“Naughty” Toddlers: How Does the Media Impact Young Girls?

By Taylor Shanley

For my playlist theme, I chose to explore the ways in which the media has affected young, girls and encouraged them to create a certain image or identity of themselves. Through my research, I have concluded that the media has increasingly been persuading these young girls to objectify themselves to be perceived as sexy and carry themselves in a manner that is much more mature than they actually are. I feel that this is an important theme because it clearly shows how powerful the media can be in creating identity in our youth. From an early age, girls particularly are exposed to toys, movies, commercials, and images that show them what they should aspire to be. Why are these images steadily becoming more risque and straying away from childhood innocence? One can learn from this that young girls are always being influenced by what they see and by showing them these inappropriate songs, movies, and images at an early age, they begin to fall into creating an image of the women they should be. In my playlist, I included a mix of images, music videos, and ads to represent the presence that media has in young girls in all mediums. Whether it’s a doll a girl plays with or a music video she sees, she will be comparing herself and developing herself to that image.

Artifact #1

Baby Bratz screenshot 2

This artifact is a screenshot of an online Bratz Babyz game that would normally be accessed by young girls between the ages of about 7 to 11. The girls play as the Bratz in the series of games and perform various tasks. I included the screenshot of the game in my playlist to focus on the appearance of these cartoon girls. Is it typical for young girls to wear belly shirts, short skirts, and makeup? The game, though not directly apparent, is showing these young girls that it is okay to dress this way and that it is the norm. The physical appearance of these girls is also unrealistic and is portraying to these girls that they must look this way in order to be pretty and like these idolized figures. The Bratz dolls all have a clear facial complexion lacking blemishes like freckles or pimples and large eyes, two traits particularly favored by our society.

After analyzing the text intersectionally, I could clearly see the audience that this game and brand of toy is trying to reach: middle class white girls whose families can afford to purchase them the clothing, makeup, and hair treatments to resemble the Bratz in the near future. One can easily notice that there is only one girl that has a darker skin complexion and represents a minority of the group. I feel that this girl is here only to prevent the racist feedback that could result from only including white girls in the game. I also concluded that the game represented the five girls to be straight and feminine. None of the girls clearly have short hair and all are wearing skirts, a societal standard often fulfilled by straight girls in reality. These criteria feed into the stereotype created by our society to identify straight women as well. If one of the girls had shorter hair, no makeup, and less revealing clothing, she might have been stereotyped as a lesbian. Due to the stereotypes taking place and being supported by the screenshot, the text is indeed fulfilling societal standards. It is also promoting the idea that media is negatively influencing young girls due to the suggestive and “perfect” image of feminine, flawless girls that these young girls idolize instead of developing their own self image.

Citation: Softpedia. “Screenshot 2 of Baby Bratz.” Screenshot. Softpedia. Ecooking Games. 12 Oct. 2012. <http://games.softpedia.com/progScreenshots/Baby-Bratz-Screenshot-120241.html&gt;

Artifact #2

        The above image is a picture of a Halloween costume that caused controversy due to its name and was promoted in a Walmart store. Many found the word “naughty” to be inappropriate when associated with a young toddler. I found this artifact to be outrageous due primarily to the fact that it would be the parent’s decision to promote this “naughty” image of his or her toddler since she would not be purchasing the costume. I also find it outrageous that Walmart even presented this costume. This artifact clearly shows the role of parents and organizations to be promoting a “naughty” sexual image associated with older girls and pulling it into the image of young girls. It is sick that the young girl, smiling of innocence, on the package is represented by the word “naughty.” The word is the main proponent of the controversy in this case. The costume itself is not too revealing for a child of that age but the fact that it is associated with the word makes it inappropriate. The word “naughty” is usually associated with short, revealing costumes aimed at a college audience. What purpose did the word even serve on a toddler’s Halloween costume package?
         It was more difficult to analyze the image intersectionally due to the single image of the girl and very little to compare it to. However, I feel that the costume was aimed toward mothers positively promoting femininity to their daughters at an early age. Because the costume is a dress, it actively carries out the stereotype depicting straightness in our society. Maybe the word, “naughty” was appealing to some mothers trying to promote this straight image to their daughters. They could have definitely associated it with the naughty, feminine costumes aimed at college audiences and have been reassured that this would promote a straight, feminine attitude in their daughters. At an early age, girls are taught to be feminine in appearance and boys are taught to be masculine. Because the costume had the word, naughty,” the particular mother could have no fear that her daughter would be confusing her sexuality for the future. This image is also promoting societal standards and ideas that media is negatively impacting the identity of young girls and shaping who will they are going to be before they even know it.
Citation: Northrup, Laura. “Walmart Pulls ‘Naughty Leopard’ Costume From Shelves, Will Research What Leopards Look Like.” Consumerist. Online. October 6, 2013. <http://consumerist.com/2013/09/26/walmart-pulls-naughty-leopard-costume-from-shelves-will-research-what-leopards-look-like/>
Artifact #3
        This video is of a routine performed by seven year-old girls at a dance competition. Though dance is a form of art utilizing bodies and movement, these girls were too young to be performing the moves and wearing the type of clothing as depicted in the video. They crossed the line of dancing and entered into a state of sexualization and objectifying themselves. The song they are dancing to, “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, is also inappropriate for their age group and exposes them to ideas that are too mature for their understanding. Would a seven year-old girl ever be “up in a club” or “all up on” a male? Throughout the song, the girls are grinding near each other, rubbing their undeveloped breasts, and performing in dance moves aimed at a much older audience. The combination of the college-aged lingerie they are wearing, music they are dancing to, and dance moves they are performing create an inappropriate setting and situation. The dance appears to have been inspired by the original music video for the song, an active and apparent portrayal of media being expressed through young girls.
        Looking at the text intersectionally, I concluded that the original “Single Ladies” video promoted a heterosexual, feminine image to be portrayed to the girls in this video. Both the song and video show the importance of sexiness and independence, an attractive trait for straight, feminine women. The sexiness is portrayed through the dancing and attire of the girls and presents themselves in a way that men would like to see them. Lesbian women may also like to see the girls in this way but this line is further established through the lyrics of the song. The song constantly talks about interacting with men and establishes the heterosexual norm in which the young girls were representing. However, I found it interesting that the original video was of three minority, black women and the girls in this video were all white. Does this imply that only young, white girls are looking to grow up faster or does it imply that they are a part of the white upper middle class that can only afford to be in a dance competition like this? I feel like it is a combination of both. It seems like white, middle to upper class families are only able to afford the activities and material items for their young daughters idolizing the media. I feel that this video as well conveys that media has impacted young girls negatively due to the multiple instances and influences explained.
Citation: Single Ladies Dance. Perf. Dance Precisions. YourDanceChannel, 2010. Film.
Artifact #4
        This artifact is the music video of the song, “O.M.G.” by Jenna Rose when she was 12 years-old. The music video stresses the importance of looking good or better than everyone else and moving your body which I believe is an extremely inappropriate idea for a 12 year-old girl. There are a number of other things in the video that further contribute to the mature theme that she is representing. The attire of these young girls consists of tight spandex shorts that show off their butts and make viewers focus on the bodies of the girls instead of the song. To further contribute to a focus on their bodies, the girls are dancing provocatively as they drop and hip thrust at the camera. The gaze of these girls, away from the camera, lets the viewer focus on these moving bodies instead of eyes that could be looking at the camera. These same ideas are presented in music videos of more mature artists that Jenna Rose was likely influenced by.
        The same intersectional observations that have been observed in previous artifacts are prevalent with Jenna Rose’s music video as well. It is assumed by viewers that these girls are heterosexual, white girls aiming to appear sexy and objectify themselves to men. Though they appear to be too young for relationships, the girls took on more mature roles that would naturally be used by older women to receive male attention. I also observed that the video was made up of only white girls. I found this weird because there were a large number of girls in Jenna Rose’s video and naturally, at least one minority girl is included in this large of a group to prevent the idea of racism. This might fall into the idea presented with the Beyonce dance video as well. The white girls may have been the only ones to be able to afford being in the video and act as the older girls they see through the media. However, it could have also been a racist act on Jenna Rose’s part considering the theme of the song: appearance. Are minorities not good enough to be in her video? Is the ideology of “looking good” only available to skinny, white girls? Jenna Rose’s video plays into roles of society and because it is highly inappropriate for her age and directly shows the influence of media values. It clearly shows the negative impact the media has on young girls like Jenna Rose.
Citation: O.M.G. Perf. Jenna Rose. Artist Makers Enterprise, 2011. Film.
Artifact #5

     The final artifact includes a controversial ad for Prada featuring two underage girls, one 13 and the other 17 years-old. Because the girls are the age of much of the audience they are being represented to, I feel like the ad creates a larger impact than if the girls were older and performing in the acts of the ad. It shifts the question from, “Wow, those older girls are so sexy and cool. Can I be like them when I’m older?” to, “Wow, those girls are my age, look what they’re doing. Why am I not like them?” Also, the girls are backed by Prada, a large company that is influential in the images of many girls. Like the other artifacts, the girls are objectifying themselves and making themselves sexualized. I feel like the camera angles of the girls legs largely achieve this. Legs are something that is commonly sexualized in our society and highly valued when a man is looking at a woman. In the ad, the girls have long, skinny legs, a desirable trait. Therefore, their legs and the camera angles moving up and down their legs slowly helps achieve the goal of sexualizing the girls and associating this sexiness with Prada. Camera angles also depict the girls taking their clothing on and off in the ad. The idea of this can be associated with sex because clothing comes on and off during the act. Therefore, these underage girls are being associated with the image of sex and are wrongfully sexualizing their bodies with the support of Prada behind them.

The same intersectional theme is prevalent in this ad. However, the idea of only heterosexuality is not enforced. In the other artifacts, men are specifically mentioned or implied through lyrics. In this ad, there is no mentioning of men and no men present in the ad as well. Though the ad may be implied for the typical male that values sex and attractive legs, a homosexual woman could equally enjoy this ad. The three models in this video are only white like in the other artifacts. This further supports the idea of white privilege when portraying values influenced through the media. It still represents that only white, middle class girls can afford to buy these things in order to make themselves like the media idols they are influenced by daily. This ad reinforces the idea of girls being influenced by media negatively due to the sexual image these young girls have already created and the fact that a large media company like Prada is backing and supporting all of it.

Citation: Prada Womenswear Fall/Winter 2011.12. Dir. Steven Meisel. Perf. Ondria Hardin. Prada, 2011. Film.

Analysis:

Through examining the artifacts above with an ethnographical method, I have further been able to develop my argument supporting the negative influence from the media projected upon young girls. The target audience that seems to be most vulnerable to this sexual image is the group of middle to upper class, white girls who can afford the activities and materials to represent these media idols. The playlist begins with showing the influence being presented to girls very early in their youth and progresses to show how the same sexualized images are influencing them to their later years as girls. The combination of images shows how these targeted white, upper class girls develop their identities through media beginning very early in their youth and begin to fall into the image and objectification the media wants them to.

Media will and has been exposed to several difference audiences throughout their lifetimes. My playlist is effective in showing that media is introduced as early as three years-old and is continually affecting girls particularly into their adulthood. The progression from something as minor as inappropriately dressed computer game characters to 13 year-old Prada models promoting sex shows how the media influence only gets more provocative with age. Referring to principles established by Kellner, media is helping these girls establish their societal norms, expectations, opinions, sexualities, behaviors, and several other contributions to their personalities from an early age. The mainstream culture being thrown at them entices them to develop these mythical norms in which they must work to achieve. This pushing of a common culture in these girls gives them very little incentive to create their own values and oppositional identities away from the media. The girls begin to idolize the sexy, older girls objectifying themselves and gaining success and begin to aspire to have this image in their near future.

The sexualized women in media are actively promoting young girls to objectify themselves and tend to reach the audience of wealthier white girls who can actively portray the girls they are observing. According to Berger, the presence of a woman and what can or can not be done to her is shown through almost everything she does. It’s influenced by what she wears, says and does. These things are also constantly being surveyed by the woman herself in order to have a high self image and be appropriately viewed in the eyes of males. In media, women are supposed to be the passive objects for actively watching men to observe. These values are being portrayed to young girls through a sexiness factor. Men value women wearing little clothing and moving or acting sexually according to the media. As shown through the various texts in my playlist, these ideas are being projected to these girls and build to be more inappropriate with age. A theme I found prevalent in my playlist was that mostly white, higher class girls were trying to act as these sexualized women at an early age. I accredit this to the fact that in many cases, the mythical norm for these women are rich, white women looking for male attention. The young white girls may find themselves to be more suitable to fill these later roles than minority groups and may simply have the funds to pursue opportunities to do so.

Overall, it is apparent that young girls are influenced by the objectification of women in media far much more than anticipated. With further education about common culture and fighting to pursue oppositional identities, these girls can promote a future not defined by their bodies.

Works Cited

-Kellner, Douglas. “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. 7-18. Print.

-Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010. 57-65.

-Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010. 49-52. Print.

-Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference (1984)” Reading Women’s Lives. Ed. Amanda Rossie. New York: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2010. Pg 17-27.

–Softpedia. “Screenshot 2 of Baby Bratz.” Screenshot. Softpedia. Ecooking Games. 12 Oct. 2012. <http://games.softpedia.com/progScreenshots/Baby-Bratz-Screenshot-120241.html&gt;

-Northrup, Laura. “Walmart Pulls ‘Naughty Leopard’ Costume From Shelves, Will Research What Leopards Look Like.” Consumerist. Online. October 6, 2013. <http://consumerist.com/2013/09/26/walmart-pulls-naughty-leopard-costume-from-shelves-will-research-what-leopards-look-like/>

-Single Ladies Dance. Perf. Dance Precisions. YourDanceChannel, 2010. Film.

-O.M.G. Perf. Jenna Rose. Artist Makers Enterprise, 2011. Film.

-Prada Womenswear Fall/Winter 2011.12. Dir. Steven Meisel. Perf. Ondria Hardin. Prada, 2011. Film.

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