One nearly daily battle is around clothes. In our APA Task Force report on the sexualization of girls we detailed three sources of sexualization. The first is cultural. When we walk into the mall, we see this source all around us: The second source is interpersonal.
Girls are sexualized by their peers and by adults. The third source is girls themselves. Girls want to wear hip, trendy clothes. And these seem, increasingly, to be exactly the clothes that make us worried.
Those are the clothes all their pop culture icons are wearing. And self-sexualization is even sold to girls as a source of power! The message is that females manipulate with their appearance. Girls self-sexualize, in other words, because they see all around them that this is the way to be a popular, successful female.
So how do we begin to fight this? Tackling the cultural-level sexualization of girls is a big job. I do think, however, parents and schools can and should do more to educate boys and men to stop objectifying the female body. They can help it, and they should.
When safe, stare right back and hold a mirror up to sexualizers — they ought to be ashamed. And now we come to the battleground of the third source of sexualization: Here, decades of research on the negative consequences of self-objectification give us some ammunition.
Studies show that girls and young women who have a more self-objectified view of themselves and wearing sexualized clothing puts girls in a state of self-objectification perform more poorly on a math test, throw a ball less effectively, and feel more body shame and anxiety. What is it about self-objectifying that leads to these negative consequences? Sexualizing clothing typically requires a lot of mental energy for the wearer. This way, we help them make choices for themselves about their appearance.
Nobody wants to wear something ugly. So, help your daughter see the benefits of wearing outfits that reflect who she is and what she wants to do, not who the sexualizing culture says she is or ought to be. These kinds of clothes enable her free and non-self-conscious movement in the world. Her research interests center around the social psychology of women, gender, and the body.