The popular phrase “sex sells” is particularly relevant in 2017 as images in media become increasingly explicit and pornographic. While sex has been used to market products for decades, advertisers are now gearing these problematic images towards a younger and more vulnerable audience: children. Consequently, we are beginning to see the harm from this exposure with an increase in concerning behaviors among today’s children.
Children are exposed to sexual exploitation through advertisements, images, and performances by famous entertainers each day. Entertainers are often reduced to their sexual appeal and wear little clothing in music videos and televised performances. Sexualization has eclipsed talent and made it increasingly difficult for children to safely navigate television.
Sex has long sold television viewership. The parents television council claimed Miley Cyrus’s performance as host of MTV’s Video Music Awards was “blatant sexualization”. Miley Cyrus relied on her own sexuality to entertain the audience throughout her hosting duties as seen in her behaviors, attire and the exposing of herself on live television. Her performance attracted millions of viewers – certainly a huge moneymaker for MTV.
Advertisers use sexuality to educate their audiences with both subtle and conspicuous messages. But what messages do these images really send? How do audiences perceive and interpret these messages? What is left out? What is the purpose of these explicit messages? Are these messages accurate? Frank Baker has his own list of Questions To Ask About Media Messages.
Many health professionals believe that mass media content depicting casual sex without consequences has resulted in teens being persuaded that sexual activity is acceptable, normal, and widespread teen behavior.
Clothing brands have long relied on sex as key selling points in their advertisements. American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Diesel, pictured above, are popular clothing companies known for pushing boundaries with their sexualized ads. Diesel, a sexually charged and provocative brand of jeans, catches the eyes of the young with messages of sexiness, happiness and youth. Diesel advertisements have become increasingly more sexually explicit in an effort to keep up with the needs of today’s sexualized world.
Abercrombie sells a variety of thongs that children can choose from including thongs adorned with messages including “wink wink” and “eye candy”. I am just as dismayed with the parents who purchase these types of products for their children as I am with the brands that manufacture them.
If clothing brands weren’t enough, we also need to be on the lookout for toy manufacturers selling sexualized products to children. The popular brand of toy dolls, Bratz, has a collection named “Bratz Babyz” or as I call them “Hooker Babies” featuring scantily clad infant versions of their most popular dolls. These sexualized infants are geared for children as young as three years of age.
What messages do these dolls send to children? What kind of play are we promoting? What kind of role playing can we imagine will take place using dolls that resemble pint-sized prostitutes?
Stepping away from department stores and into restaurants, the food industry has increasingly used the sexualization of women to drive sales. Both advertisements and in-store tactics alike have been fueled by sex. Popular is Hooters, a restaurant built on the premise of sexualizing women requiring employees to be attractive, fit, and over 18 years of age.
It’s not just women. Even food itself is sexualized in advertisements for fast food. Do you think fast food giant Burger king crossed a line when they advertised their not-so-subtle depiction oral sex with their seven inch burger? I certainly think so.
Marketers have developed a plethora of techniques to objectify women in advertising campaigns. Men’s body spray and deodorant advertising campaigns have relied on the desires of heterosexual men for decades. Images often imply lust and primal sexual desire. The following advertisement promoting an antiperspirant spray shows a woman in a provocative pose in bright undergarments that emphasize the curves of her body. The advertisement copy reads, “Can she make you lose control?” How about marketers learn self-control and eliminate the rampant use of sex as a promotional device?
Children’s mental health is affected by the bombardment of inappropriate sexualized images and messages. Child psychiatrist Louise Newman raises concerns with the increasing number of children who present with depression, negative self-esteem, eating disorders, and body image issues. “Exposure to sexualizing messages contributes to girls defining their self worth and popularity in terms of sexual attractiveness, with negative impact on self-esteem”. The correlation between exposure to sexualized messages and the psychological harm in youth is growing stronger as media is further permeated by sexualization.
Newman’s concerns, coupled with the “sex sells” ideology makes the images below all the more disturbing.
The highly sexualized depictions of women in advertising has reached new lows: the ages of the women in question. Fashion magazines are using girls as young as 12 years old to market their clothing and beauty products. When did it become okay to sexualize prepubescent girls? When did we begin to think that children who are 12 years old are mature enough to understand sexuality and understand they are being viewed as a desirable sex object?
Children are easily influenced by their surroundings. In my practice, it is not uncommon for children as young as five years old to express a desire to appear sexy or cry about feeling unattractive. It is not uncommon for me to see children pose and imitate sexualized behaviors and attitudes unknowingly, or worse, by the guidance and instruction of parents and guardians.
Hand on hip, pucker your lips, show off that shoulder, and bend that leg to show your hip!
The young girl in the image to the left poses in ways that mirror the actions and behaviors of young women three and four times her age.
In the image below, young girls mimic the behaviors exhibited in real advertisements for women’s clothing.
In today’s media-rich environment, the term “sex sells” means more than selling products and services through provocation. “Sex sells” means overexposing children and developing young adults to sexualized content. As children obtain information from media sources rather than their parents, we must be aware that media influences one’s perceptions of sexual norms with content that depicts sexual norms and standards. We as a society, of those who are not yet desensitized, must be vigilant and demand stricter regulations on advertisements and media.