Sexy Baby: How Hyper-Sexualized Culture is Selling Girls Short

A new documentary looks at ‘sexiness in the cyber-age’

by Leanne Westrick

Miss Representation addressed the culture of overtly sexualized images of women and their impact on our how we are perceived in the media. A new documentary, Sexy Baby, delves further into the issue, asking: what does it mean to grow up in a hypersexual climate? What does our culture look like with pornography pushing its way from the peripheral into the mainstream?

The exposure of young girls to a hyper-sexual culture is a relevant topic. The documentary rings especially true for parents attempting to navigate raising their children in a climate where the female body is treated as currency. Daughters are taking their cues on how to act from a “pornified” culture and sons are learning how to treat women from the same script. The media’s efforts to push harder in an effort to be noticed are pushing their way straight into our homes. This is a simple fact of our new world.

The digital age has been upon us for quite a while; Sexy Baby takes note of the fact and explores what it means to be a part of a generation that has grown up with pornography at their fingertips. Several books have been published in recent years that express concern over what this kind of reality means for our culture as a whole. The trailer highlights this with its attention to the 12 year-old-subject of the film.

It must be remembered that pornography isn’t new – but the ways in which we access it are. Pornography, and a culture that increasingly imitates it, have repercussions beyond just the sexual aspect. Studies have found that “kids who consume this kind of sex in the media inherit more traditional views of gender — boys as dominant, girls as submissive, in the bedroom and beyond.” The kids in question are growing up and wondering what social scripts should be followed. Young adults naturally become curious about sex and their particular relationship to it with the onset of puberty. Put this curiosity into the context of a culture that simultaneously applauds the risqué and condemns the same behavior in our youth. The younger generation finds itself at a pretty confusing crossroads. Everything in the media is saying to push farther and risk more. The truth is that sex is a premium in the media driven world that most of us grow up in.

The generations that are growing up (and that have grown up) in this climate can’t simply be seen as victims. These kids know far more about what is available to them through the internet than their parents can imagine. Even if they aren’t aware or actively seeking out pornography or more sexually aggressive content, it has trickled its way into mainstream advertising, movies, television, and magazines. Kim Kardashian was rewarded with celebrity status after her sextape was leaked, S&M subcultures are making their way onto bestseller lists, and leaked nude photographs barely raise an eyebrow on the scandal-meter.

This isn’t a call to stifle or police emerging sexuality, but rather to call attention to the connection between sexual development and the underlying messages about women that exist in our culture. Young girls are witnessing the value that is placed on women for their youth and physical appeal. The climate we exist in perpetuates “myths of women’s unconditional sexual availability and object status, and thus undermine women’s rights to sexual autonomy, physical safety and economic and social equality.”

In short, the images that we’re selling young girls are selling them short.

Leanne Westrick is an intern with MissRepresentation.org and a student at the University of San Francisco

9 Comments

  1. Michelle says:

    Funny, I recently blogged about modesty. I can’t wait for the screening of this one to start making the rounds. I think EVERY human being should see it.

  2. Kate says:

    I don’t have kids yet so my view on this is currently purely theoretical, but I truly believe that increased exposure to pornography and sexualised images has a huge effect on both male and female expectation. I think it ‘normalises’ sexual practices which can actually be harmful (either physically or psychologically) as well as forming the pattern of submissive/dominant behaviour between f/m as the author of this article was saying. One reason I believe this is due to my own relationships – I have personally noticed a marked difference in boyfriends that viewed a lot of porn in their younger years to those who view less or no pornographic materials, and as a young adult who discovered porn on my parents computer at 11, I think it could have had an extremely negative effect on my own relationships, but luckily I did find a boyfriend who showed me how sex could be really simple and not at all pressured. Admittedly that’s an extremely unscientific form of evidence but I believe being exposed to internet porn while you are still developing really can really effect relationships in later life.
    I don’t think it is possible to totally shield kids, so I think the only way is to actually discuss this issue openly. Explain how false pornography is, expose the myths! Although I really do realise it is difficult, I think parents should attempt to explain what a good, loving relationship should involve and shouldn’t involve so that kids can spot ‘danger signs’. Most importantly, try to encourage your kids to have a strong sense of self-worth so that sex doesn’t become a substitute for real love and attention. There are obviously limits to what we can do, but I am glad that the subject is becoming more openly discussed so that parents can become more aware of it!

  3. I watch my eight year old granddaughter sing and move her hips—and I think about how hyper sexual images have already flooded the mainstream–These girls consume a pop culture in which sexuality has been mixed with a girlish innocence.

  4. Cynthia says:

    Women need to be more active on this count. Although young women are hypersexualized everywhere in the media, we need to be outraged of sexualized images of teens and preteens.

    There’s a store called “Bebe” that seems to promote the idea of beautiful young girls as sexual playthings for rich men.

    Here’s a link to one of their ad campaigns: http://ecosalon.com/peta-renewable-girls-bebe-ecosexism/

    Pedopillia anyone?

    I’ve emailed the company registering my disgust, and hope to try to post something to the company’s webpage.

    Anyone care to help?

  5. I saw this. It was unbelievably amazing. Everyone should see this.

  6. [...] Sexy Baby – How Hyper Sexualised Culture is Selling Girls Short. Leanne Westrick.  [...]

  7. I like it when folks come together and share thoughts. Great site, stick with it!

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  9. CRS says:

    My 5-year-old knows the word “sexy” and knows how to use it properly in a sentence. I was shocked when she first told me she watched “sexy” shows. As parents, we need to be especially careful what our children watch, commercials included. I got rid of cable and now the kids are limited to the commercial-free kid-station on Netflix. Still, this is a very serious and scary situation, and it seems our girls are being affected at younger ages. I couldn’t help but notice that in some of the cartoons she likes, the girls are in very revealing outfits. Even in cartoons, it is hard to escape the reality that they are being marketed to in such a way.

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