We’re bombarded with sexualized images of women on a regular basis — in fact, a 2011 study found that, unlike men, the portrayal of women in the media over the last several decades has become increasingly sexualized. So it comes as no surprise that a new study revealed girls as young as 6 are now taking notice.
An Australian study published in the journal Body Image found that young girls ages 6 to 11 can easily distinguish between nonsexualized and sexualized images of girls in teen magazines and music videos.
The researchers found that the girls in the study were more likely to describe nonsexualized images of girls as “nice,” while they perceived the sexualized images of girls as trying to look “attractive” and “cool,” according to the West Australian.
That’s bad news, since it means that damage to their body image and self-esteem is starting very early.
“By being exposed to sexualized images at a young age more widely than ever before, research is demonstrating that girls may be at increased risk of becoming sexually involved at a younger age, engage in high-risk sexual behavior, show increased body image distortions, and be at risk of developing eating-disordered behavior,” Jill M. Emanuele, PhD, senior clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, tells Yahoo Beauty.
So what can parents and educators do to help? “Use Internet filters, parental controls and limit screen-time exposure,” suggests Emanuele. But since it’s impossible to block out all sexualized images, it’s just as important to have age-appropriate, honest conversations with your children about them — and at a younger age than you might think.
“Pay attention to what the girls are watching and being exposed to,” says Emanuele, “and take opportunities to discuss what they are seeing and teach them about healthier perspectives in viewing these images and content.”
Michelle Jongenelis, the study’s lead researcher, also recommends educational programs for girls about body image starting at a younger age, rather than waiting until the teen years. “Implementing these programs in adolescence may be too late — we need to start educating even younger girls before their attitudes and beliefs become ingrained and resistant to change,” she told the West Australian.