Researchers from the US conducted a study where they gave two paper dolls to a group of 6 to 9 year old girls – one of the dolls was dressed in tight and revealing “sexy” clothes and the other was dressed in a trendy but loose-fit and more covered-up outfit.
They asked the kids to look at the dolls and point out which one (a) looked like herself (b) looked how she wanted to look (c) was the popular girl in school and (d) she wanted to play with.
The results were kind pretty confronting. This from Live Science:
Across-the-board, girls chose the “sexy” doll most often. The results were significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the doll looked how she wanted to look and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy doll.
“It’s very possible that girls wanted to look like the sexy doll because they believe sexiness leads to popularity, which comes with many social advantages,” explained lead researcher Christy Starr, who was particularly surprised at how many 6- to 7-year-old girls chose the sexualized doll as their ideal self.
Other studies have found that sexiness boosts popularity among girls but not boys. “Although the desire to be popular is not uniquely female, the pressure to be sexy in order to be popular is.”
So the girls want to be popular. And they associate popularity with being sexy. At age 6. These girls should be wanting to wear things that are pretty or sparkly or cool but not sexy. How have we possibly gotten to a point where the pressure of overt sexuality are affecting our 6-year-olds?
It’s a bizarre world when children are led to believe that the fewer clothes you wear, the more people will like you. But can you blame kids for thinking that’s true? After all, so much of popular culture is marketed with the idea that SEX SELLS. Can we really be horrified that the same message is filtering its way through to kids?
But the researchers behind the study found it wasn’t just Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and magazine adverts featuring 10-year-old girls that were leading kids to think sexy = cool.
Media consumption alone didn’t influence girls to prefer the sexy doll. But girls who watched a lot of TV and movies and who had mothers who reported self-objectifying tendencies, such as worrying about their clothes and appearance many times a day, in the study were more likely to say the sexy doll was popular.
The authors suggest that the media or moms who sexualize women may predispose girls toward objectifying themselves; then, the other factor (mom or media) reinforces the messages, amplifying the effect. On the other hand, mothers who reported often using TV and movies as teaching moments about bad behaviors and unrealistic scenarios were much less likely to have daughters who said they looked like the sexy doll.
The power of maternal instruction during media viewing may explain why every additional hour of TV- or movie-watching actually decreased the odds by 7 percent that a girl would choose the sexy doll as popular, Starr said. “As maternal TV instruction served as a protective factor for sexualization, it’s possible that higher media usage simply allowed for more instruction.
However, girls who didn’t consume a lot of media but who had religious mothers were much more likely to say they wanted to look like the sexy doll.
You can read more about the study at our sister site, iVillage.com.au
When you were a child when did you first become conscious of what ‘looking sexy’ was? Do you think girls feel this kind of pressure from a younger age than in the past?