In the movies, television shows, commercials, and on billboards, women are more often than men portrayed in a sexual manner. Music videos, song lyrics, on the Internet, and in video games, the feminine image is sexualized. This is having its effect on young girls and adolescent females through the presence of teen mental illnesses.
Teen Mental Health
A report published by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates that mental illnesses linked to this type of portrayal of women include eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
In most forms of the media, a certain standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized, sending a particular message to children and teens of the model of beauty to emulate. Although research on the correlation between the sexualization of females and mental illness has been conducted across all age groups, it is worthy of noting that the particular age group that the media often focuses on is young adult women – female adolescents.
A task force which included various professional members of the APA says sexualization as “occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.” Sexualization also occurs when a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy and when sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
The trouble also arises when female teens sexualize and objectify themselves. Self-objectification occurs when teens learn to think of themselves, their own bodies, as the object of others’ desires. This process begins when female teens internalize an observer’s perspective on their physical body and themselves accordingly. They treat their bodies as objects and worthy of evaluation for their appearance.
Mental Illnesses: Teen Mental Health
The chair of the APA task force indidcate that there are various areas of a female teen’s life that is affected by sexualization, including their cognitive, emotional, psychological and sexual development. For instance, sexualization can undermine a teen’s confidence in herself and lead to body image disturbance, shame, and anxiety. As indicated above, this dysfunctional social pattern tends to lead to the three most common mental illnesses among female children, teens, and adults, which are eating disorders, low self-worth, and depression. When any of these illnesses become noticeable, teen mental health treatment should be looked into. Learn more about the different mental health treatments here.
Sexualization can also disrupt a child’s sexual development by getting in the way of building a healthy sexual self-image. The tendency of sexualized teens to be commonly present through the media affects the attitudes of these young girls. Particularly, the way that they conceptualize femininity and sexuality. In fact, the APA task force indicated that those girls who are more frequently in touch with the mainstream media have stronger attitudes that reflect sexualization. Sadly, this trend is not only specific to America, but affects any country in which females can access Western media. For instance, a study in Fiji provides research into the recent presence of media and its impact on the South Pacific culture. The study observed Fijian adolescent girls dramatically change their attitude toward their bodies.
What was startling about introducing the study to the Fijian culture is providing them with new social norms. Instead of seeing and accepting themselves for who they are, female adolescents in Fiji began to consider themselves “poor and fat”.
Sexualization and self-objectification among female adolescents is so rampant and rooted in the dysfunction of the culture. It will take large measures by adults, educators, professionals in the mental health field, and individual females themselves transform the image of the female into one that is empowering, mature, and respectful.
“Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.” Http://www.apa.org. American Psychological Association, 19 Feb. 2007. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.
Tiggemann, M. and Slater, A. (2013). NetGirls: The Internet, Facebook and body image concern in adolescent girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 46(6) pp. 630-633