Miley Cyrus Effect Twerking and Nude Appearances Led to Endless Media Chatter

Miley Cyrus
By now, nearly all of America has seen or is at least aware of, the recent antics of pop-music sensation Miley Cyrus at both the MTV Video Music Awards and the European Music Awards. Her “twerking,” sexual gestures, nearly nude appearances, and public drug use have led to endless media chatter and now other young stars are weighing in on this sexualized behavior as well.

When asked about the performances of her young star counterpart, Miley Cyrus, superstar Jennifer Lawrence commented that: “For some disgusting reason, young sex sells.” While Lawrence did not directly criticize Cyrus’s behavior, she further explained that she is pleased that young girls have a role model like the character she portrays in The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, a smart, strong example of femininity. Lawrence also explained that she makes a conscious effort to consider the type of role model she is to younger viewers and fans.

To be fair, young female stars are not the only ones setting this course of the sexualization of young girls.  Numerous clothing lines, perhaps most notably Abercrombie and Fitch, with their sexual depictions of very young teens, have been criticized for their advertising techniques and for the scanty items marketed to an increasingly younger audience.

One 2011 study researched girls’ clothing at fifteen major retailers, including Neiman Marcus, Target and Kmart and found that nearly a third of what was available was sexualized either through it’s explicit printed message or through the style. Television plays a part as well, not only through advertising but through programming as well.  The onslaught of dim but beautiful personalities in reality television is never ending.  The program Toddlers and Tiaras is a particularly egregious example, well known for its depictions of very young girls wearing very little clothing and often participating in flirtatious performances.

While young stars may have differing views, it seems that the experts agree that this type of sexualization in our society is having a detrimental effect on young girls who may look to performers like Miley Cyrus as role models.

According to the American Psychological Association’s task force report on the sexualization of young girls, exposure to such depictions may lead to an increase in body dissatisfaction, depression and low self esteem. These depictions may also lead to young girls developing and internalizing a belief that physical appearance is more important than academic achievement, thus impacting their opportunities later in life.  Exposure to this type of sexualization may also make it more difficult for girls to form female to female friendships and encourage the development of increasingly casual attitudes about the experience of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

The APA’s report stresses that instruction in media literacy may counteract some of these effects.  The report also suggests that parents or other influential adults should view television and film with young children to encourage a dialogue about the images they see. The availability of diverse extracurricular activities, including athletics for young girls is also believed to have the potential to counteract the negative effects of the sexualization of young girls and women.

By Michele Wessel

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