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Young Australian girls aware of sexualisation

Media release

Girls as young as six may be recognising the sexualisation depicted in media images with concerning potential future consequences, according to Curtin University researchers.

Young Australian girls aged 6-11 years were shown pictures of sexualised and non-sexualised girls the same age as them, in an effort to explore how young Australian girls describe and respond to sexualised and non-sexualised depictions of their peers.

Lead researcher Dr Michelle Jongenelis, from Curtin’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, said researchers found a marked difference in responses to the images of the sexualised and non-sexualised girls across the interview data.

“The majority of participants described the sexualised girl as trying to look ’cool’, ‘stylish’, and ‘attractive’,” Dr Jongenelis said.

“They also associated external features such as clothing and make-up with personality traits such as ‘mean’, ‘bossy’, and ‘fake’.”

The research determined by age 11, young girls appeared to have assimilated distinct stereotypes about sexualised girls.

“Girls are exposed from an early age to sexualising content in teen magazines, prime-time television programs, advertising, music videos and lyrics, the dolls that they play with, and the clothes that they wear,” Dr Jongenelis said.

“Previous research has found the sexualisation of girls has increased and become more explicit in recent years, and our research found they are noticing this sexualisation and beginning to develop attitudes towards it.

“This is concerning because considerable evidence demonstrates the psychological consequences of sexualisation in women and adolescents in the form of body shame, eating disorders, and depression.

“Previous research found sexualised women and girls are less likely to be perceived as strong, intelligent, moral, capable, and qualified for high status jobs,” she said.

By providing an understanding of how sexualisation is responded to by young girls, this study represented important exploratory work that can inform parents and teachers of the degree to which young girls may be influenced by sexualised content.

“Media literacy programs that help young girls become critically aware of sexualising content are important. Our results, however, indicate that the implementation of 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,” Dr Jongenelis said

Support for the research project was provided by The Butterfly Foundation and done in collaboration with The University of Western Australia.

The paper was published in Body Image and the full paper is available upon request.