It is in movies, music, and books. It is promoted in advertisements, magazines, and on television. It is consumed daily by millions and its imagery is being viewed and applied to women and girls all over the world; mass producing stereotypical narratives and sexist social norms that attempt to shape the “value” and “worth” of girls’ and women’s bodies. What is this “it”? “It” is the sexual objectification and exploitation of women and girls in the media.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sexual objectification can be “roughly defined as the seeing and/or treating a person, usually women [and girls] as objects.” From this perspective, women and girls are viewed solely as objects of desire and for their bodies, instead of whole individuals who have emotions, personalities, and behaviors beyond the scope of the act of sex.
And sexual exploitation is a form of sexual violence, which is a global human rights injustice with severe health and social consequences.
In 2010, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a report on the sexualization of girls in the media and found that massive exposure to media among youth sexualizes women and girls, teaching girls that women are sexual objects. Examining various media, the findings proved women and girls are more likely to be portrayed in a sexual manner (dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person).
With these sexist, stereotypical models of femininity constantly being perpetuated in the media, the negative implications affecting the mental, emotional, and physical wellness of girls are many.
Consequences for girls and women at-large include anxiety about appearance and feelings of shame, eating disorders, lower self-esteem, and depression. The study also found that sexualization of women and girls can also have a negative impact on boys and men. According to the APA, objectifying girls and women, and sex itself, is integral to masculinity and these beliefs may jeopardize men’s ability to form and maintain intimate relationships with women.
While the sexual exploitation of women and girls is rampant, there are many ways that you can help combat the media objectification of girls. Whether it is through writing, petitioning, or joining organizations that promote gender equality and balanced gender representation in the media, here are ways in which you can help stop sexual exploitation of girls.