Are clothing manufacturers helping to turn young girls into sex objects? A study led by Professor of Psychology at Kenyon College, Dr. Sarah Murnen, found that 30 percent of young girls’ clothing available online in the United States is sexualized. The study was published in Springer’s journal, Sex Roles, and raises questions on the implications of how girls evaluate themselves if they are being identified as sex objects at an early age.
Objectification Theory states that western culture portrays women as objects of the male gaze. If girls internalize these messages, then self-objectification occurs. This is where girls begin to evaluate their attractiveness on how sexualized they appear. Side effects of this can include body dissatisfaction, depression, low confidence and low self-esteem. Goodin and her team researched whether or not girls’ clothing could be a social influence on self-objectification in preteen girls.
The study looked at children’s clothing (not adolescent) available on the websites of 15 major retailers in the United States. The clothing was defined as ‘sexual’ if it emphasized a sexual body part, had characteristics that were associated with sexiness, and/or had writing that promoted sexually suggestive language.
Out of the 5,666 clothing items studied, Goodin and her team found that 69 percent had childlike characteristics only. Of the remaining 31 percent, 4 percent had only sexualized characteristics, 25 percent had both sexualizing and childlike features, and 4 percent had neither sexualized nor childlike elements.Sexualization occurred most frequently on items that emphasized a sexualized body part, such as shirts and dresses that were cut in such a way as to create the look of breasts, or highly decorated pants’ pockets that called attention to the buttocks. The type of store was linked to the degree of sexualization, with ‘tween’ (or pre-teen) stores more likely to have sexualized clothing compared to children’s stores.
The authors conclude: “Our study presents the ‘ambiguously sexualizing’ category of girls’ clothing. The co-occurrence of sexualizing and childlike characteristics makes the sexualization present in girl’s clothing covert. Confused parents might be persuaded to buy the leopard-print miniskirt if it’s bright pink. Clearly, sexiness is still visible beneath the bows or tie-dye colors. We propose that dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman.”