A new study from the journal, Sex Roles, now shows the sexualization of girls as young as six years old. Psychologists and researchers in the past have shown women and teens who think of themselves as sexual objects. But this may be the first study of its kind to show that same line of thinking in children.
The research took place among six to nine-year-old girls from the Midwest. Psychologists presented paper dolls in two different styles to sixty girls. One doll was dressed in sexually revealing clothes; the other wore a trendy but “covered-up, loose” outfit.
The girls were asked to choose which doll looked like them, which doll they wanted to look like, and which doll was popular. Two categories were most shocking. 68% of the girls said the “sexy” doll was the one they wanted to look like. And 72% said that doll was more popular than the “non-sexy” one.
Other studies have shown that sexiness in girls does increase their popularity. This must be a new phenomenon. When I think about the popular females from the school I attended, none of them dressed provocatively. But no one did at that time. The clothing style was loose and baggy. Further, the girls who had a reputation of being promiscuous were looked down upon, not popularized.
Many argue that the media’s portrayal of femininity has resulted in a more sexualized society of girls. However, in this study, the media alone didn’t seem to cause that behavior. The girls who watched a lot of television and movies didn’t automatically go for the sexy doll. Instead, those with mothers who objectified themselves by outwardly worrying about their appearance, and other such actions, chose the sexy doll in most questions. Children do seem to model their parents.
Religious beliefs of the mothers also played a part. Girls who watched a lot of television but had religious parents were less likely to choose the sexualized doll. But girls from religious homes who watched no television chose the sexy doll more often. Researchers believe this phenomenon may be due, in part, to the “forbidden fruit” case - the idea that sheltering children too much can create an idealization of exactly what parents wish to prevent. Rather, mothers who used television as an opportunity to *teach* their kids about right and wrong succeeded in lowering their children’s desire for self-sexualization.
Lastly, as I would have suspected, girls who were involved in sports, specifically dance, chose the sexy doll less often. This may be because they have learned to use their bodies in more productive, or creative ways. As many of my readers know, modern dance is what led me away from a wild, self-objectified life. Not only did I learn how to use my body in a healthy and worthwhile way, but simply finding a valuable passion in life inspired me, and clearly continues to inspire girls today, to have self-respect and self-worth.