Sexuality in teens. Is it stemmed from the stereotypical American girl?
It’s the credo of any advertising agency. Despite what research tells us as to the effectiveness of such ads, when you look for it, it seems to be the driving force behind the majority of commercials, music, and fashion.
Some may argue that people enjoy sex, so of course it sells. When thought of, however, what image is first to come to mind? A scantily clad woman, draped over a product or some stylishly dressed man.
More often than not, “sex sells” means a naked woman.
What Our Girls See
When confronted by such sexuality, our teenage girls learn that to be attractive, to be wanted, they must look like these women. Body image, fashion; our teens learn that to be attractive is to be wanted sexually by men. This becomes the focal point of all they do and it has some pretty terrible side-effects.
How bad can oversexualizing our teens be? Research has shown it can cause:
- Reduced cognitive functioning
- Increased risk of sexual abuse and exploitation
- Body dissatisfaction and appearance anxiety
The far reaching effects of the constant attention to one’s appearance leads to shame in one’s own body, anxiety, and depression. This can cause girls desperate for the positive they believe they need to develop self-destructive habits such as eating disorders, smoking, and drug abuse.
What Our Boys See
The sexualization of women doesn’t just affect our young girls. The world of the American male is drastically different than that of the female.
Where girls see fictionalized ideals they feel they need to uphold in order to be attractive, our young boys are led to believe that the images they see are realistic examples of beauty.
This is further reinforced by the consistent efforts of girls to match the standard of beauty. If it was wrong, why would girls try to look like that?
So the cycle goes.
What Can Be Done?
Parents interested in protecting their girls from the constant presence of sexualization can take heart. There are steps we can do to protect our children and help them make decisions for the betterment of themselves both now and for their future.
1. Teach our daughters to view media critically.
There are programs and classes that can help parents and their children promote autonomy of thought and taking a critical look at media.
2. Physical activity.
Getting your daughter involved in extracurricular physical activities helps encourage fitness and switches the focus from appearance to competence, which does exponentially more to build confidence.
3. Learn that it’s okay to speak out against what they disagree with and develop their own ideas and alternatives.
So much pressure is put on quietly accepting what’s shown that the most important thing you can teach your daughter is that it’s okay to have differing opinions and thoughts.
When we teach our girls it’s okay to be individuals, to believe in themselves, and to demand respect from boys, our sons learn the truth: media is fiction, and women are people that deserve respect and not simply sexual objects to be used at a whim.
Together, we can make a difference and build a happier, healthier world for our children.