Toy brands like Barbie or Bratz together with the series of Disney cartoons about princesses are highly popular among the girls starting from the age of three. Careless parents allow their children to consume the products of popular culture and marketing without understanding what consequences it might bring about. The essays by Stephanie Hanes and Zali Yager provide convincing arguments, which prove that sexualized media and advertising being focused on the appearance distort the girls’ worldview and the perception of themselves starting from the young age.
Stephanie Hanes explains that it is common for mothers to watch how their daughters grow up watching first Disney cartoons and then TV shows like Hannah Montana and High School Musical. Parents do not understand how these shows affect girls’ childhood. The consequences are terrifying: 50 percent of girls aged from 3 to 6 years are concerned about their body shape, 25 percent of kids of both sexes aged from 14 to 17 years admitted that they sent or received nude photos, while thong underwear is being bought for the girls starting from the age of 7. The author states that watching Disney princesses causes girls’ self-objectification, results in cyberbullying and encourages an unhealthy image of human body.
Sexuality is imposed on children starting from the early years of life, which becomes the reason of eating disorders, depression, and problems with physical health. Sexualization of women is used to attract the attention of little girls to buying clothes, accessories, shoes, and cosmetics, which support the image of a “sexy girl” while “sexy” is strongly associated with the idea of girlness and femininity (Hanes). Hanes argues that although TV shows depict women who work as lawyers, doctors or politicians, which are considered masculine professions, the image they demonstrate is always the image of a sexy woman. In addition, the number of hypersexualized images of women in magazines has also increased significantly. Sexuality is perceived as a vital element of an accomplished woman (Hanes). The increased sexualization in the advertisement, TV shows, periodicals, and music lyrics forces modern girls to feel the need to look and be sexually attractive (Hanes).
The other source, which supports sexualization, is the Internet and social networks. Girls and boys encourage each other to develop the images of sexy men and women (Hanes). Teenagers, who post sexual photos of themselves, receive the attention and encouraging comments of their peers. Many girls post or send seductive photos only because they have grown up in a culture where the female sexuality is highly ranked, not because they find it really necessary (Hanes).
The author believes that one of the best methods to prevent young girls from turning into the victims of sexualization is to broaden their views on women and femininity. Hanes states that modern culture offers a wide range of girls’ images to the society, but all of them are inevitably objectifying (Hanes). Since today it is hardly possible to avoid sexualized images, it is essential to make girls and women recognize the objectification and understand what it is directed to. Girls and their mothers can become media critics. It is significant to discuss with the young girls the questions of female sexuality and how it is demonstrated in modern media, to increase the awareness of parents about the dangers the television and other media images cause, and to fight against the stereotypes of femininity. Stephanie Hanes supports the idea that the content presented in TV shows, Disney cartoons and other contemporary media is an absolutely negative and dangerous phenomenon, which has a negative influence on the minds of girls and against which the society should fight.
On the other hand, Zali Yager argues that although the images of girls and women represented by girl toys like Barbie may sometimes be the reasons for gender or health issues, they are not as dangerous as they are demonstrated. For more than half of a century Barbie has remained the most popular Christmas present for the girls aged from 3 to 10 years and 99 percent of girls in the USA have this doll. This kind of popularity allows both parents and social scientists blame Barbie for distorting the perception of human body, causing eating disorders and also creating and maintaining gender stereotypes, which result in domestic violence and the gender pay gap (Yager).
The researchers calculated that less than 1 out of 100,000 adult women can have the proportions of the Barbie doll (Yager). Besides, with Barbie’s proportions a regular woman would not be able to menstruate or even hold the head properly. In defense of his creation Mattel states that the doll’s proportions were created only to make the dressing and undressing of the toy easier; they were not trying to recreate the female body or establish its standard (Yager). Yager states that regardless of the origin of Barbie’s appearance, TV shows, cartoons, books and online games continue to depict Barbie as a very thin young girl or woman, whose body shape is impossible and absolutely unreachable (Yager).
This image of Barbie strongly affects children’s self-esteem: around 40 percent of girls state that they are not satisfied with the way they look, and starting from the age of 5 they admit that they are concerned about their weight and wish they were much thinner (Yager). It is well-known that children shape their views and acquire the ideas about the proper appearance and weight through observing the behavior of their parents or peers and through perceiving and imitating the things that they see around them, including the media. Yager states that contemporary media for children produces stereotypes concerning the appearance, beauty, and weight: the good character is always beautiful and attractive while the evil one is ugly; characters with weight problems always have fewer friends and are not as happy as thin characters (Yager). Thus, children starting from the age of 3 begin to associate large body size and bigger body weight with such negative features as naughty and vicious.
Similarly, the desire to have a thin body applies to women. The almost unreachable thin-body ideal causes dissatisfaction with one’s body shape and eating disorders (Yager). Yager argues that this dissatisfaction with the body is caused not particularly by the Barbie doll, but by the images created by the media. The study of the connection between playing with Barbie during the childhood years, adult eating behaviors and their perception of their body demonstrated that those women who liked playing with Barbies are focused on their appearance more than those who did not (Yager). At the same time the researchers did not find any connection between playing with Barbie while being a girl and a high level of dissatisfaction with the body or distortion of eating habits as an adult (Yager). This allows the author to conclude that the blame for the distorted body image should not be placed on the doll. Yager emphasizes that parents should not be afraid to buy the Barbie doll because it is harmless. The parents should mainly focus on the appearance-focused female images produced by the media. Young girls are permanently attacked by the messages about how they should look and how appearance is important for a successful woman. Thus, it is significant to teach children to critique the media.
It is clear that the authors present two points to the problem of the creation and perception of the image of a woman. Zali Yager does not support the idea that toys are a source of danger for girls’ self-esteem while Stephanie Hanes believes that the Disney princess cartoons can cause serious damage to young girls’ self-perception. However, both authors emphasize that advertisement and media images play the leading role in the deformation and distortion of children’s minds. Cartoons, movies, TV-shows and the Internet strongly affect the formation of behavioral patterns in children. Thus, it is highly important for parents to watch what kind of information their children consume to prevent them from turning into the victims of stereotypes and marketing.