The young woman sitting in front of me in my psychotherapy office is articulate, intelligent, well groomed and attractive. Jessica has also thrown up her food three times a day, every day, since puberty. “I have to be prettier,” she says. “I just can’t go on looking like this.”
We might think Jessica’s anxiety is all in her head, but a disturbing trend is leading to a different conclusion. A new study published in the journal Sexuality and Culture (September 2011) “has found that the portrayal of women in the media over the last several decades has become increasingly sexualized, even ‘pornified,’” according to Erin Hatton, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Buffalo. “In the 2000’s, there were 10 times more hypersexualized images of women than men…this is problematic because it indicates a decisive narrowing of media representations of women.”
This can mean undermining a woman’s confidence in her body promoting shame, anxiety, eating disorders and/or depression. Sexualized images of women have been found to increase violence against them, and to decreased sexual satisfaction among both sexes.
“The consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls’ healthy development,” said Eileen Zurbriggen, PhD, chair of the Task Force and associate professor at UCSC. “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….The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents, boys and girls, that lead to healthy sexual development.”
As parents and other trusted adults, we play a major role in contributing to either the sexualization of the young women in our lives or to giving them a healthier sense of what it means to be a human being. We can take an educative role by encouraging young people to question the images that are being promoted and by sharing information on the negative effects.
Sexualization means that a person’s value comes only from his/her sexual appeal to the exclusion of other characteristics. We can help young women like Jessica and all our daughters, nieces, friends, and yes, our young men, to understand that kindness, creativity, intellectual competence, physical abilities, compassion, service, spirituality and love matter more than being sexy.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth