Psychologists Warn Against Sexualization of Girls in Media and Advertising

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Too many sexualized images of girls and young women in media and advertising hurts their self-image and development, says a study released by the American Psychological Association (APA).

According to the APA, sexualization occurs when a person’s value comes only from their sexual appeal, behavior, or appearance. The report combines psychological research, theory and clinical examples. The organization also examines advertising campaigns and merchandising that targets young girls, showing that such objectification can lead to social and cognitive impairment.

“We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development,” said Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, the chair of the APA’s special task force in a statement.

According to the APA’s research, this kind of sexualization can lead to emotional and self-image problems among young girls, mental and physical problems such as eating disorders and depression, and a reduced ability to develop a healthy sexuality.

The report points out the prevalence of sexual imagery in every form of media from music to video games, and says that the proliferation of those types of images is increasing, most likely due to the growing reach of new media sources like the Internet.

“As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings—ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls,” added Dr. Zurbriggen.

The APA also finds that women, more often than men, are objectified and display an unrealistic standard of sexuality and physical beauty.

The APA formed a special Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls after hearing concerns from child advocacy groups, parents and journalists to address this particular issue.

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