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Sexual health Sexualization of girls

On a trip through any mall, you’ll see plenty of examples of the sexualization of girls. A six-year-old girl is wearing sweat pants with the “Juicy” imprinted on the rear. You can buy Muppet thongs for preadolescent girls.

On TV, over the Internet, and in music videos and lyrics, girls are often portrayed as sexual objects.

When is sexualization likely to occur? The APA Task Force lists four conditions. The presence of any one, according to the APA report, indicates sexualization:

• When one’s value comes only from sexual appeal or behavior to the exclusion of other characteristics.

• When one is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness with being sexy.

• When one is sexually objectified; that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than a person with the capacity for independent action and decision-making.

• When sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

Preteen and teen girls’ vulnerability to sexualization is complicated by their natural desire to fit in and to figure out who they are. Add society’s increased pressure on girls to look sexy, and you can better understand girls’ struggles.

Of course, the more secure girls feel with who they are, the less affected they’re likely to be by image media. But insecurity is a natural part of adolescence. At the same time that teen girls want to separate from their parents, they need support. So parents still play a key role in nurturing adolescent girls’ strong sense of self.

No one is suggesting that girls ignore fashion or disregard appearance. But preoccupation with appearance can leave girls vulnerable to the sway of media and marketing: have a certain look, or feel diminished.

Ellen Goldstein is the mother of Maya, a fifth grade girl. She told Washington Post reporter, Stacy Weiner, that Maya loves fashion, and she doesn’t want to stifle Maya’s creative spirit. But the best role models for her daughter, she explains, are not teens wearing lots of make up and slinky outfits. "When so much emphasis is placed on the outside,” Goldstein says, “it minimizes the importance of the person inside."

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