How Do Young Girls See Media?


Hannah Clough, Featured Writer

How does the objectification of women in the media affect young girls?

What is media to you?

In today’s world it is hard to go ten minutes without seeing some type of media. It is everywhere. Media is defined as the mainstream or mass way of communication, such as social media, magazines, and T.V. ads. Everyone sees these forms of media, including children. With the growth of technology more and more kids have their own cell phones at young ages and are glued to their screens. Media today is defined as entertainment, the spread of news, and advertisement.

The History of Media

To dive into the history of media, mainstream mass media began with outdoor media, such as posters and signs. In more recent years outdoor media has taken form in airplane tags and on other vehicles. After that came print such as books and newspapers. This is still one of the most common ways of media transfer. Audio media kicked off in 1877 with the invention of the gramophone. Next is broadcast media, this is a more modern way of communication. Things such as TVs and radio stations. Most media today is portrayed through mobile devices and on social media sites and networks.

Increase in Technology

The increase of technology gives anyone with access to the internet the ability to be exposed to mainstream media, even young kids. In a survey given to kids aged 14-17 in a high school setting, almost all (86.7%) have more than one social media account. These social media accounts include sites such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Musically, and more (Clough). Having multiple accounts means  more exposure to sexual content than if they had only one account. The more teens have access to mass media online the more exposure they have. What comes with this exposure is the growth in girls’ sexualization, increased issues with self-image, and questions about whether sexual images in the media is effective marketing.

How Has Sexualization Become so Prevalent in Our Culture?

Looking back at history to talk about sex was taboo until the late 60s. During the late 60s is when a sexual revolution happened and it was all about love. Most advertisements in this time were shifting from sexist portrayals of women to more ads being sexual in nature. This sexual revolution wasn’t the beginning of the women having media pressure to look a certain way. Although the “ideal” body type had changed between the 50s and 60s, during the 50s their was very blunt advertising towards girls and women that to get any boy to like them they could not be skinny. This kind of advertisement has been able to stay alive in our culture since the 50s, it’s form may have changed since then but it is still affecting young  girls today. Going back to the 50s we see a different type of role women would play in advertisements. During the 50s it was common for most women to be housewives and stay home to clean, cook, and care for their children. So advertisements played on that factor of women being housewives and men being being more dominant. We can see this portrayal in many famous vintage ads such as this ad for Van Heusen Ties shown above. The ad portrays a woman serving her husband breakfast in bed on her knees, almost as if worshipping her husband. The caption says “ Show her it’s a man’s world” this caption just has nothing to do with ties. My guess is the advertisers creating this ad wanted to say buy our ties cause it will show your wife you’re in charge, even though a simple article of clothing like a tie cannot portray a status symbol in a home. Throughout the decades this trend has continued, just changing with new ideals as our society changed. If we jump to today’s media and ads wecan see the same patterns. Sexualization has really grown in our culture because of the ever changing human image and ideals, with the growth of technology this sexualization can be spread worldwide.

Does sex really sell?

The use of sex to sell products has been around for decades. In 1885 W.Duke and Sons, a manufacturer of facial soap, used trading cards with explicit photos of popular female stars to sell their products. Sex has been selling products since before that though, and it still continues today. The idea behind it is that humans can’t resist looking at these materials and are drawn to them. The sexual nature of the ads can leave a more impactful memory on the viewer. Some recent studies have found that sex might not actually sell like we thought for all these decades. A study conducted by University of Illinois advertising professor John Wirtz, found that yes people are more likely to remember ads with sexual nature but this has not been found to be linked to the choice the buyer makes when buying the product or another brand.

Modern Sexualization in The Media And How it Affects Young Girls

Today’s culture has become very open about being sexual in the last 55 years.  With that comes the growth of sexualization in the media as well. You will see advertisers and social media stars flaunting “Ideal” bodies and sexual references. Today social media is also used as an outlet to sell and advertise products. In the picture to the right you can see Kylie Jenner, a very popular influencer with girls today, advertising a diet tea. In her caption she says “using @fittea before shoots is my favorite”. She’s showing that she uses a diet tea to get skinny before a shoot. This is promoting the “ideal” body image even more by telling girls they should diet to look good enough. Kylie along with many other instagram models and stars advertise products in the same way. This along with ads like this one, American Apparel isnotorious for creating over sexualized ads portraying women as objects. These stores are where girls are shopping to find trendy clothes, and they will see ads like this frequently. It is almost impossible to avoid this kind of media and advertising. In the ad to the left there is a model posing with her legs wide open with the caption “now open”. This ad, surprisingly is about a new store opening but you would not know that veryeasily without looking at the small writing explaining it. The main focus in this ad is the girl, laid out across the sheets with her legs wide open, not the fact that there is a new store opening. There are countless amounts of ads like this. Looking at most of these images I cringe a little bit at how overly sexualized they are. I gave out a survey to kids aged 14-17, in this survey included one of these over sexualized ads, the question was “is this image wrong, is yes explain why?”. The graph to the left shows the percentages of people who said yes this ad is wrong and no the ad is fine. Below the chart is the ad the kids were asked about. More than half of the kids surveyed said there was something wrong with the image. After going through and reading the answers of why the ad is wrong, I realized almost half of the kids who answered yes did not think the ad was sexual, but instead said the girl was too skinny. At first I didn’t understand why they were saying she was so skinny since they could not even see her body. Then i realized that these kids were assuming this model was skinny, without even seeing her body. This said a lot to me about how these kids think. They are almost preprogrammed from the advertisements and media they grew up seeing that if she is in a advertisement or a model she must be skinny. After this part of the survey most of the questions were personal and about body image and media views. A lot of the data collected from this survey speaks for itself like this cart below showing how many kids said they felt insecure about their self image and body because of media influence. 86.7% is a lot of the kids and it is sad to see that these kids feel this way. After that I hoped to go into more depth
about what parts of the media or kids own social lives make them feel insecure. Although media plays a huge role in creating body image and insecurities they can also be created by friends, family, and people you see everyday. The next question that I collected data about was more in depth about who or what made kids feel insecure. In the graph to the right you will see how these kids answered and most of the kids said it was their own perception, second was peer pressure, and third was media outlets. After seeing the data I was wondering about where the kids who said their own perceptions are getting the idea for what they want to be, because body image concerns would not even exist without pressure from media and others. So where do these kids get the perceptions and ideas, from society. The same goes for the peer pressure. Why are other kids pressuring each other too look a certain way, and who gets to decide that certain way is right? The answer to question is of course the media and society. It is a vicious cycle of comparing yourself to others, who are also comparing themselves to others all trying to be the “ideal”. The next chart explains which part(s) of the kid’s bodies they said they had once felt or still do feel insecure about. Not one body part option given had
no selections. Be
ing a teen girl myself I expected this data to be how it is. Hearing other girls talk about how they feel and what parts of themselves they hate. The parts with the most selections were stomach/abs, legs, arms, musculature, hips, want to lose weight, and thighs. This data is not really surprising, these parts are often put pressure on to look perfect. 

How This Can Have Long Term Effects?

After seeing all the data my next thought was this has to have long term effects on the kids. Along with the body image issues can come bullying. To help myself visualize this process and cycle I had to make a flowchart to understand it all. As the beginning of the article talked about it all began with the growth of culture and sexual exposure acceptance. Next is the technology growth, with the boom in technology everyone has access to the media and the images kids are seeing. Because of this kids have phones and computers and tablets and are exposed to these things more. They see this over sexualization being portrayed by their role models and want to copy them. This leads to the kids themselves being over sexualized and when they realize they can’t be the same as their older role models. This leaves us with with kids acting way too old for their age. All these things together can lead to bullying, cyber and in person. After the kids realize they can’t be these things and the “ideal” body type it leads to body image issues. These all lead to eating disorders, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders. These have lifelong effects, this anxiety and depression can last all through a young girl’s life. The eating disorders can lead to death and extreme medical issues that can be life long and even take years off their lives. The depressive disorders can lead to suicide. Eating disorders have gotten so severe that every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. That’s about one person per hour. 24 people a day. 168 people in a week. 730 people in a month. That amount is sickening and the long term effects it leaves on their families is tragic. Even the people who do not end suffering from these issues will have this imprinted ideal of how they, people around them, and even their family should look. The cycle is almost never ending for these girls.

A Warning to Young Girls And Parents

A warning and some advice for parents to stop these long term issues. Although your child might not like it. It’s good to monitor what they see. You should talk to your kids about body image and explain that they can’t see these media images as the only thing they should be. It’s not good to smother your kids and control every part of their lives, as they are kids and teens and need learning experiences. It is good to talk to your kids and help them understand these things and build up their self confidence so they do not have these long term issues. My message to young girls is that there is no ideal body type. Everyone has their own body and there is no perfect body. You can’t spend all this time worrying about peer pressure and insecurities when you could be enjoying life. The long term effects of letting these media images affect you is not worth it. Of course this won’t fix all body image problems because there is still bullying. Of course bullying will get to you but you just have to let it go and not let it get to you. Don’t let society and the media control how you feel.