Shine On

6-year-old girls want to be sexy, study finds

How young is too young for a girl to be concerned about looking sexy? (Thinkstock)How often do you hear the saying, "Kids these days are growing up so fast." Well, there might be some merit to that statement.

The American Psychological Association has set up a Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls as a response to public concern that it's an increasing problem that's harmful young girls.

A new study confirms these concerns, finding that girls as young as six-years-old want to be sexy.

Published online in the journal Sex Roles, the study used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 6- to 9-year-old girls in the American Midwest, LiveScience reports.

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Sixty girls were shown two dolls. One was dressed in tight, revealing clothing. The other was wearing a trendy, more modest outfit.

The psychologists, from Knox College in Illinois, asked each girl a series of questions, with a new set of dolls accompanying each question. She was asked to identify which doll looked most like herself, which doll looked most like how she wanted to look, which doll was the most popular of the two, and which doll she most wanted to play with.

The girls chose the "sexy" doll most often. Most notably, 68 per cent of the girls identified the sexier doll as the one they wanted to look like, and 72 per cent labeled the sexier doll as the more popular of the two, Medical Daily reports.

"It's very possible that girls wanted to look like the sexy doll because they believe sexiness leads to popularity, which comes with many social advantages," says lead researcher Christy Starr.

The researchers found that the girls in the study who were recruited from a local dance studio choose the conservative doll more often than the girls recruited from two public schools, perhaps supporting the theory that dance and sports are linked to increased body image in girls and women.

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The study also tries to identify the role of mothers in young girls' self-sexualization.

The researchers found that mothers who used television and movies as teaching moments about unrealistic scenarios and expectations served as a protective factor for self-sexualization. Girls who consumed a lot of media, but who also had religious mothers were also protected against self-sexualization. The researchers speculate these mothers "may be more likely to model higher body-esteem and communicate values such as modesty," they write.

On the flip side, girls with religious mothers who were kept from media consumption didn't fare as well. The researchers suggest the young girls are reacting to "forbidden fruit" and idealizing what's forbidden due to underexposure.

"Mothers feel so overwhelmed by the sexualizing messages their daughters are receiving from the media that they feel they can do nothing to help," Starr says. "Our study's findings indicate otherwise — we found that in actuality, mothers are key players in whether or not their daughters sexualize themselves. Moms can help their daughters navigate a sexualizing world by instructing their daughters about their values and by not demonstrating objectified and sexualized behaviours themselves."

How do you protect your young daughter against self-sexualization? Tell us in the comments.

Watch the touching video below about how the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto held a prom night for its young patients.

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