Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls
Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist
Spinifex Press, 208 pp, April 2010
If you’ve wondered why it is so hard to find an age-appropriate Halloween costume for your young daughter, you’re not alone. A brief perusal of the internet’s selection of costumes for girls reveals sexy witches, seductive mermaids, and a scantily clad Wonder Woman. Costumes range from the demure (Alice in Wonderland) to the trashy (belly dancer).
Melinda Tankard Reist, the Australian author, speaker, and advocate, has collected more than a dozen well-researched essays about the damage caused by the sexualization of girls today. Topics range from the risks and impacts of premature sexualization to rethinking sexual freedom to the media’s glamorization of prostitution. Today’s young people are bombarded by images on billboards and television, computer games, magazines, dolls, and clothing that pressure them to conform to a bodily ideal that until recently has been directed at adult women. Girls today receive a strong message that their role is to be available for the pleasure of boys.
Many very young girls “hate” their bodies and want to fix them with plastic surgery. Girls and boys are being exposed to pornography via the internet and have thus received unrealistic ideas about types of sexual activity, body shapes, and expectations for females.
And lest the reader think that this problem occurs only in Australia, the American Psychological Association raised the alarm in its “Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls” (2007). To quote the report:
Many studies have suggested that the culture delivers abundant messages about the objectification
and sexualization of adult women and that this is the cultural milieu in which girls develop. Parents,
schools, and peers sometimes contribute to the sexualization of girls, and girls themselves adopt a
sexualized and self-objectified identity. (p. 18)
And the consequences of this sexualization? Constant attention to physical appearance steals cognitive resources at the expense of “mental and physical activities.” It is possible that such distractions are responsible for the many girls who drop out of higher math and science in high school as well as fail to continue with healthful physical activities.
To counteract the damage done by corporate interests, which profit from the sexualization and objectification of women and girls, a number of solutions are enumerated. All children need to become media literate in order to decode the toxic messages they receive every day. Parents and schools need to be aware of the inappropriate material their children are exposed to and to actively protest companies that market unhealthy products to youths. And parents need to be present in their children’s lives to monitor their exposures and shape their self-concepts in healthy ways.
Getting Real offers an eye-opening look at what our young children, especially girls, are being exposed to today, how the messages are affecting them, and what can be done to counteract them. It is highly recommended.
Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist
*A portion of purchases made via the above links benefits Child’s World America.