Offline and Online Cultural Messaging about Girls and Sexuality


I was recently walking around with a friend and saw a girl (who looked to be around nine years of age) wearing a shirt that proclaimed “Born to be SEXY” – which caught me off guard.  Not to be a prude, but it bothers me that cultural messaging strategies continue to induce girls to think of themselves primarily (or even partially) as a commodity that can possibly (or actually) sexually benefit others.  I think that this is problematic even if a grown woman is wearing it.  Justin and I have seen anecdotally through screenshots collected by our research team as they scour Facebook and MySpace that girls who present themselves in line with this message seem to have more online “friends,” and receive more Wall posts and comments on their profiles.  This attention and feedback consequently reinforces and promotes the behavior, and provides the affirmation and validation that we are all looking for and hoping to receive – albeit in different ways.  The major concern I (and many others) have is that feelings of self-worth and identity will be tied somewhat exclusively into physical attractiveness and sexual exploration/experimentation.  This, as psychological research has shown, may lead to future victimization – or, at least, unhealthy and even exploitative attraction and interest from boys and men.  The APA Report on the Sexualization of Girls details this phenomenon in a fascinating writeup, and our colleague Rachel Simmons discussed it recently on her blog.  I was curious if any of our readership has been unsettled by similar observations, and would love to hear some balanced thoughts on this issue.


  1. A very good point to be concerned about. I think the recent findings that more girls are going through puberty at an earlier age (age 8 & 9) has some implications as to their identity development and the host of risks that come with early puberty for girls.

  2. This concerns me greatly too. In the past I've worried more about what the sexualisation of young girls does to those girls – and their peers. Just recently I've been wondering about its effects on boys too. An 11 year old male friend of my same-aged son recently was bought a double bed. His response to his dad was "Great, that will be great for bringing the girls home to." When his dad expressed concern at his remark he replied "Oh, I'll just sneak them in through the window then." Yes, he meant it as a joke, but his father was shocked and so was I. These 2 same 11 year old boys were recently caught googling up porn. Maybe I'm naive, but I thought I had a few more years before I had to worry about that issue! I worry that our children are facing issues about sex a good 5 years earlier than I did in the mid-80s.

  3. Sexualization has redefined what beauty is which has shown to cause eating disorders, low self-esteem, and even depression mostly amongst the female youth. According to the article, “They Know What Boys Want”, young girls from the ages 10 to their teen years are using their sexuality to get the attention of boys in almost a game like setting ( They use chat rooms and their cell phones to take pictures of themselves in sexy poses and upload them to social networks for all to see. Some girls draw the line when it comes to nude pictures but others cross that line to get more attention. But how much of this attention are they really asking for? I believe that youths do not realize the long term effects their actions can cause. For example, MSNBC had a news report on YouTube about Sexting where this teenage girl had committed suicide after a nude picture of her that she sent to her boyfriend went viral and everyone had started calling her names and treating her with disrespect. Her name was Jesse Logan. You can find her story here: (Link defunct)

  4. The three most common mental health problems of girls/women

    Three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women are eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression or depressed mood are the three common problems. Some people may disagree with these, but I agree 100%. For who may disagree, can you reply telling why? Because, in my belief and knowing what most females are capable of. The following are most thought about in a females mind. The way we think are very different than the way a man thinks, because more thought and emotion is put to work. Why? I really don’t have the slightest clue. I figured we are just more delicate and have an emotional feeling towards any and everything. Eating disorders usually occur in females who don’t love their body and rather look like something else. So they tend to starve and change their eating ways to help them get the look they feel better at. Low self-esteem comes from someone being talked about in a negative matter followed by no one ever telling you that you’re pretty. Depression comes from letting the negative bring you down and in a not wanting to be bothered mood.

  5. It is very important to know how sexuality can affect people’s life. Many people think that because they do have a problem they have no need to increase their knowledge about certain topic. I do believe people should know a little bit of everything even if something does not apply to us. This way we can help others. This article was very instructive because it highlighted some point that had never crossed my mind before. I did not know sexuality have so many negative effects. Like I knew it was something not very positive but I did know its psychological effects in detail. The work psychologists have done is incredible. Knowing how sexuality can affect your emotions, physical and mental health, attitudes, beliefs or society play an important role, so girls think twice before engaging in this behavior. Many girls do not know these consequences, the way this article explains them is very impacting. Teen girls should have access to this information in schools or in other environment where the spend most of the time. Girls misuse Internet sometimes without even knowing, they might start doing inappropriate things just like playing around but then it turns out to be a routine. If schools had classes providing information like the one in this article, girls would become more aware. Parents also play an important role here. Parents teach us what it is right from wrong and vice versa. This world has changed a lot and women are seen differently. Teen girls need to understand that it does not matter how badly the world changes it, if you have values, respect for yourself and a good heart, how the world sees woman it does not make a different. Girls engage in these behaviors because they want to feel pretty and sexy, but they need to understand that there are other ways of accomplishing this. Increasing self-esteem is the most important factor here. In my opinion, girls start abusing/misusing Internet because they have self-esteem issues. They engage in behaviors that make them feel good (increasing self-esteem) at first; this is the reason why they keep doing it and doing it. At the end, they realize that it goes the other way around. For example, a girl posts some sexy pictures of her self on facebook, she gets attention from other guys which increases her self-esteem. At the end, she realizes that other guys just talked to her because if her looks which decreases her self-esteem again. Engaging in this kind of behaviors is a no ending circle. Teen girls should be educated in a way that they become aware of this.

  6. Hi everyone!!!

    I found a very interesting video that has to do with how media has changed the way women is seen. In today’s society almost every product is advertised with women. If you open a magazine, you are going to find a woman in almost every page. Media has degraded women. I really liked this video because it not only explains how media has affect woman, but it shows how a group of teen girls have learned and disagreed with this matter. They did big posters called "The Wall of Shame” where they cut and glue pictures of seminude woman writing critics on them. The girls liked this exercise because it helped them identify how media objectifies women. Check this video very instructive and interesting.

  7. While reading this blog post it really got me thinking on how even the clothes that parents buy their kids send off inapporpriate messages. Hollister, which is a popular clothing store, sells shirts that they call "hot and funny" but in reality these shirts are not positive. "I heart the woody" to me is not a short a teen girl should wear but often times parents dont even realize that the clothes their kids are wearing are sending sexual messages. The shirts are designed for young girls when you see the bright and cute colors but the wording is not for that audience. Another popular clothing item is the pants with wording on the back. Those pants are sexualizing to say the least but a teen girl think its cute. So sexualization of teens not only happen through the media but also through the clothes they wear.

  8. The sexualization of girls is and has been an important issue in American culture (as well as many cultures around the world). The disturbing reality is- we, as a culture (Americans), are so accustomed to it that it has become normalized. It no longer shocks or disturbs people to see grown women dressed up like school girls. Parents subject their toddlers to parading around in thick makeup, coated in spray on tanner and modeling bathing suits in "beauty" pageants teaching their very young children to perform an unrealistic, superficial understanding of beauty and sexuality. And what do we do with such shocking images? Make a show all about it (Toddlers in Tiaras) one of the most popular reality shows on television! Go to your local toy store and you'll find dozens of make-up kits, salon hair styling toys and press on nails, like the "Disney Princess Beauty Playset" (you can check it out at which comes with a fake hair dryer, curler, and straightener and is recommended for ages 3 to 6. This is the norm! By the time girls understand that they are girls they understand that being a girl means caring about being pretty, and as they get older it only gets worse. The images they admired as children- skinny, big-breasted, white, blonde Barbie dolls, and similarly shaped Disney Princesses- are carbon copied onto the front of their favorite magazines, TV shows, advertisements, and movies in the form of "hot" young actresses, models and pop stars. On top of that self-esteem killer, girls have the pressure of doing all they can not to be labeled a slut or a prude- trying to fit in while facing impossible standards with sexist implications.

  9. I was taking with my 21 years old daughter about this class and the danger of the cyber bulling. She tall me about one of her friend in the college that posted a nude picture of herself. She was very proud of this heroic act. She was not regretted because she created a false identity online.

    I was so surprise and worried. While the young are spending more and more time on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace – with 22 % saying they check their sites more than 10 times a day – they don't seem to be aware of the long-term personal havoc they could create with a click of a button.

  10. What really worries me about our young girls today is all the Hippocratic and double standard teaching.As a young girl in the late 80s and early 90s i was a product of equal rights for women and being self suffusiont .learning to stand on my own two feet and feeling good about it.In today's world it would appear we as women are going backwards.So often we are portrayed as a commodity who without a look has nothing to offer.As a result opinions, no matter whose, and to what credibility they stand. are allowed to destroy girls self esteem and true identity often times before any real identity has had a chance to develop and stabilize.What a sad outlook for our wonderful youth.

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