Why does a girl need to pull her trousers down to sell eyeliner? Why is she holding the dress and not wearing it? What has a naked woman got to do with selling curly kale juice? Why is she naked on a throne? Is that how a girl achieves high status?
These are some of the questions a group of girls asked when we set them the task of creating a collage to educate other young people on what sexualisation and objectification are in the media, using only magazines widely available on bottom shelves from a local supermarket. The collage focusses on women because the girls were taking part in a pilot self esteem and self compassion group, that promoted self development and social change.
This collage was created by a group of young women who wanted to challenge sexual objectification within the UK media.
“A recent survey of 1,000 15-19 year-old girls found that 63% considered “glamour model” their ideal profession. One quarter said that they thought lap dancing would be a good profession. Only 4% choose teaching”.
LabTV survey quoted in Money & Power: Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Scotland. Supporting materials, p.28. Zero Tolerance and Women’s Support Project 2010.
“There is no unanimously accepted definition for sexualisation at the moment, however, lately the following definition by the American Psychological Association has been found useful According to it sexualisation occurs when
• a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behaviour to the exclusion of other characteristics
• a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy
• a person is sexually objectified – that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making;
• sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person”3.
Any one of these is sufficient for sexualisation to be present. Inappropriately imposed sexuality is especially relevant to the sexualisation of young people, who have become increasingly sexualised in the media, especially in advertising. Sexualisation involves treating and portraying young people mainly via their sexuality rather than other attributes, and attempting to sell young people products that have a clear sexual connection or represent childhood itself as sexual”.
APA Task force - Sexualisation of Girls cited by Briefing: Sexualisation of young people in the media
Produced by Zero Tolerance www.zerotolerance.org.uk. 2
What we aim to do at Universal Roots CIC is challenge the current sexualisation and objectification of young people within the media, through our work with young people and through the art we produce. We aim to plant seeds of thought and seeds of change, to encourage and allow girls and boys to think freely in order to define themselves in the way they want to be defined.
In our society over the last ten years we have seen many changes in the way the western world media system functions, and in the way it is outputted. For example, I am writing this blog age 30, 15 years ago the internet was not as widely available, nor were music video's, in fact my music preferences Hip Hop, Soul Rhythm & Blues were barley available in my home town back then, and most of my music came via ordered imports from the USA. Today you can access pretty much anything and everything at the touch of a button, never before has the world been so connected. Although this is positive in terms of sharing information and communications, there is a more sinister side to this state of affairs. In the last 15 years I witnessed a significant shift within the music I preferred and grew up to and the messages it projects. For me both Hip Hop and R&B both have a long legacy of strong, positive, uplifting messages within them, making them influential genres in both mainstream and underground scenes, and some artists remain true to the art, however since this music has become 'mainstream' the tone, shape and sound of it has significantly changed.
To illustrate this lets take two verses from female MC’s , two of the most popular recording artists within the mainstream on the planet, one is over 15 years old, one is from 2014;
1) Ms Lauryn Hill made history with her first solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and inspired a generation of women to have respect for themselves. Here is her first verse from the song Doo Wop That Thing (1998):
It's been three weeks since you've been looking for your friend
The one you let hit it and never called you again
'Member when he told you he was 'bout the Benjamins
You act like you ain't hear him then gave him a little trim
To begin, how you think you really gon' pretend
Like you wasn't down then you called him again
Plus when you give it up so easy you ain't even fooling him
If you did it then, then you probably f*** again
Talking out your neck sayin' you're a Christian
A Muslim sleeping with the gin
Now that was the sin that did Jezebel in
Who you gon' tell when the repercussions spin
Showing off your ass 'cause you're thinking it's a trend
Girlfriend, let me break it down for you again
You know I only say it 'cause I'm truly genuine
Don't be a hardrock when you're really a gem
Babygirl, respect is just a minimum
Niggas f***ed up and you still defending them
Now Lauryn is only human
Don't think I haven't been through the same predicament
Let it sit inside your head like a million women in Philly, Penn.
It's silly when girls sell their soul because it's in
Look at where you be in hair weaves like Europeans
Fake nails done by Koreans
Come again, come again, come again, come again
2) Nicki Minaj is a hugely successful Female MC, this is her first verse & chorus from the song 'Anaconda" (2014) ...
My Anaconda don't...
My Anaconda don't...
My Anaconda don't want none unless you got buns hun
Boy toy named Troy used to live in Detroit
Big dope dealer money, he was getting some coins
Was in shootouts with the law, but he live in a palace
Bought me Alexander McQueen, he was keeping me stylish
Now that's real, real, real,
Gun in my purse, bitch I came dressed to kill
Who wanna go first? I had 'em pushing daffodils
I'm high as hell, I only took a half of pill
I'm on some dumb shit
By the way, what he say?
He can tell I ain't missing no meals
Come through and fuck 'em in my automobile
Let him eat it with his grills,
He keep telling me to chill
He keep telling me it's real, that he love my sex appeal
He said he don't like 'em boney, he want something he can grab
So I pulled up in the Jag, and I hit 'em with the jab like...
My Anaconda don't...
My Anaconda don't...
My Anaconda don't want none unless you got buns hun
Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Look at her butt (look at her butt)
It doesn't take a neurosurgeon to recognise that something has significantly altered the music and the message, because most people would agree that drugs, violence, and sexual objectification are not healthy, they are not conducive of a conscious civilised society, and most would not want their daughters (or sons) aspiring to this lifestyle, knowing it would surely lead to a path of inner and outer degradation, and greater sociological destruction.
We don't just see this kind of sexualisation and objectification within hip hop and R&B, it is present within all musical genres, I only make reference to it here because it is the music I feel passionate about which is close to my heart.
Personally I do not think boys or girls choose to project themselves in this way. Most of us have a desire to be accepted as we truly are, and sexuality is only one part of our overall adult being. I once had a conversation with an A & R who worked for a 'top' record label, he told me 'they (women) either conform or get dropped', 'the two bottom selling artists get cut every quarter, sex sells, and they have to become more and more outrageous in order to sell'. I guess this might be why some recording artists choose to be relatively unpopular within the mass media, and keep their dignity and reputation intact? How many girls know that these top recording artists have teams of 100's dedicated to making sure the marketing campaigns run big? All is not as it seems... As Lauryn Hill often discusses in her music, and scarce interviews where she discusses wanting to escape the illusion of fame, which led to her going ‘underground’, signing out of a hugely successful carer, being labelled insane and subsequently incarcerated for non payment of taxes.
We also see this kind of sexualisation and objectification within other media mediums, advertising and television programming is very much integrated with psychology, in order to sell its products and services in a competitive market, and it is a powerful tool for shaping the consensus about 'what is normal' in our society. Historical examples of propaganda within the media systems have illustrated the powerful effects of projecting thought forms through the mass media and the subsequent beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of people within that community, it can be almost astonishing to the outsider, or the historian to view, because of how subtle, insidious and pervading the distortion of reality can be. The media can illicit a range of emotions, which it orchestrates, and plays on and out in order to reach a given end, wether it be corporate or political.
An example of a cultural change in recent times is the wearing of'tights or see through jeggings’, which recently became popular as a 'normal' item of lower body clothing. When I was a young girl tights and leggings were normally worn with something over the top, a skirt or a long top, however now you can walk along the street see girls and women’s underwear because they are wearing see through jeggings or tights. So I ask Is this normal now? I actually worry about the young women I see dressing like this on the street, because of the difference in age in the men and women they attract. Many young girls seem oblivious to the sex appeal they carry when dressing in this way. And It is risky because while the media pumps out that sexualisation and objectification are so in, and to make it all 'sexy', the attitudes in society about atrocities towards women, such as rape, and domestic violence, have barley improved with statements such as 'well look at what she was wearing' or 'she asked for it' occurring regularly both in and out of court. So what happens when a society dresses its young people up, sexually, before they are ready emotionally or physically?
As a mental health nurse I have studied many ancient societies and civilisations. I have looked deeply into the 'worship of the goddess’, and societies that viewed women equally, advocating and endowing equal rights in leadership and social roles. Goddesses in these societies were often portrayed as naked, half naked, or with suckling child ,so what is the difference between these images and the modern sex bomb?
Carl Jung looked at archetypes as symbols which contain the whole, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. He wrote about the power of the archetype, and the energies contained within them. Which can be used for better or worse. He suggested that archetypes were primitive mental images, inherited from the earliest ancient human ancestors, which speak to the unconscious, collectively, symbolically. The saying a picture speak a thousand words is suggestive of the power of archetypes as images. Advertisers are very aware of the power of archetypes, and the power of symbols on the unconscious, hence why media is so heavily saturated with them. Take ‘father christmas’ for example, he is used by a major drinks company to increase sales. Why? What do you think of when you think about father christmas? Most westerners have come to associate this figure with feelings of warmth, family, holidays, generosity, mystery, being childlike, and so on. So when thinking about advertising and increasing sales, this is exactly the archetype that would be useful to get that drink into peoples homes for the holiday period.
A Few Goddess Images From African Antiquity ...
Looking at the images, and the archetypes ancient goddesses carried vs the modern day 'sex bomb', it is clear that the image of a naked goddess, and a naked 'sex bomb' carries quite a different message, energetic feeling, behaviours and tones. Where the goddess represents spirituality, sacredness, the feminine, intuition, creativity, nurturance and care. Andthe 'sex bomb' represents sexual gratification, objectification, physical perfection, subservience, no voice, submission, degradation, and a lack of human quality due to the denial of the woman's feelings. So from a psychological point of view, thinking about archetypes, and how powerful they are within our society, where might this change lead us now, knowing there has been a significant shift in the archetypal depiction of the mother?
Interestingly arguably one of the most influential goddess archetypes of ancient antiquity is currently a forbidden word if we refer to her name in Greek. In 2015 it is important to remember that Isis (Greek) represents Auset (Egyptian), who is the personification of the great black mother of Africa, the primal mother, she who gives life, is the knower of secrets, medicine, and magic. The absolute annihilation of this goddess can be likened to the persecutions of times gone by where people, knowledge and ancient practices once again ‘go underground’ for fear of persecution. In the old times these people were called witch harborers or witches, today if we speak the word ISIS we risk being called terrorists, and terrorist sympathisers.
The American Association of Psychologists published a report ten years ago called the Sexualisation of Girls. Within that report they highlighted a number of points:
Sexualisation effects the way girls (and boys) feel about themselves. The Sexualisation of young people at an early age can lead to overstimulation, it can disrupt natural development, physically and emotionally, and it can lead to increased anxiety due to the subsequent behaviour of needing to constantly 'check oneself' in order to make sure they are 'good enough'.
The sexualisation and objectification of young people delivers a strong and negative message that abilities, personality, character and achievements are not relevant, and will not be valued, instead the projection is that of perfection in looks, body image, material aspects and things. This is hugely damaging to their developing self esteem, personality, sexuality and character, all of which they will need as adults. The fact that judgement and value is placed more on how you look and what you have, than on your skills and talents, leads to a very fragile ego, fragmented ideas of the self, and what it means to be human.
A generation of models will certainly look good in the photo albums, but the reality is we are on a planet, in a solar system, hurtling through space, and we have a lot more to uncover and discover, and there is much room for progression in terms of consciousness, community, equality and civilisation.
As a society we are interconnected, through the ancient clouds of star dust, through atoms, through history, through friends and family, and through stories. If we think about these subjects together as a society we can formulate healthy choices and consensus. And we can educate young girls and boys so that this simple mindedness does not effect their development.
We may not be able to control what someone else does, but we can control what we do. I took the time to think about these things because of the sum total of my life experience, and the clinical experience I have gained working in psychiatric services. Where the long term implications of sexualization and objectification are often seen, at the point where a human being as become disturbed, both mentally, physically, and some might argue spiritually. Helping people heal from these kind of significant trauma's is a complicated process which involves every level of human being. As a health professional I would like to contribute to the voices that are speaking out about the current state of sexualisation and objectification in the media, and within our society, for the sake of boys and girls in the current and future generations.
I think it is very hard to draw lines and say this is ok and that is not ok.
But there are clear cases where little girls waking up to page 3 are not ok, while it is ok to think about these things, pornography within the home on a mass scale needs to end. Because both young men and young women deserve to see themselves as more. There is enough evidence. The time has come to provide education.
“It is difficult to obtain a reliable figure for the number of adults and children being trafficked to the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation.This is by its very nature a covert crime. However, Home Office research suggests that in 2003 there were up to 4,000 women who were victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK; and in 2009 CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) estimated that the potential number of child trafficking victims was 325.
The link between pornography and organised crime is a long and established one. (347) Together, pornography, people trafficking and prostitution contribute to a network of exploitation that fuels the global sex trade. (348) According to the UN, global profits from the trafficking of human beings currently stand at around $7 billion, equivalent in monetary terms to the global trade in drugs.
As with all economic systems, there must first be demand before there can be supply. In this scenario, it is argued, the demand is being fuelled by the widespread depiction of girls and women as sex objects”, (349).
- 347 Attorney-General’s Commission on Pornography Final Report (1986)
- 348 Sarikakis and Shaukat (2007)
- 349 Sarikakis and Shaukat (2007)
Cited in the Sexualisation of Young People Review. L. Papalopoulos. 2010.
This collage was created by a group of young women who wanted to highlight self esteem and self compassion to other women.
1.LabTV survey quoted in Money & Power: Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Scotland. Supporting materials, p.28. Zero Tolerance and Women’s Support Project 2010. http://www.vawpreventionscotland.org.uk/resources/resource-briefing/resource-briefing-commercial-sexual-exploitation cited by Briefing: Sexualisation of young people in the media (2015)
Produced by Zero Tolerance http://www.zerotolerance.org.uk/sites/www.zerotolerance.org.uk/files/files/SexualisationBriefing_ForDownloadV1.pdf ,P1.
2. Zurbriggen, E. L., Collins, R. L., Lamb, S., Roberts, T. A., Tolman, D. L., Ward, L. M.,
et al. (2007) Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf cited by Zero Tolerance (2015) http://www.zerotolerance.org.uk/sites/www.zerotolerance.org.uk/files/SexualisationBriefing_ForDownloadV1.pdf
4. Sexualisation of Young People Review, L, Papadopoulos. 2010. Crown copyright. February 2010. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/Sexualisation-of-young-people2835.pdf?view=Binary P63.
Home Office; Sexualisation of Young People Review
Sexualisation of Young People Review, L, Papadopoulos. 2010. Crown copyright. February 2010. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/Sexualisation-of-young-people2835.pdf?view=Binary
American Psychological Association - The sexualisation of girls
Zurbriggen, E. L., Collins, R. L., Lamb, S., Rober ts, T. A., Tolman, D. L., Ward, L. M.,
et al. (2007) Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf
Linda Thomson (2011) The Vibe - 'Girls don't want to be princesses they want to be hot’. http://www.the-vibe.co.uk/2011/03/09/girls-dont-want-to-be-princesses- they-want-to-be-hot/
Object: Joining up the dots: Why urgent action is needed to tackle the sexualisation of women and girls in the media and popular culture. (2009). http://www.object.org.uk/new-object-report-urges-tough-action-on-sexualisation-of-women-and- girls
Women's Forum Australia - Body Image – Objectification and Sexualisation. (2015). http://www.womensforumaustralia.com/significant-issues/body-image-objectification-and-sexualisation
Check That Body! The Effects of Sexually Objectifying Music Videos on College Men’s Sexual Beliefs Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, K. Megan Hopper, and Wanjiru G. Mbure. (2011). http://comm.arizona.edu/sites/comm.arizona.edu/files/JOBEM_aubrey%20et%20al.pdf
Briefing: Sexualisation of young people in the media - Produced by Zero Tolerance www.zerotolerance.org.uk; http://www.zerotolerance.org.uk/sites/www.zerotolerance.org.uk/files/SexualisationBriefing_ForDownloadV1.pdf
Author: F. Emmins - Children's Mental Health Nurse/ lead facilitator of the #MsMizizi Pilot