A disturbing study was released recently out of the Midwest and was published in the Journal of Sex Roles
. It highlighted the fact that girls as young as 6 years old have a desire to look sexy. The study that was performed was fairly simple. It asked girls between the ages of 6 to 9 a series of questions. Each girl had 2 dolls, one doll was dressed in revealing clothing that could be considered “sexy” and the other doll had on a fashionable, but loose fitted, dress. Following the questions the girls were asked to chose the doll that either looked like them or represented the more popular girl. Overwhelmingly the girls chose the “sexy” looking doll over the plainer doll.
The researchers looked at factors such as media viewing, religiousness of the mother, and how much the mother sexualized women or objectified themselves. Interestingly, if the media viewing was high but accompanied by instruction, meaning the mother was present and describing what was appropriate and what was not, self-sexualization behavior of the girls went down. This was also true if the mother was very religious but media viewing was high. Of note, was that when the mother was highly religious but media viewing was minimal the girls tended to identify more frequently with the “sexy” doll. The researchers believed that this might be due to the forbidden fruit notion. The sheltering or repression of these girls may cause them to idealize what is forbidden.
There has been an increase in self-objectifying tendencies in women in the last decade. A study released in 2007 by the American Psychological Association
reported that the effects of this trend are devastating to young women. It has caused them to be distracted during mental tasks, be more prone to eating disorders, and more likely to engage in unsafe sex. The APA even reported that fewer women are entering the fields of math and science. The researchers of this recent study on young girls believe the effects will be similar for younger girls.
It is true that young girls are bombarded with images of sexualized females. You need only to walk the isles of Toys R Us and see dolls like Bratz in fishnet stockings or Barbie’s new wardrobe to get the picture. Teenage idols frequently dress in provocative clothing and it is natural that young girls want to emulate their idols.
The encouraging news to come out of this study is that we, as mothers, have a tremendous effect on how our daughters view their bodies and how they value themselves as females. Despite the media images, and sometimes because of them and our ability to instruct with regard to those images, we are the greatest influence on our daughter’s self-perception. Fathers also play a role in how young girls feel about their image but little girls tend to look to their mothers as their primary role model.
So mothers should be especially aware of the messages they send to their young girls, both overt and subtle, about how they feel about their own body. Moms who are constantly worried about their clothes or their appearance will create daughters who will follow suit. Moms who value aspects of themselves that don’t pertain to appearance will be more likely to raise girls with a higher self-esteem. It is therefore incumbent upon mothers of young girls to come to terms with their own insecurities and to find ways to either alter their self-image through personal work or be extremely cautious about how they communicate with their daughters on these matters. Daughters are learning how to be women by watching and listening everyday to their mothers and so much of this is happening on an unconscious level. It behooves us all to be mindful about what messages we are communicating even if those messages are inadvertent.
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