Experts condemn the sexualisation of girls in the media

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Experts in the United States are warning about the way young women are portrayed by the media.

A new report by the American Psychological Association (APA) says it has found evidence that the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising and the media is harmful to girls' self-image and healthy development.

The report says the media's portrayal of young women as sex objects harms girls' mental and physical health.

The task force from the APA found that the sexualisation of girls and young women in magazines, television, video games and music videos all have a negative effect, leading to a lack of confidence with their bodies as well as depression and eating disorders.

The researchers say such images also have a negative effect on healthy sexual development in girls.

Mounting public concern about the sexualisation of young girls prompted the setting up of the task force and the researchers examined and analysed the content and effects of television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, films, video games and the internet.

Advertising campaigns and the merchandising of products aimed at girls was also examined.

Sexualization was defined by the task force as occurring when a person's value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behaviour, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another's sexual use.

Recent examples include young pop stars dressed as sex objects, dolls aimed at young girls with sexual clothing such as fishnet tights, clothing, such as thongs, for seven to 10-year-olds and adult models dressed as young girls.

Dr. Eileen Zurbriggen the chair of the task force says the consequences of the sexualisation of girls in the media today are very real.

Dr. Zurbriggen,who is an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says there is ample evidence to conclude that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains.

Research shows that the sexualization of girls negatively affects girls and young womens' cognitive and emotional development and undermines a woman's confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.

It is linked with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood and affects a girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

She says all sexualised images need to be replaced with ones showing girls in positive settings that demonstrate their uniqueness and competence.

The task force says governments have a responsibility to reduce the use of sexualised images in the media and advertising and has called on parents, school officials, and health professionals to be alert for the potential impact on girls and young women.

The researchers suggest that schools should teach pupils media literacy skills and should include information on the negative effects of images portraying girls as sex objects in sex education programmes.

Other experts agree and say the majority of teen magazines are preoccupied with sex, and society as a whole is visually absorbed.

People they say are dominated by how they look but most concede that the issue is a difficult one that will not be resolved by legislation alone but requires a sense of social responsibility on the part of advertisers and the media.

The report and tips on "What Parents Can Do" are available at http://www.apa.org.

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