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Former model teaches girls to reject sexualized stereotypes of women in media

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30 2012 6:00 a.m. MDT

A former model has turned her back on the fashion industry to join the forces of activists teaching young girls that self-worth should not be based on looks.

Nicole Clark abandoned modeling at the peak of her career when she began to see the damaging influence it could have on women. On her website, she now calls her years of modeling an "embarrassing part of my life."

Today, Clark runs programs for girls and educators to promote self-esteem and fight against sexualizing messages directed toward young girls.

"Many girls are already very unhappy. I have seen how it is perpetuated by the media, so by sharing my workshops with girls, I can help them defend themselves against the medias mission to derail them by brainwashing them into believing their purpose is to be skinny, sexy and shopaholics," Clark told Fox News.

The sexualization of girls is not new.

A 2011 study published in the Sex Roles' journal found nearly 30 percent of young girls' clothing is sexualized. Walk into most children's stores, with mannequins modeling short miniskirts and heels for girls under 10, and the results aren't so surprising.

Nicole Savarese, a mother of three in a Chicago suburb, told the Chicago Tribune, "I know girls who dress their 6-month-old babies in mock leather pants, and in those shoes that look like they have a stiletto. But I just feel that she's 5. Why would I want to dress her older when she's going to get older already?"

In June, another study found girls as young as 6 were already begin to see themselves in a sexual way.

The study by psychologists at Knox College used sets of paper dolls to measure the responses to which doll the girl thought looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was popular in school and she want to play with. In each set, one doll was dressed in a covered but "trendy" outfit, the other in a tight, revealing "sexy" outfit.

For each question the girls chose the sexy doll most often, with 68 percent saying they wanted to look like the doll and 72 percent claiming the sexy doll would be more popular.

Lead researcher Christy Starr, told Live Science, "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."

Even the Mickey Mouse gang is becoming sexualized.. New York's Barneys recently released a new slimmer, 5-foot-11 runway Minnie with an accompanying lean Mickey and friends. he reason for the change according to Dennis Freeman, Barneys' creative director, was that "the standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress."

Many, like Clark, find such messages to be damaging to the self-esteem of girls and a possible cause of eating disorders. As such, more are fighting back.

Last summer, several teen girls < a href=http://www.sparksummit.com/2012/07/04/seventeen-commits-now-teen-vogue/ target="_blank">petitioned Teen Vogue and Seventeen magazines to show a wider variety of models and limit the amount of photoshopping done on images.

Other groups have also formed to help women and teens navigate media messages surrounding appearance and sexuality. For Clark, it's about changing the way people view and use media.

"My aim is that one day the media aimed at children and teens will be on their side, instead of working against them. It will mean Im out of work, but I welcome that day."

Email: kharmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: @harmerk

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