The Sexualization of Girls and Mental Health Problems: Is There a Connection?
Think about the following:
- a 5-year-old girl wearing a T-shirt that says "Flirt."
- the advice given in magazines to preadolescent girls on how to look sexy and get a boyfriend
- print advertisements that portray little girls with pigtails and ruffles in adult sexual poses
- popular dolls in miniskirts and fishnet stockings advertised during Saturday morning cartoons
Is it any wonder that, starting at an early age, girls may believe that their value depends on their so-called sex appeal? What can be done to help girls develop a healthy self-image?
Eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression are the most common mental health problems in girls and women. The Report of the APA Task Force on The Sexualization of Girls, issued February l9, 2007, points out the connection between these problems and the sexualization of girls.
The APA Task Force was formed in response to reports by journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents and psychologists. The Report concludes that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls'self-image and healthy development. Sexualization is defined as occurring when a person's value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another's sexual use. The report states that examples of sexualization are found in all forms of media, and as 'new media' have been created and access to media has become omnipresent examples have increased.
The Task Force Report states that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains:
- Cognitive and emotional health: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person's confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
- Mental and physical health: Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women—eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.
- Sexual development: Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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