On the Disney Channel's hit show "Hannah Montana," Miley Cyrus portrays a girl who is living a double life where she vacillates between girl next door Miley Stewart and teen pop sensation Hannah Montana. In real life, Ms. Cyrus is also living a double life: wholesome tween Disney star and nude Vanity Fair-cover worthy jailbait. The media explosion surrounding Ms. Cyrus' recent dressed down photo session with Annie Leibowitz has encouraged commentators across the blogosphere and beyond to ask: How appropriate is it to sexualize a fifteen year old girl?
Appropriate? Certainly not. But prevalent? Overwhelmingly. Young girls are bombarded with images of sexualized girlhood, from the make-up smeared mini-skirt clad Bratz dolls to the selection of string bikinis and strapless dresses Abercrombie and Fitch is offering discerning ladies age 8-14 this Spring. Mary Bailey's article "How Society Sexualizes Girls" states that "On television...males disproportionately populate the world and women in it are disproportionately sexy and lacking in intellect." With children watching an average of 6 hours and 32 minutes of television a day (Nielson Media Research, 1998), it's impossible for these images not to have an effect.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has released "Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls," a report which is focused on the detrimental effects of sexual imagery in the media on young girls and teens. Its shows that the media's approach to depicting young girls and teens can lead to a range of issues including mental health problems, low self-esteem, anxiety, sexual violence and harassment.
The APA believes that media literacy training could help "counter the sexualization of girls." But for some reason, when Montgomery County NOW asked the Montgomery County Board of Education to implement a curriculum in middle school that would address the effects that these images have on young girls, no real action was taken. Though a spokesperson said that copies of their summary were delivered to influential education personnel, no action has been taken so far to alter the curriculum.
If you are interested in encouraging this important addition to MoCo's middle school curriculum, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them to join in the effort to decrease the negative impact of the media on young girls. Feel free to forward a copy of your e-mail to Montgomery County NOW at email@example.com to let them know that you're interested in helping their cause. For more information, check out Mary Bailey's fabulous series "The Sexualization of Girls" from the Montgomery County NOW website.