Today many teenage girls see themselves as potential sexual objects before they see themselves as people in their own right. This is greatly attributed to the portrayal of women in the media, from celebrities to ‘yummy mummies’. It seems that no female form is safe from being re-shaped into the now version of what’s hot. A quick tour of any city nightclub will reveal scantily clad young women out for a good time with the main aim of being able to attract any kind of attention from the men folk.

The American Psychological Association (APA), Task Force on the Sexualisation of Girls found that:

“Frequent exposure to media images that sexualise girls and women affects how girls conceptualize femininity and sexuality. Girls and young women who more frequently consume or engage with mainstream media content offer stronger endorsement of sexual stereotypes that depict women as sexual objects. They also place appearance and physical attractiveness at the center of women’s value.”

But as parents and educators, you are powerful too. You can teach girls to value themselves for who they are, rather than how they look. You can teach boys to value girls as friends, sisters, and girlfriends, rather than as sexual objects. And you can advocate for change with manufacturers and media producers.

Tips on how to educate teenage girls on sexualisation

1. Be aware. As a parent and/or teacher it is important to be aware of the impact of sexualisation on girls. Watching TV with adolescent girls can help to influence the way in which media messages are interpreted. Read their magazines. Surf their Web sites. Ask questions. “Why is there so much pressure on girls to look a certain way?” “What do you like most about the girls you want to spend time with?” “Do these qualities matter more than how they look?” Really listen to what the girls say. Action by parents and families is effective in confronting sources of sexualized images of girls.

2. Value. Sports, hobbies, interests and other extracurricular activities emphasize talents, skills, and abilities over physical appearance. Encourage your daughter to follow her interests and get involved in a sport or other activity. Help teenage girls find value in themselves and their qualities rather than relying on their looks.

3. What they want to wear. Today girls use clothes to express their sexuality. They often want to wear outfits that are too revealing when they go out so they can look ‘hot’ and be seen as sexy by both their friends and boys they might meet. Explain how clothes create a very strong impression of what the person who is wearing them is like. Their choice of clothing might be sending out a message which is far more ‘sexual’ than how they actually want to act when they are out.

4. Speak up. Support campaigns, companies, and products that promote positive images of girls. Complain to manufacturers, advertisers, television and movie producers, and retail stores when products sexualise girls.

5. Educate. You may feel uncomfortable discussing sexuality with your kids, but it’s important. Talk about when you think sex is OK as part of a healthy, intimate, mature relationship. Ask why girls often try so hard to look and act sexy. Talk about the media, peer pressure, and cultural influences on sexual behaviours and decisions, how to make safe choices, and what makes healthy relationships.

6. Be real. Help your kids focus on what’s really important: what they think, feel, and value. Help them build their own strengths and a sense of self worth that will allow them to achieve their goals and develop into healthy adults. Remind your children that everyone’s unique and that it’s wrong to judge people by their appearance.

7. Be a Model. Make sure you are not a fashion and media victim. Dress for your age in a way that reflects your self respect and inner confidence of who you are.

The American Psychological Association recommended that we:

  • Develop age-appropriate multimedia education resources representing ethnically and culturally diverse young people (boys and girls) for parents, educators, health care providers and community-based organizations, available in English and other languages, to help facilitate effective conversations about the sexualisation of girls and its impact on girls, as well as on boys, women and men.
  • Develop media awards for positive portrayals of girls as strong, competent, and nonsexualized (e.g., the best television portrayal of girls or the best toy).

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: APA. Maggie Hamilton (What’s Happening to our Girls?)