Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Young Objectification: The Sexualization Process Beginnings

Objectification is one of many ingredients in the resulting concoction that is sexualization. The way I see it, there is a point where the human body ceases to be nothing more than a commodity in the eyes demanding consumers who crave it. It can only be described as a desensitized point of view towards sexuality and the designated target consumer seems to get younger and younger with each passing day. The root of any problem primarily starts at the foundation, which for many people begins at childhood. That is where the difficulty begins, but also can be where it can end if we pay close attention to what is going on in our world. Leaving anything to chance makes plenty of room for misguided ideals and images to take root. Author and speaker, Jean Kilbourne (2010), makes a very direct statement that “the first step is to become aware, to pay attention and to recognize that this affects all of us.” One of the problems we continue to face stems from avoiding the main issues that very relevant to the way we live. This has created a breeding ground for digression to spread and it is affecting the young minds of our world. Since the mind of a child is still awaiting development, life experiences can be the deciding factor of what their perception will be. That is why it is urgent that we pay close attention to our environments and move beyond our comfort zone. Even the smallest thing we overlook could set our children out on a misguided journey and you may be surprised what could be the cause.
Fashion, magazines, toys and so on are tools often used to draw in young consumers. In addition, the products being advertised are generally very gender-specific. It is sometimes very subtle, but very effective while implanting predetermined roles for girls and boys. There are toy ads with boys riding a miniature motorcycle, wearing boxing gloves, or playing with action figures of popular superheroes fighting against villains. Typically, this is the recipe to ensure young boys grow into masculine men by igniting competition and dominance. For girls, we often see them holding baby dolls, playing dress up with a miniature vanity mirror, or cooking with a small toy kitchen set. All these ingredients are put together to create the perfect homemaker beginning at the age of six. I’m not saying that this is what causes the objectification process directly. That would be too simple and unrealistic to blame toy companies and such. I only mean to reveal the need to pay more attention what we introduce to children. Gail Dines, educator and author of Pornland, documents a trip to the toy store with her young nieces and nephews and examines just how gender specific the products have now become in comparison to the decade prior. What Dines (2010) describes as a “tangible gender barrier” refers to the play weapons and violent games to one side and pink dresses and makeup on the other (p. 61). We don't see things as a pivotal influence at the time of inception, but it can have a lasting impression on the undeveloped mind. The limits of individual progression are set by these predetermined images imposed on young children. Be that as it may, it pales in comparison to the glamorized notion that importance can be easily gained by what we wear.
Clothing designed for children have undergone a significant generational transformation which is all, but unnoticeable. There is apparel that are designed for children that may display messages or images that far exceeds their maturity level. We are in the day and age where there’s a selection of “padded bras and thong panties for 7 year olds” sold at major retailers (Kilbourne, 2010).  I shudder trying to think of how this is supposed to be a good marketing model considering that American has the highest teen pregnancy percentage than any other country. Young girls are already being subjected to the ideal image of beauty and sexiness before they even reach puberty, just as boys are primed to grow up as dominant men. There is no benefit for young boys learning early on that girls are supposed to look and act a certain way to be considered attractive. All this is for the sake of ensuring that new shoppers will be ensnared in the well-oiled machine that is consumerism. We are in a society where we are building males up while cutting females lower in a sense. This does not mean that girls are at a complete disadvantage to overcoming this error in societal progression. Corporations see that children are consumers in the making. In a sense, it’s like finding a chink in the armor. Once that opening is discovered then it will inevitably be exploited. The analogy of this is referred as “corporate culture of power” by UCLA philosophy professors Rhonda Hammer and Douglas Kellner and go on to define it as “the corporate effort to ideologically construct children’s consciousness (2009, p. 257).” The problem is that the information is so overwhelmingly convincing and there is a high probability that the minds exposed to that much information will be no different than a sand castle built on a beach. It will be swept away by the current.
I feel that advertisements are the focal point of how messages are sent to the consumers. We see images from advertisements everywhere from motor vehicles such as buses to product placement in films. Magazines are the probably one of the most, if not the most, popular medium containing a variety of effective imagery to sell products. For young girls, there’s a level of bombarding tactics advocating thinness. We primarily see slim models promoting products, especially those concerning weight-loss. Women that don’t have this body type are next to non-existent in advertisements. A study conducted by professors of psychiatry and psychology at Radboud University Nijmegen, Doeschka J. Anschutz, Tatjana Van Strien, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels (2011), constant exposure of these kinds of ads have the tendency to promote poor self-image as it may cause the belief that “to be attractive and successful, you must be thin (p. 48).” Realistically, all females cannot achieve the same exact body type. Genetics play a big part in what an individual can achieve physically, but with the constant saturation of superficial images being absorbed people will resort to extreme measures in an attempt to achieve said look. This is not something explained to young and impressionable females who may attempt to make decisions with unknown consequences..
This is something that has become widespread even beyond our borders. Anne E. Becker (2004), professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, conducted a study on adolescent females of the country Fiji who had just become introduced to western television programs. Young females in Fiji were described as having more fuller body frames and the pressure of dieting to look thin were practically non-existent. By 1999, it has been reported that between 1995 and 1998 the percentage of eating disorders increased significantly (Becker, 2004, p. 534). There’s no conclusive link that western television was the direct result of the increase of the dieting stigma, but it is intriguing to know the cause of this dramatic change in a developing country that did not previously focus on weight and dieting. Even though this event took place several years ago it is still something that is just as relevant today as it was at the time. I believe that it is warranted enough to examine just how much of an impact our constant barrage of perfectionistic imagery really has. In Becker’s (2004) study, she accurately states that both “consumer culture and media imagery have a pervasive and powerful influence on girls at a critical developmental stage (p. 535).” It is unfortunate enough that American girls are under the pressure of transforming themselves into what the media says they should be. The realization that we are shaping our young girls to become nothing than mere objects not of their own making. It is more like literally becoming the object of someone else’s desire. It is a situation that is apparently not being taken seriously and due to that we now have a global epidemic.
The study in Fiji is only just the tip of the iceberg for what has now become a global disease of the mind. As widespread as this ideology of beauty has become, I believe there is a way to put a stop to it. It will not be an easy task as it will be as long, if not longer, a process to turn things around. The process of shaping minds into believing that everyone should look and act the same way was an already lengthy conquest itself. The first and most important step to making any kind of headway is the ability to inform. Many people are continuing to be involved in things that they really don’t have full knowledge of. People have a terrible habit of falling for things that appear on the surface, especially children. The book So Sexy So Soon, by authors Diane E. Levin and Jean  Kilbourne, concurs with this observation saying “young children are drawn to information that is visible and concrete, unfamiliar, dramatic, or even scary (p.58).” Considering that children have a unique way of processing information, it goes to show why it is important for responsible adults to be the much needed catalyst to desensitized perceptions.
Informative speakers and educators, such as Jean Kilbourne and Gail Dines, are only a couple of people who come to mind that are driven to inform people of the messages we receive every day and throughout our lifetimes. Informative as they may be, they are only but a few. There are active non-profit organizations in the world committed to bringing this information to people, but it is only as effective as the amount of people who are informed and interested. Men, such as myself, have taken up the challenge of sharing our perspectives on how these practices harm our point of views in the form of online blogs. Allowing myself to speak from personal experiences help shed light on how this perception transformation truly affects people. The only goal is that information will somehow reach someone experiencing the same thing as I have.
The objective of informing as many people as possible about this epidemic is to help diminish the demand for this type of sexual saturation. Simply banning everything sexually suggestive will not solve the problem we are facing, confirming what I stated before that this will be a long process. Our economy, in all sense of the ideal, runs on supply and demand. As long as we continue promoting these images and behaviours, the problem will not be solved. Professor of Law, Sarah A. Dillon of Suffolk University Law School, makes an accurate conclusion by stating that “demand is key because it implicates human, particularly male, behavior (p.135).” Although she is mainly referring to sex trafficking in her observation, I believe this accurately applies to what we are facing in this era of sexual freedom. It’s an era where the female body is nothing more than an object only just be used for sexual consumption by dominant males. If there is a way that to put suppression on the supply of commoditized sexuality it would be by informing the masses of the lasting effects these images can cause on the consumer as well as exposing the facilitator. Suppression of the supply will result in decreasing the demand, but that will only happen if people make the decision to be informed and in turn inform others in the process. Blissful ignorance cannot continue if things are to be set straight. Of that I am certain.

References
Jhally, S. (Director). (2010). Killing us softly 4: Advertising’s image of women. [Documentary].
    Presentation by Jean Kilbourne. United States: Media Education Foundation. (Available
from  Media Education Foundation, 60 Masonic St., Northampton, MA 01060)
Levin, D., & Kilbourn, J. (2008). So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what
parents can do to protect their kids. Random House, LLC. p. 58
Anschutz, D.J., Stein, T.V., Engels, R.C.M.E. (2011). Exposure to slim images in mass media:
Television commercials as reminders of restriction in restrained eaters. American
Psychological Association. p. 48
Becker, A.E., (2004). Television, disorder eating, and young women in fiji: Negotiating body
    image and identity during rapid social change. Springer Science+Business Media.
p. 534-535
Hammer, R. & Kellner, D. (2009). Media/cultural studies: Cultural approaches. Peter Lang
    International Academic Publishers. p. 257
Dines, G. (2010). Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality. Beacon Press. p. 61
Dillon, S. A. (2008). What human rights law obscure: Global sex trafficking and the demand for
    children. UCLA Women’s Law Journal. p. 135