The student news site of Arvada West High School

The Westwind

The student news site of Arvada West High School

The Westwind

The student news site of Arvada West High School

The Westwind

The over-sexualization of youth – why people should be concerned

Photo used with permission granted by Kate T. Parker.

Hypersexualization. The Oxford Languages dictionary defines hypersexualization as “the attribution of sexual or erotic characteristics to someone or something to an extreme or inappropriate degree.” Every day, young girls and boys are flooded with sexual images. What kids see, what is heard, and the narrative being told to girls is to be “sexy.” 

I believe that with the increasing usage of social media within younger generations, such as the ad campaign by Balenciaga featuring children “holding teddy bears in bondage harnesses,” that we as a society need to stop encouraging behavior that suggests that kids as young as under ten years old need to be put on a pedestal, where they are forced to be compared to much older women in a sexual manner.

Sexualization in innocent youth can be found quite literally anywhere. Television, advertisements, and non-stop social media content can pressure girls to act a certain way, dress a certain way, and can even push them to be put in uncomfortable situations.

Allison McCain, an English teacher at Arvada West High School, and mother of two, witnesses this firsthand. 

“Because of the choices that society allows, such as the different clothing choices and the way people can act, allows people to weaponize this,” McCain states. 

The impact of this problem isn’t just for girls. This issue is brought upon boys as well, because boys are exposed to the same content that girls are. Often, this can lead to a lack of respect, inappropriate behavioral expectations, and confusion among young kids and teens, and not knowing how to act appropriately around one another.

Further complicating this issue is the messaging to be overtly sexual and wanted, but also to still maintain “traditional” gender roles.

“This impacts boys as well because they are being held to impossible standards. It’s a double edged sword. According to our typical gender roles in the traditional sense of it, society wants women to be quiet, demure, and to not take up space, whereas men are suspected to be the opposite. But, that’s not how humans work,” McCain exclaims. 

Tying into the severe consequences of hypersexualization at a young age, Lacee Alarid, a sophomore at Arvada West states, “I felt that I needed to be “sexy” at sixth grade. I would wear what I liked, but then someone would say something about it… I wanted to be noticed by boys.”

The difference between body confidence and hypersexualization can get confusing. Touching on that, McCain says, “It’s finding a balance between being yourself but also recognizing that you’re a part of a community, and how we treat each other with kindness, and respect, and allow for creativity, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression without it being demoralizing.”

Advertising campaigns are directed at younger, and younger audiences, teaching young girls, in particular, to dress sexy before they even have a true understanding of what that means. 

Research conducted by the American Psychological Association, showed that the sexualization of girls negatively affects girls and young women in multiple ways including: 

  • Cognitive and emotional consequences- insecurity, lack of confidence
  • Mental and physical health-eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression
  • Sexual development- inability to develop a healthy sexual self-image

The existence of this problem is not disputed. So, the question remains: what can people do to help this issue? It all starts with the right education, from the right place. Parents, schools, and communities in general must tackle the issue head-on. Social media content has the potential to be monitored, and content limited. Children can be taught the dangers of what they see, and how to recognize the problem in a friend. 

Teach kids to talk about what they are seeing, feeling, and how to react appropriately to these things, and to understand the difference between confidence and over-sexualized young girls. Doctor Eileen Zurbriggen, a PhD says, “As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings- ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls.”

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, learn to celebrate girls for their accomplishments, and achievements, rather than appearance. Acknowledging that girls do well in sports, academics, leadership roles, and other activities irrelevant to their appearance can positively impact how they feel about themselves. 

While this issue is complex, there are things people can do every day to support girls and change the narrative.

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  • L

    LoganApr 23, 2024 at 11:57 am

    I totally agree. Go emma

  • R

    Rose CameronApr 22, 2024 at 1:45 pm

    Bravo!! Totally agree. Women are worth much more than what is seen on the outside. We need to help our young women understand how unique and absolutely precious they all are