A majority of girls as young as six already begin thinking about themselves as sex objects, according to a new study made up of elementary school-age kids in the Midwest.
Previously researchers found that women and teens think of themselves in sexually objectified terms, but the latest study, published in the journal Sex Roles, is the first to detect self- sexualization in girls just slightly older than toddlers.
Researchers asked 60 girls between the ages of six and nine years old to select one of two paper dolls shown to them, one dressed in a tight and revealing "sexy" outfit or another wearing a fashionable but covered-up loose outfit, that they identified with the most.
Researchers had asked each of the girls to answer questions with a different set of doll for each question. Examples of some questions the girls needed to answer were to choose a doll that looked most like herself, how she wanted to look, was popular in school and one that she wanted to play with.
Psychologists at Knox University in Galesburg, Ill. revealed girls overwhelmingly chose the "sexy" doll over the conservative doll in most questions.
The results revealed that 68 percent of girls said that they wanted to look like the "sexy" doll and 72 percent said that the "sexy" doll was more popular than the conservative doll.
"It's very possible that girls wanted to look like the sexy doll because they believe sexiness leads to popularity, which comes with many social advantages," said lead researcher Christy Starr, who was particularly alarmed by how many 6- to 7-year-old girls chose the sexualized doll as their ideal self, according to Live Science.
Researchers conducted the study to see how the market of ever-evolving toys affected American girls.
"On the heels of 20th century criticism of the anatomically questionable Barbie doll came the 21st century Bratz doll-an adolescent-figured doll modeling sexy clothing and make-up on huge eyes and plump lips," researchers wrote. "Despite the ubiquity of these sexualizing messages targeted towards young girls, it is surprising that there remains a dearth of scientific knowledge on early sexualization, including self-sexualization."
To understand why the young girls chose the sexy dolls, they asked their mothers about their media intake, own self-objectification and how involved they were with their daughter's body image.
The findings indicate that those with mothers who frequently watched television and those who self-objectified were more likely to choose the sexy doll, leading researchers to suggest that media convinces girls that they should be predisposed to self-sexualization, and then instruction, or lack of instruction, from their mothers magnifies that tendency.
Researchers found that mothers who did not self-objectify had daughters were less likely to choose the sexy doll, suggesting that maternal influence can counteract media.
"As maternal TV instruction served as a protective factor for sexualization, it’s possible that higher media usage simply allowed for more instruction," Starr said to Live Science.
Researcher also found that participants enrolled in dance class were also less likely to choose the sexy doll, indicating that the classes may have helped the girls establish a stronger and more positive sense of body image.