Why Online Media Need Not Be a Gateway to Sexualization

By Stacey Ross

It seems that 24/7 our kids (girls, in particular) are bombarded with images and attitudes online and in the media that leave them feeling inadequate about their looks and bodies and pressured into growing up too soon. Much of what they see and read consists of illusions and self-serving "truths," enhanced with special effects, make-up and lighting, and smoke and mirrors – all unreasonable and impossible to live up to!

I am convinced that the reason so many girls are seduced into a culture of obsessive selfies and sexualization has less to do with media being to blame and more to do with how parents prematurely grant their kids "trust" and privileges in regards to sexual freedom, social media access, wardrobe choices, underage drinking, etc. Children are freely gaining opportunities day-in and day-out to explore and experiment with all that our mainstream media and online media platforms have to offer, and that includes the slow and steady exposure to seedy and exploitative content.

On the other hand, by blowing things out of proportion and avoiding discussing certain topics and trends, parents can perform more of a disservice than anything else, in my humble opinion. I am not, for example, against airbrushing photos or entertaining the "sex sells" strategy, and, I am not going to toss Barbie into the trash can because her image sets unrealistic expectations of beauty; she's a lovely doll, for goodness sake! But I do think that that to some degree we need to shelter our kids, and steer them in the direction that will encourage their well-being and a healthy journey while transitioning to adulthood.

A Redbook article shares a compelling point made by Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence: "Just as they say marijuana is a gateway drug, all this stuff that's being marketed to little girls is a gateway to sexualization." Well said! So what to do?

For starters, how about exposing  our girls to role models that portray a cool factor that captures girls' hearts, imaginations and talents – perhaps those that don't focus on exterior values as much as a girl’s internal beauty and talents? Also, it is better for young ladies and girls to hear their peers preach it rather than their good ol' moms!

Let's celebrate efforts like the #AerieReal and Dove campaigns and those that help move away from extreme Photoshop usage and only using supermodels. Let's applaud when we see ads portraying "untouched" models, which show real ladies and their realistic bodies. Let's point out modest depictions of fashion and beauty.

Writer and editor Laura Willard in Upworthy shared, "I want to show my daughter, over and over, why the images of so many women she sees aren't realistic." She, along with many others, also wants to see dolls created that better resemble images that appear before us on a daily basis.

I say let's expose our girls to online personalities such as such as Katie Gregoire, who challenges us to put off the pressure to be "hot" and focus on being naturally beautiful. We can also challenge our girls to discuss the unforgettable speech from Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, where she spoke about beauty and eloquently conveyed a message that clearly transcends all skin color shades and radiates, over all, self-love, acceptance and compassion.

She concluded her speech with, "And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty."

How else do you suggest we turn up the volume to messages and images that we wish our children and daughters to see more of? Do share!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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