APA’s (American Psychological Association) Public Interest directorate invited six middle school girls to sit down and share their thoughts about the images of girls they see all around them and how they feel about the way girls today are portrayed.
The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image. Several research studies have explored how girls of color are particularly effective in resisting mainstream notions of female sexuality, femininity, and beauty. Central to much of this research are feminist theories developed by and for women of color. For instance, Hill Collins (2000; see also Spillers, 1992) observed the significance of an oral tradition among Black women that allows women to be “bawdy, rowdy, and irreverent” and thus anchor resistance to oppressions including objectification and resistance. J. Ward (2002) researched the tradition of African American parents actively socializing their children to identify and resist racism. One strategy that J.Ward documented involves Black parents teaching children and teens to recognize the culture in which they live as being White culture and to critique it accordingly. Journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents and psychologists have argued that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls. The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls was formed in response to these expressions of public concern. Parents can teach girls to value themselves for who they are, rather than how they look. Parents can teach boys to value girls as friends, sisters and girlfriends, rather than as sexual objects. With the help of the adults in their lives, girls and boys can gain media literacy skills, can learn to resist the message that how girls look is what matters and can learn how to advocate for themselves.