How the Media Stole My “Sexy”

As the summer days begin to shorten and autumn looms near, I sit here in amazement that it has been almost a year since the SPARK Summit!  On that inspiring day in October, loads of women, young and old, gathered to push back against the rampant media sexualization of women and girls. The Summit kick-started a movement that continues to fight for girls’ rights to enabling conditions for developing healthy sexuality – a sexuality that is not defined by someone else, especially not the media. In short, SPARK encourages women and girls to “take sexy back!”

But does “taking sexy back” imply that we women have somehow lost our “sexy”? Au contraire. I would say it was stolen from us.

The SPARK Summit, and the movement that it ignited, was in part a response to the Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.[1][2] This report compiled mountains of important research on how girls are sexualized in U.S. culture, and particularly in the media. (CLICK HERE for a copy!) This research shows that female characters in movies or music videos are not as important as male characters, and are often overly sexualized. For example, in G-rated films, 75% of all of the characters are male. In music videos on BET, 84% of the videos include sexual imagery, and 71% of women in these videos wear provocative clothing or nothing at all, compared with only 35% of men. This kind of sexual objectification, which conceals how complex and intelligent real women and girls are, shows how undervalued women are in our society – apparently, we’re only good for looking at. Why can’t women be presented as thinking, feeling human beings instead of just decorations for car or perfume advertisements?

Presenting women in this narrow and overly sexualized way actually steals our “sexy” right out from under us. How can women and girls be expected to understand our own sexualities when we are constantly bombarded with increasingly narrow definitions of what society says is “sexy”? I don’t know about you, but the times I feel sexiest look (and more importantly, feel) pretty much nothing like what the media prescribes.

Still, I can’t help but feel like I must be doing something wrong if I don’t look like a super model – and I’m not alone. According to the APA Report, girls as young as 12 already worry more about how their bodies look than what their bodies can do. This may be why, for example, girls start underestimating their math abilities relative to boys right around puberty – when they have to start worrying about how their maturing bodies look – and eventually drop out of higher-level math courses altogether.

Sometimes seeing this research with our own eyes and talking about it with others is just what we need to remember that we’re not alone. The SPARK Summit brought tons of diverse women together in person and virtually so that we could each “take sexy back” from the thieving media and support one another while doing it. I had the awesome opportunity to walk around the Summit asking women what they thought about the media, sexualization, and how to push back. Take a look at this video to see what the girls and women had to say.

Lucky for women and girls everywhere, October 22, 2010 was only the beginning of the SPARK movement. Since that momentous day, a grassroots effort has begun to reclaim our sexualities from the debilitating grasp of the media. And as for me, though it’s definitely a work in progress, I’ll never stop trying to reclaim my “sexy,” no matter what the media throws my way.


[1] American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf

 

[2] For even more information about the media sexualization of girls and what we can all do to push back, see Lamb, S., & Brown, L.M. (2006). Packaging girlhood: Rescuing our daughters from marketers’ schemes. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

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