The online Journal, Sex Roles, just released a study which found that 72 % of 6 year old girls studied declared that sexier girls are more popular. And a whopping 68 % also said that they wanted to look sexier. Let’s not feign shock, Moms and Dads, we all know exactly what’s going on here. As my buddy Laura Ingraham rants, kids are being pornified- right beneath our noses. Is Lady Gaga, Abercrombie and Fitch, Homer Simpson or the lewd T-shirt manufacturers at fault? Give each of us a minute or two and we can rattle off dozens of perpetrators marketing sex to our little kids. I don’t like them any more than you do and I, like you, am intensely frustrated that these folks get away with sexualizing and objectifying our young girls. But in my book, as a pediatrician, the buck doesn’t stop with them; it stops with us- the parents.
While the study looked at the fact that the majority of little girls wanted to be sexy because they identified sexiness as a sign of popularity, they also looked at what protected girls from feeling this way. The answer? Moms and religion. They found that the media set girls up for wanting to be sexy but when mothers reinforced this belief with self-objectification (remarking on their appearance and weight frequently) the girls decided they wanted to be sexier. On the other hand, girls whose mothers commanded respect from others, focused more on their character than on their appearance, and taught their young girls to reject messages which sexualized them, did much better in life. Religion, too, teaches girls to live with greater self respect. It turns out, that we, in fact- not the media and advertisers have the last word when it comes to what our girls believe about themselves. Our daughters mimic what media and advertisers tell them, but they become us, their mothers. They watch us, try on our behaviors, watch how we respond to them and then make decisions about who they want to be.
It is exactly for this reason that I rail against mothers who read Fifty Shades of Gray. Don’t kid yourself, your young daughters are watching what you do, they pay attention to what you read and why you read it. You read porn, they think it’s not only okay, but that it’s good (after all, in most young girls’ eyes, everything Mom does is good.) If we expect our girls not to be sexualized, we have some decisions to make. We can’t sit on the fence. What’s bad for them is bad for us. Period.
The world our girls are growing up in doesn’t like them very much. So we mothers need to find the intestinal fortitude to live better lives for their sake. We need to be willing to own the power that we rightly have in their lives and determine to make a difference, rather than shrug our shoulders and pretend that we are victims too. I am tired of hearing mothers lament that they just don’t have much influence over their daughters’ decisions, behaviors (particularly the way they dress) and feelings. When in the history of women’s liberation did we come to believe that?
So Moms, quit throwing your power away. Reclaim it and make some decisions. Don’t ask your daughter to be something that you aren’t willing to be yourself and when you do the asking, believe it will work. Because it will.
(photo credits in order of appearance: French Vogue, Toddlers & Tiaras and Daily Mail UK)