Sexualizing kids: No child left behind — and fighting back

Parents, organizations decide to fight back

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

"In my opinion, we should be blaming the fashion industry as a whole," she writes. "Every day, girls like Thylane (Loubry Blondeau) are made to look older than they are and put in outfits that are far from age appropriate. … The industry isn't hurting just the girls who model in photos, it is hurting girls everywhere."

Another article condemns Urban Outfitters for creating a shirt for teen girls that says "Eat Less" and another talks about a monthly "Hot Mom" contest on Facebook, where mothers submit photos of themselves. One photo from the August contest shows a woman scantily clothed and legs spread wide standing in front of a car; several have moms in skimpy bikinis.

"If we want to celebrate mothers and raise the status of motherhood in our culture — and that is something that we absolutely should want to do — then we're going to have to do so, so much better than a hot mom contest," the article concludes.

The group's website aims to drive change by showing the sexualization of young girls and women.

"We can start today and look everywhere with our eyes and notice this gender imbalance because it is by changing the cultural message that women and girls are less important that we will be able to empower women to reach their full potential," one woman said at the first SPARK conference last fall in New York City, attended by 300 in person and 200 via Internet.

Jason Evert, from San Diego, is a motivational speaker who talks to students about modesty and chastity. He has spoken at schools where dances have been canceled because not only was the dancing becoming too sexual, but because the girls would be wearing dresses that were too skimpy. Some schools, he says, have introduced uniforms to control the problem.

When he asks young girls why they dress the way they do, some say it is what mannequins at the mall are wearing and it looks cute. Others say they have tried to dress modestly but that guys don't pay attention to them when they do.

"One girl told me it made her feel wanted," Evert says. "I told her, 'What are you hoping for — to be gawked at or to be loved? What do you want to be wanted for? If a guy really cares, he should want you for more than your body parts. I always tell the girls 'You will never convince boys of your dignity until you convince yourself.' "

In Utah, two women have said enough to the onslaught.

Identical twins Lexie and Lindsay Kite are working on doctorates in the University of Utah Communications Department and recently launched a campaign called Beauty Redefined that includes billboards with messages like: "You are capable of much more than being looked at" and "There is more to be than eye candy." Reagan Billboards has helped them get their message out on the Wasatch Front.

Lexie remembers sitting in a "media smarts" class as an undergraduate at Utah State University listening to her professor. "My heart pounded faster every time he talked about how women were represented and how it might affect how we see ourselves. I was 18 and knew I wanted to pursue it."

Lindsay felt the same way.

They've studied it now for years and have reached a conclusion. "Sexualization of women and little girls is so extreme, but it is also so normalized in the media," Lexie says.

They believe campaigns like theirs will not only help society think differently about media messages, it can help fight the overweight epidemic. Girls who are most dissatisfied with their bodies tend to become more sedentary over time and are less likely to follow a healthy diet, and girls who are overweight and feel more comfortable with their size are less likely to gain weight as they get older, according to a 2007 Dove international survey.

The women have a quote on their website from feminist activist and author Naomi Wolf, who wrote "The Beauty Myth": "While we cannot directly affect the images [in media], we can drain them of their power. We can turn away from them and look directly at one another. We can lift ourselves and other women out of the myth."

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