All of these powerful influences artfully seduce girls with promises of beauty, adoration, pleasure, and fulfillment. The spell is largely cast without regard to innocence and natural maturation. Instead culture instills the firm message that feminine worth is based on appearance, the ability to gain attention and approval, and the ability to produce a long list of accomplishments.
Laura Choate -- author, counselor, and professor at Louisiana State University -- examines these messages that ruthlessly inundate young women:
- Your worth is based on your appearance. Girls are bombarded with the pressure of a perfect appearance everywhere they turn—from advertisements, television, movies, Internet, fashion magazines, books, music, and videos—the ideal is held out as the standard that girls should attain. Sadly, this hot-sexy-thin-beautiful ideal is imposed upon girls when they are too young to know what this even means. Think of Bratz and Monster High dolls in fishnet stockings and stiletto heels that are marketed to toddlers. This pressure intensifies into the preteen and early adolescent years, as girls observe how they should be as “hot and sexy” as possible, and to look much older than they actually are.
- Your worth is based on gaining attention and approval from others. The message of popular culture is clear: Gaining attention and fame is important, regardless of how it might be obtained. One recent study of 10-12 year olds cited that “being famous” was their #1 most important value for the future. Girls learn to gain attention from behaving in edgy, outrageous, competitive, and often sexually provocative ways. They see this with YouTube videos that go viral, reality television programs with girls backstabbing and fighting one another, and with shows like Pretty Little Liars (the #1 show among teens for several years running). In addition, girls learn that they are expected to create a carefully crafted on‐line image in order to gain attention‐‐one that emphasizes the appearance of popularity rather than the cultivation of actual relationships. Think of the pressure that results from the current “100 Likes Club”—if your picture does not get at least 100 Likes on Facebook, then it is considered an embarrassment. If girls are not “Living for Likes” from others, they fear they will be left behind.
- Your worth is based on your accomplishments. In addition to looking attractive and gaining attention, many girls feel pressure to compete and achieve in all arenas‐- academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities. They believe that they have to be perfect, that if they just work harder, they will be finally become acceptable. In a recent survey reported by Girls’ Life magazine, more than half of girls surveyed said they feel as though they have to succeed at everything, “from school to sports to fitting in the right-size jeans to having a BF (boyfriend)”. According to one girl interviewed for the survey: “All of this pressure makes me feel like I can’t have a life,” she says. “Everything needs to be perfect."
(Laura Choate, Ed.D. LPC. "Relentless Cultural Pressures for Today's Girls."
Psychology Today. July 17, 2015.)
Is it any wonder girls want to shun anything remotely resembling innocent behavior and modest dress to plunge impetuously into premature, falsely perceived adulthood? They are prematurely pressured to be women, not young ladies. If only they knew that unassuming, demure qualities were, in reality, exceedingly more tasteful and so much more beautiful than empty brashness, they might reconsider their "unabashed and stick-it-in-your face" development and choose to moderate their frantic rush to womanhood with a sense of coy inventiveness.
The irony of "hot and sexy" being unfitting for a beautiful young woman does not seem to enter the young feminine brain. If girls wish to be attractive, why don't more embrace a more wholesome, natural appearance and a demeanor fashioned by their authentic intellectual and spiritual qualities instead of copying T&A-touting starlets and performers.
Let me be clear here. I'm not speaking about girls adopting the persona of a sex-starved, comely Lolita. The idea that little girls (or little-girl looks) are seductive is dangerous to real children.
I'm simply saying, "Slow down, young lady. Dress with style and an eye toward beauty with some humility. And, be content to be conservative in thinking at such a tender age."
I can already hear you saying, "That's an antiquated view from someone who has no idea of the reality of 21st century, accepted appeal." Yet, when you look up the word innocent in a dictionary, you find it means "lack of guilt or corruption; purity." Consider how attractive are the tender smiles and laughter of toddlers. And, aren't childhood friendships considered by most to be the strongest? There seems to be something about being firmly connected in innocence that people greatly value and trust.
And, I think despite popular views of teen beauty, the look of innocence is simply beautiful in itself. In young ladies, sensible modesty projects the image of self-restraint and decency.
What, in the long run is "physically attractive" anyway? A 2007 study had participants first rate pictures for attractiveness. After doing distracting math problems, participants saw the pictures again, but with information about the person's personality. When participants learned that a person had positive personality characteristics (e.g., smart, funny, kind), that person was seen as more physically attractive. Conversely, a person with negative personality characteristics (e.g., materialistic, rude, untrustworthy) was seen as less physically attractive. This was true for both females and males.
(Gary Lewandowski; Art Aron; Julie Gee. "Personality goes a long way: The malleability of opposite-sex physical attractiveness". Personal Relationships 14. 2007.)
Refraining from serving up mega-doses of sexuality and giving up striving so hard to be excellent at everything doesn't make a girl unattractive. Nor, does it make her meek or dumb. It actually makes her a more valuable asset because it frees her to concentrate on quality versus quantity in all things.
Here is my message: Being free from unacceptable and unreasonable cultural demands makes a girl more beautiful. Even though aggressive styles, "hot" looks, and loose actions may make a young lady more popular to a crowd, the sacrifice she makes to achieve this artificial attraction may hurt her integrity and cause permanent harm that lasts a lifetime.
While aging into adolescence and late teen years, all girls experience more and more expectations to be perfect in every way. In truth, all girls are born pure and innocent, but fear of survival and being accepted can create thick layers of judgments in their minds. They can actually lose all sense of innocence and become strangers to their own selves.
As unbelievable as it may seem, a new study in 2012 of elementary school-age kids in the Midwest found that most girls as young as 6 are already beginning to think of themselves as sex objects. Researchers found in the past that women and teens think of themselves in sexually objectified terms, but the new study is the first to identify self-sexualization in young girls.
(Jennifer Abbasi. "Why 6-Year-Old Girls Want to Be Sexy." LiveScience. July 16, 2012.)
Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 6- to 9-year-old girls. When shown a set of two dolls, one in revealing clothes and the other in trendy but covered-up clothes, about 70 percent of 60 girls in the study said they looked more like the sexy doll and that the sexy doll was more popular than the non-sexy doll.
"It's very possible that girls wanted to look like the sexy doll because they believe sexiness leads to popularity, which comes with many social advantages," explained lead researcher Christy Starr, who was particularly surprised at how many 6- to 7-year-old girls chose the sexualized doll as their ideal self.
Other studies have found that sexiness boosts popularity among girls but not boys. "Although the desire to be popular is not uniquely female, the pressure to be sexy in order to be popular is."
Here are some interesting findings in the study concerning why such young girls see themselves as sex objects:
"With the notable exception of girls enrolled in dance classes, young girls overwhelmingly demonstrate a sexual-ized view of their desired selves and equate sexiness with popularity. Overall media consumption (TV and movies) is not on its own a risk factor for early sexualization;
rather, mothers play an important contributory or buffering role in this process.
"High media consumption in the presence of high maternal self-objectification or low maternal religiosity puts girls at greater risk for early sexualization (double jeopardy); however, so does low media consumption in the presence of high maternal religiosity (forbidden fruit). On the other hand, maternal instruction about TV shows and the importance placed on teaching daughters religious values buffers girls from early self-sexualization."
(Christine R. Starr & Gail M. Ferguson. "Sexy Dolls, Sexy Grade-Schoolers? Media & Maternal Influences on Young Girls’ Self-Sexualization. Sex Roles. July 06, 2012)
It seems the writing is clear, on-the-wall, and there for people to consider. American girls -- very young American girls -- put a high value on looking and acting sexy.
Yet, we all understand that a perfect "manikin" of a young woman has no depth or totality. She may have an attractive plasticity in a sum of all her parts; however, she remains an object handled and manipulated by others who merely seek to use her.
I believe most girls don't want to become such subhuman Barbie Dolls. I believe influences pushing the end of their innocence at such an early age are extremely detrimental and serve to contribute to creating fewer responsible young ladies who nurture their beauty along with their maturity.