Sexualized Body Image Has Negative Affect on Young Adolescent Girls

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Monday, November 3, 2014

Sexualized Body Image Has Negative Affect on Young Adolescent Girls

*The following is excerpted from an online article from The University of Texas at Austin.

Middle-school girls who value sex appeal differ from their peers in troubling ways, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

Co-authors Rebecca Bigler, professor of psychology, and Sarah McKenney, a former psychology graduate student, found that 10- to 15-year-old girls with higher levels of “internalized sexualization” -- a belief that it is important to be sexually attractive -- earned lower grades in school and scored lower on standardized tests of academic achievement than their peers.

In a study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence, young adolescent girls were asked to film a mock newscast. Girls with higher and lower scores on the internalized sexualization measure prepared differently. Girls with higher levels of sexualization spent more time putting on makeup, and less time practicing the script, than girls with lower levels of sexualization.

“Those girls who believe that being sexually attractive to males is important appear to invest more of their time and effort in that domain,” Bigler said. “Because everyone’s resources are limited, the investment in sexiness comes at the expense of other domains, including academics.”

According to the researchers, even Halloween costume choices for girls may reflect a damaging preoccupation with being sexually attractive. Boys frequently have a multitude of costume options, ranging from scary to funny and from nerdy to powerful, while girls’ costumes are more limited in scope and are increasingly sexualized with features such as a fitted bodice, a short skirt and high heels.

“The solitary act of wearing a sexy costume may not negatively affect a girl’s development, but continued exposure to sexualized messages can lead to body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, low self-esteem and depression among women,” says Bigler.

In a separate study to be published by McKenney and Bigler in The Journal of Early Adolescence, scores on an internalized sexualization scale are used to predict the degree to which 11- to 15-year-old girls wear tight and revealing clothing. The researchers note that although some feminists have claimed that sexual desirability might be a source of empowerment for women, the girls with higher levels of sexualization in the study showed higher rates of body shame than their peers.

Source: The University of Texas at Austin