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“The sexualization of young girls and the projection of them as sex objects within the media occurs before they have even reached puberty.” (Durham, 2009).

(trigger warning: SA, r@pe, and mentions of violence against women)

Hypersexualized children

The sexualization of a person occurs when the person’s value comes only from their sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of their other characteristics; a person is sexually objectified – that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action (APA, 2008). 

In this instance, both of these forms of sexualization are being used in a hyper-extended form. Virtually every media form provides ample evidence of the sexualization of girls and women; consistenly being portrayed in a sexual manner where they are objectified. In addition, a narrow standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized (Durham, 2009).

Lolita complex in media

The Lolita Effect was coined by Meenaski G. Durahm. The effect analyzes the media’s portrayal of young girls, whilst using history as a guide. The sexualization of young girls is no new phenomenon. Looking to Shirley Temple as an example, one of Temple’s first roles in 1932 was as an exotic dancer in a bar for soldiers in “War Babies.” She was three years old at the time. Those in charge of Temple’s career exploited the sexualization of her childhood innocence (Shprintz, 2006). 

The movie depicted Temple as a burlesque dancer. Throughout Temple’s career, they figured out how to preserve the veneer of innocence while teasing the men who proved her greatest admirers both on and off screen. Her character was often an orphan, consistently finding herself the “darling” of bachelors, widowers, lonely uncles, in “love” stories that feature non-childlike caresses on both sides (Shprintz, 2006). Additionally, another prime example of this can be seen through the career of Natalie Portman in the “Leon: The Professional” film, where a similar trope was used. The film portrays Natalie Portman, 12 at the time, having a relationship with an older man through a case of Stockholm syndrome. The objectification she experienced as a child in this film followed her throughout her career (Sanchez, 2020). Portman is open about the horrifying objectification she experienced as a child from this movie role. Her first fan mail was a rape fantasy story written by a grown man. Later, a local radio station would start a countdown to her 18th birthday (Sanchez, 2020). 

The American Psychological Association (APA) studied and examined the sexualization of young girls within the media. One study examined coded advertisments over a 40-year period in five magazines targeted to men, women or a general adult readership. 1.5% of the ads portrayed children in a sexualized manner, of those that did, 85% sexualized girls rather than boys (APA, 2008). Furthermore, the percentage of sexualizing ads has increased over time. Examples of this sexualization of girls can be easily found. These include advertisements such as the Sketcher’s ad depicting Christina Aguilera dressed as a schoolgirl in pigtails, with her shirt unbuttoned, licking her pencil. This ad was for the well known kids shoe brand that was targeted towards young girls. Within the clothing brand realm, there were also found to be thongs sized for 7-10 year-olds, some printed with slogans such as “wink wink” (APA, 2008). 

An extensive analyses documenting the sexualization of girls has yet to be done. Research documenting the pervasiveness and influence of such products and portrayals is sorely needed. Whilst there is this large lack of research, examples can be found virtually everywhere. Music, television, film, clothing, ads, and more have yet to be fully examined in their objectified portrayals of young girls and women alike as well as the mental, physical, and emotional effects that these portrayals have on women and girls. 

American Psychological Association. (2008). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.

Durham, M. G. (2009). The Lolita effect: The media sexualization of young girls and what we can do about it. Abrams.

Sanchez, C. (2020). Natalia Portman says that being sexualized as a child made her feel unsafe. Bazaar. 

Shprintz, J. (2006). Tarnishing Temple’s image. Variety.

Prue Love

Northern Arizona '25

Prue is a first-year Sociology major and Photography, International Communications, and Asian Studies triple minor at Northern Arizona University. She hopes to use aspects of her major and minors to work in the journalism industry. She is currently an editor for Her Campus and a freelance graphic designer & artist. When she's not writing or doesn't have her eyes glued to a screen you can usually find her knitting, reading, or snowboarding.
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