible parents.

  15. Although I have sons, as a woman that is a feminist, this sexualisation and encouragement not educate oneself, or aspire to a worthwhile and fulfilling career realy really concerns me. Women have fought long and hard to be taken seriously and respected in the workplace, irrespective of gender.
    In addition, I am also concerend how this is affecting the view that young boys have of girls and women as they grow into young men?
    Personally, programmes viewed are a parents responsibility. We can't just blame the media.

    baby swimwear

  16. Carly im just like you on this matter. As people become more secular they also lose more of their values, or perhaps dont even decide what their values are in the first place. Ive just reviewed 'Where has my little girl gone' written by Tanith carey - its a book i think you may find interesting.
    Aqeela xx