Sexy Dolls, Sexy Grade-Schoolers? Media & Maternal Influences on Young Girls’ Self-Sexualization
Concern is often expressed that mass media contribute to the early sexualization of young girls; however, few empirical studies have explored the topic. Using paper dolls, we examined self-sexualization among sixty 6–9 year-old girls from the Midwestern United States; specifically self-identification, preference, and attributions regarding sexualized dress. Based on simultaneous maternal reports, we also investigated potential risk factors (media consumption hours, maternal self-objectification) and potential protective factors (maternal television mediation, maternal religiosity) for young girls’ sexualization. Findings support social cognitive theory/social learning theory and reveal nuanced moderated effects in addition to linear main effects. Girls overwhelmingly chose the sexualized doll over the non-sexualized doll for their ideal self and as popular; however, dance studio enrollment, maternal instructive TV mediation, and maternal religiosity reduced those odds. Surprisingly, the mere quantity of girls’ media consumption (tv and movies) was unrelated to their self-sexualization for the most part; rather, maternal self-objectification and maternal personal religiosity moderated its effects.