The Dangers of Over-Sexualized Images On Young Girls
How to counter "Too Much, Too Soon, Too Sleazy" ads aimed at our daughters and raise healthier girls from the inside out.

Thong undies for toddlers.

Push-up bras for eight-year olds.

Sneakers to "tone" legs for preschoolers.

Marketers keep pushing that "too sexy, too soon" envelope on our young daughters, and we are seeing impact on our daughters’ self-esteem and body images.

Keep in mind that it isn’t just one advertisement or one commercial  that affects a young girl’s self-concept, but the constant slew of images pushing a "too fast, too soon" look. And that’s exactly what our girls are exposed to these days. The "constant" seeing or hearing over-sexualized messages can be damaging to a young girl’s mental, emotional or moral well being.

The  extent of that damage depends upon each particular girl, but we do know younger girls (especially those 7 to 12 years old) and those with lower self-esteem are more vulnerable. But let’s be clear: these over "too much, too soon" messages are not healthy for any girl’s self-image or body image, and it’s why we should be concerned about the onslaught of these sexualized messages on our daughters. They are having a negative impact. Here are a few dangers, and why we should be outraged.

1. Pushes a Wrong Message on How to Achieve Happiness

Children’s self-beliefs, values, and attitudes are formed through repetition. Continual messages that stress "thin, looks, tone, sexy" can cause girls to believe that they should be pushing their childhoods ahead. For instance, a young girl can translate those messages as:

"I should be acting and dressing like a teen even though I’m in grade school."

"I should be dieting."

"I should be wearing makeup."

"I should be worried about if my legs are toned."

"I should be …"

The problem is her "should be's" are unrealistic, unhealthy, and damaging. Is there any wonder why 80 percent of fourth grade girls worry they will be fat? This morning my local newspaper contained this interesting fact….and I quote: "One study found that 80 percent of all U.S. women admit to being dissatisfied with their figures." Concerns about our "shoulds" don’t seem to improve with age.

2. Develops a "Flimsy" Self-image that Endangers the Development of Resilience

Authentic self-esteem is a fine balance between a "feeling of worthiness" and a "feeling of capableness." Developing both of those essential feelings is what helps our daughters handle stress, cope with life, and bounce back when the going gets tough. And those crucial school years are when our daughters are doing serious work in shaping their self-concepts and forming their "Who I am?" opinions about themselves.

Messages over-loaded with looks, appearance, weight, dress size, and toned legs (all addressing the "Am I worthy?" side of the self-esteem quotient) don’t allow girls to develop positive images for their "feeling capable sides." Too much emphasis on looks can also cause girls to miss out on those crucial opportunities that help them figure out their strengths, interests, likes, hobbies, values, etc. A flimsier self-esteem is also likely to mean a girl has a weaker "Resilience Quotient" (that crucial commodity she’ll need to handle life) due to an unbalanced acquisition of self-esteem.

3. Decompressed Childhood

"Too fast, too soon" messages push girls to grow up too quickly for their age and maturity. Growing up "before their time" also means missing out on developmentally appropriate activities, rituals, and games that are such an integral part of growing up. Instead of playing, discovering, learning, creating, relishing, or just being, they are devoting priceless energy wondering how they should look or weigh or act. There is no rewind button on childhood, folks.

4. Boosts Health Risks

Do you know the new hot "Sweet 16" birthday gift request? It’s Botox! (Yep, Botox… I still haven’t quite figured that one out or found a 16 year old girl with a wrinkle). Breast implants are now on our girls’  high school graduation "wish lists." According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, more than 39,709 cosmetic surgery procedures were performed in 2016 on girls 18 and under. There is always a risk with surgery, but what about the risk to a young girl’s body image? And why?

5. Increases Mental Health Risks

Research also shows that the proliferation of sexualized images in advertising, merchandising and media are indeed harmful to a young girls’ self-image and health. A five-year study of 2516 teens by the American Psychological Association found that girls who frequently read those dieting and weight loss articles are far more likely to fast, vomit, or use laxatives to lose weight. In fact, the data found that the more frequently a girl sees those over-sexualized, images, the more likely she is to resort to extreme weight control behaviors.I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that we’re also seeing a tragic increase of eating disorders in girls who are  7 and 8 years of age.

6. Increases Odds for Risky Behaviors

Those "too fast, too soon" images can also push our girls into those "teen" years sooner. (From the looks of things 8 has become the new 13). Growing up faster also means the potential for earlier drinking, earlier promiscuity, plus earlier peer pressure—and those all add up to taking more unhealthy risks.

4. Expect him to share. This is one of the first moral behaviors we need to tune up in our kids starting at around 2 or 3 years of age. When he is two you can structure his sharing: "It's his turn, then your turn, then his turn." Little kids sometimes need an oven timer as a reminder that the other person should still be allowed to play with the toy. Before friends come over, structure "sharing" by asking him: "What things will you share with your friend?" "What do you think he would like to play?" Put away things that are very special that may cause problems. What's important on this one is to help your child learn to think of others' needs and feelings.

Dr. Michele Borba is an educational consultant and author who has conducted parent and teacher seminars worldwide.  For more information on her books and work visit

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