Beyonce’s Sesame Street Walkers: Bootylicious Babes or Pimped Out Preemies?

Welcome to “Girls Gone Wild,” Little Tykes Addition. These ads featuring Dereon Girls clothes might provide a momentary laugh if they came out of an old “dress-up box” or if the girls were doing a mock “Pussy Cat Dolls presents Girlicious” audition. But the idea that they’re aimed for public view is alarming.

Still raw from the Miley Cyrus Mess, people are weighing in and they’re not happy with what they’re seeing.

According to New York Post’s Michelle Malkin,

If you thought the soft-porn image of Disney teen queen Miley Cyrus – wearing nothing but ruby-stained lips and a bedsheet – in Vanity Fair magazine was disturbing, you ain’t seen nothing yet. [The young models] are seductively posed and tarted up, JonBenet Ramsey-style, with lipstick, blush and face powder…The creepiness factor is heightened by the fact that women were responsible for marketing this child exploitation. So, what’s next? Nine-year-olds performing stripper routines?

So why are these sexualized images such a problem?

Media, such as magazine ads, TV, video games, and music videos can have a detrimental effect on children.

Not only has the sexualization of girls and women in the media lead to mounting public concern, researchers continue to find that the images (and sexual objectification) can have a profound affect on the confidence, body image, dieting behaviors, emotional wellbeing and sexual development of girls. Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the chair of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls is scrutinizing these issues;

“The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real,” said “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

What do they mean by sexualization?

When researchers speak of sexualization, they’re referring to when a person’s value come from their sexual appeal (looks) or their sexual behavior and when the person is looked upon as a sexual object, to the exclusion of other characteristics such as character, intelligence, and ability.

Examples:

  • Dolls with pouty lips, mini-skirts, and fish-net stockings aimed at the 4-8 year old market place
  • Thongs marked for young girls ages 7 to 10 years old (some printed with slogans like “eye candy” and “wink wink” on them).
  • Young pop-stars and celebrities dressed provocatively or inappropriately
  • Video games with sexualized images like “Miss Bimbo
  • Cartoon-clad thongs for teens

But are children and teens really that impressionable?

While there hasn’t been a body of work that directly links sexualized images in ads and electronic media to problems in girls, individual studies strongly suggest that a link may be evident when it comes to media and eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls. For example;

  • Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles.
  • Middle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.
  • The average person sees between 400-600 ads per day
  • About 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV
  • After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with—they were all equally affected.
  • About 41% of teen girls report that magazines are their most important source of information with regard to dieting and health and 61% of teen girls read at least one fashion magazine often.

But here’s the real deal:

Be vigilant about the media that’s delivered through your mail slot. Be conscious about the messages that are conveyed in your living room. If you don’t like what you see:

(1) Don’t buy it: Beyonce may make the clothes but you make the decisions. Only you can determine what comes through your doors from the mall and what goes out your door to school.

(2) Shut it off: No; you can’t be with your child at all times but it’s important to supervise the media flow into your household. There are plenty of parental locks and internet blocks that can put your in control.

(3) Talk about it: Let your child know your values and why you don’t think what the ads are portraying is a smart choice for her or your family.

(4) Ask questions: You may be surprised by your child’s view of the media. They may be more savvy than you think. Ask what she thinks about what she’s seeing—be present—and listen.

(5) Expose her to positive images: There are several positive role models in the media. However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (we saw what happened with Miley and Jamie Lynn Spears). Open up your children’s world to actual living, breathing, 3-Dimentional role models in your community so that they can be inspired by something well beyond what they see on TV or in clothing ads.

Some decision-makers might be making fools of themselves by “pimping out” little girls in ads or draping a 15 year old tween queen in a sheet and sending it out to print, but you’re still the parent. Continue to instill values in your young children and they’ll be more likely to focus their attention away from these tween tarts and dolls gone wild and towards more appropriate activities; like playing dress up and watching Sesame Street.

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13 Responses

  1. omg, Robyn, I had just linked to Michelle Malkin’s blog on this one and snagged the photo for a post on the ‘diversity/princess problem’ fairytales, etc: http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=1522

    I was hoping that YOU might cover this instead of me, as I’m in the middle of our big film screening today in S.F. on mobilizing moms for healthier school foods (Two Angry Moms!) http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=1479

    Ah, there IS a fairy godmother looking out for Shaping Youth! Thanks for this, I’ll post it pronto! –Amy

  2. From the Washington Post today:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2008/05/08/DI2008050803178.html

    Liz Kelly (Celebritology) opened her live chat today with:

    I also wanted to tack a little something on to yesterday’s post (and ensuing discussion) about Beyonce’s House of Dereon Kids line. Most of us agreed the ads are in bad taste and 60 percent said they thought the ads oversexualized young girls. I had asked child and adolescent development specialist Dr. Robyn Silverman, who has her own fab blog here for her thoughts on the ads. Because of some badly timed meetings for both of us, her comment didn’t make it to the piece. But it should have, so I’m sharing it here:

    “Let’s just say it — bejeweled red high heels and feather boas are more appropriate for street walkers than Sesame Street viewers. On the one hand, these ads send powerful messages and children are impressionable. On the other hand, if parents actually choose to dress their daughters in this manner, that is much more of a problem. We live in a society where clothes (or lack there of) “make the man” or in this case, “the girl.” In the wake of the Miley Cyrus debacle, my best advice to parents is to be vigilant about the media that’s coming through their door and say an unequivocal “no” when their eight-year-old daughter comes out of her room dressed like “Pussy Cat Girls Present Girlicious” asking to go to the mall. Beyonce may make the clothes but you make the decision.”

    She also wrote an incredibly detailed look at the ways sexualization is creeping into kid marketing, so might be worth a trip (after the chat!) for any parents out there.

  3. From the Washington Post Celebritology Live Chat:

    Virginia: I have a five-year-old daughter who is very tall for her age, so she’s had to wear clothes that are a bit mature for several seasons now. Mostly I don’t have a problem but I do say NO to the attitude t-shirts. My child will not walk around advertising that Boys Suck or she’s a Diva.
    I’ve also told her NO many times on the Bratz dolls and related knockoffs. I’ve tried explaining why, but it’s hard. She’s decided I don’t like the lips. We’ll pass a doll and she’ll say, “Do you like this one? She doesn’t have big lips!” Eeep.

    Liz Kelly: Good for you. I’m not even a fan of those t-shirts for adults. If I see another hip chickie wearing a “Little Miss Sunshine” t-shirt I may just snap.

    I don’t get the success of the Bratz at all. I mean, who is buying their kids toys that not only look like little streetwalkers, but are also, by definition, encouraging their little girls to be bratty?

  4. Bratz: Who’s is buying their kids the Bratz crap? My co-worker. She even gave her kid a Bratz-themed birthday party.

    Liz Kelly: That’s just wrong.

    Just don’t make the mistake of reminding her of it when little Bratty Sue gets all mouthy and starts hanging out at Dream.

  5. Dr. Robyn, Boston: Speaking of Bratz, as we discussed yesterday, the dolls have seen huge success worldwide — bratty attitude, big lips, and street walking accessories included.

    When the APA report came out saying that sexualization of girls in media (Bratz toys, thongs for little wee ones…details in my blog) were umm, bad for girls development, this argument ensued:

    “Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality,” the report says.

    Isaac Larian, CEO of Bratz doll manufacturer MGA Entertainment, based in Van Nuys, Calif., says he “adamantly disagrees” with the report’s assessment of the dolls. The company has sold more than 125 million worldwide in the seven years the dolls have been on the market, he says.

    Of course, saying in a nutshell, that the number of sales surely shows that the dolls must be GREAT for children’s development. As if they’re connected.
    OK off my soap box.

    Liz Kelly: Dr. Robyn, you’re here with us!

    Thanks for weighing in.

  6. I just happened to stumble upon this debate at the urging of a friend. I have treated sex offenders in a state prison a few years ago and continue to provide Behavioral therapy to male youths. What is just as shocking to me is the lack of information of how sexual predators think. I believe the profession owes women and families this knowledge. Yes, the Knowles familiy should all be ashamed with this attempt to pimp young girls this way. Hopefully, this exchange of ideas can save someone a great deal of trauma and dissapointment.

  7. […] you have the hypersexualization of women and girls in music videos, magazines, internet games and advertisements, and on the other hand you have the classics we all used to love—like Sesame Street and Disney. […]

  8. […] posted the fact that “about 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV” (Silverman, 2008). Available in stores now are thongs for girls age seven to ten with apparent clever sayings […]

  9. […] messages are everywhere. Even our daughter’s clothes and favorite dolls and toys are getting a boost, a lift, a pout, and a “push” to grow up sooner […]

  10. […] Sexualization of girls have been linked with eating disorders, low self esteem, and depression. […]

  11. […] anyway, back to our explorer in question.  Well, she’s not a Sesame Street Walker as we might have assumed.  But there are some issues.  She’s traded in her exploring boots […]

  12. […] back to our explorer in question. Well, she’s not a Sesame Street Walker as we might have assumed. But there are some issues. She’s traded in her exploring boots for […]

  13. […] Sexualization of girls have been linked with eating disorders, low self esteem, and depression. […]

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