Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sexualization of children in media 1

This work began in the early 1980's by the American researcher Elizabeth M. Matz. She has documented the sexualization of children in media and later used the material in her PhD dissertation on "The social construction of gender as the foundation of sexualized violations ". The material which Matz collected was given to the Norwegian researcher Ken Heap which again has given the material to me. The entire documentation consists of 40 pictures, some of which will be shown in this blog. The documentation consist of non-pornographic images. The purpose of this documentation is to show that there is a sexualization of children in media. This tendency was first focused upon in the 1980's and 1990's. In the last decade much has been done to protect children from being sexualized by media. Many of the pictures in the documentation of Matz can therefore seem by some as "old" and that todays reality is different from the 1990's. But I will argue that it is important that we keep this topic alive and talk openly of the message that lies beneath these pictures.

Picture 1, below, shows three pictures of Brook Shields. The picture to the left shows the Brook Shields when she was only 10 years old. The picture in the middle is from the cover of the fashion magazine Vogue. She was then 13 years old. At that time, Brook Shields was named the "worlds most beautiful woman" by Time magazine. What does it mean to us all that the world's most beautiful woman is only 13 years old? What effect does it have on people of all ages, children and adults, when a 13 year old, who is chosen to be so beautiful, is posed in this way? Being the "most beautiful" in the world is something other girls have trived after and men strived after since the first folk tales. The image of Brook Shields at the far right in Picture 1 is from a jeans advertisement from a company called Calvin Klein. The same picture is accompanied by the text: "Do you know what comes between me and my Calvin Klein Jeans? ... Nothing!" The sexual focus of this message is unmistakable. It's a jean the company wants to sell. The quality of the jeans are not highlighted, but the fact that a young girl is without panties is believed to make the biggest impression on the buyer. I want to emphasize that all three pictures here in Picture 1 sexualizes children in a way that formally can be completely legal and at the same time insulting to the childs integrity and dignity.
Picture 1
Such "sexy" images are appealing to young girls who are looking for their role models precisely in prominent young women and girls in the media. In Elizabeth Matz' original material I find a quote I would like to share here. It's an interview she had with a 13 year old model that explains how she felt better and better the more she learned how to present herself in a "sexy" way. The 13 year old explains how a fashion photographer taught her to be "sexy". 

"Real sexy? It is to be young and sexy. Anyone can do it, even an age 9, -just stand there where so all can see you, and even if they do not know what they are doing, it means nothing, they can do it, with their hips and having their mouths open and stuff, really get it -making a strong impression ... I do not know -it all has to do with, I believe, make-up and hair and feeling a little bit excited in a way and how he (the photographer) tells you how to keep your body ... I used to be very shy, but I look very different at myself now since I started this here, because I have learned how to look sexy and how act differently, real-sexy and everything, you know, and then you feel so much safer and more important ... successful in a way. " 

I think this is a strong message about focusing on a sexy image in order to win self-esteem. I find it hard to believe anything else than a very unfortunate foundation for our children's self-image and their development in general and about an irresponsible and cynical abuse from the media. 

What with the male attitude towards youth as attractive and sexy? A "young is better" attitude. Here I quote from Sam Janus his book: The Death of Innocence from 1984. The book provides an important insight into the stereotypical male perception of the relationship between youth and being sexually attractive. We have all heard of grownup men at 50 -60 years of age who fallen in love with a "younger" woman of 20-30 years of age. We think today that it is morally acceptable in our modern society. This view of "younger is better" is also important for those who use child prostitutes. Sam Janus consider himself in no way of committing any crime or abuse. One of the men Janus interviews in his book is Bermard, who sees himself simply as a member of a progressive group, a movement, a tendency in society which believes "young is better". He says to Janus:

 "This whole horrible society of ours is built on youth and nothing more than young people. Look at all the billions spent in this country by old women trying desperately to look younger. Why should I feel like a pervert for going for someone who really young? A clean and smooth body, without folds and wrinkles, and without fat hanging here and there, a novelty and vitality that no woman over 30 can be compared to ... For me and for others as I know, a real girl, I mean between 10 and 12 years old, who knows what she has and enjoys her own body and enjoy to do it for a man, a priceless treasure" (1984: 223).

Slide 2, below, is from a daily newspaper. The text under this picture is the following question: "How old do you think this beautiful and glamorous model? ... Would you believe it? 13 years?" Make-up on this child's face gives her the appearance of a mature and sophisticated woman, while she has a child's body. This gives a sexualized view of young girls with a normal immature physical development, so that the unfinished and childish body becomes what is sexy. It has been suggested that this contributes to the increasing incidence of anorexia nervosa. This straight, scraped appearance of a young girl's body has become so dream in many men and is also taught by many adult women to their daughters. Some girls have come to a severe fear of their normal physical development and maturation so that they stop eating and starve themselves rather than developing a mature female body. 
Picture 2
Picture 3, below, is from Eve Magazine. Eve is a fashion magazine, -a very expensive magazine -which uses very costly artistic photography. This picture is from an advertisement for jewelry. Look closely at the model. How old do you think she is? 15? 12? 9? 7? 
Picture 3

She is actually a only 4 years old. The only sign that she is so young her childlike hand. The text of this picture gives actually a quite interesting message and evaluation of our socielty. It says that: "There are no limits in our time, well, maybe just one ... Do what you want!" 
 Kaare T. Pettersen
Part 2 will follow

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