How does media influence a girl's self-image?

How does media influence a girl's self-image?

EUGENE, Ore. – Is television to blame for little girls becoming too sexy too soon?

Few empirical studies have actually explored the topic, until now.

Researchers Christine Starr and Gail Ferguson from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, used a simple method to come to a startling conclusion.

They asked a group of 60 6-to-9-year-old girls which of two paper dolls they identified with.

One doll was dressed in a revealing outfit, while the other doll was dressed more modestly.

70 percent of the girls said they looked more like the sexy doll, and that she was more popular than the modest doll.

"It seems like young girls are getting more and more sexualized, not only because of exposure to media, movies and TV, but unsupervised media," said psychologist Ryan Scott with Vista Counseling.

On the other hand, Starr and Ferguson found out that a mother’s influence on her daughter and a girl's involvement in sports protected young girls from wanting to become too sexy too soon.

Girls who were enrolled in sports, dance or gymnastics classes chose the sexy doll much less often.

Leeann McBee’s 6-year-old daughter takes a gymnastics class at Kipster's Gymnastics in Eugene.

“I think it goes back to having a positive role model, whether it’s yourself, other adults in your family, big sisters," McBee said. "Like with my girls, they watch my every move, they will mock everything I do.”

Bethani Rivera also has a 6-year-old daughter enrolled in the class.

Both mothers said they monitored the TV shows their daughters watched, but “it’s not just the TV shows,” Bethani said. “It’s the commercials, it’s advertisements that they see on Barbie Dolls, Bratz Dolls. It’s in our music. It’s everywhere. It’s shoved down their throats.”

Both of their daughters chose the sexy doll as being more popular but chose the modest doll as looking more like them.

Scott said there’s room for healthy sexual development in young girls, but the concern is that it’s happening at younger and younger ages.

He said the solution is not as simple as turning off the TV.

"Parents have the ability to use media, TV, movies, as a teachable moment, to talk about how that's not a good choice that person's making," he said, "or how that's not really an appropriate way to dress."