These days, self-sexualization is becoming more and more rampant among young girls. In a recent study published in the journal Sex Roles, researchers have found that girls as young as six years old want to be sexy. Where is this behavior coming from?

In an effort to understand the situation, psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, recruited 60 girls between the ages of six and nine and showed them two paper dolls. One doll was dressed in tight and revealing clothes, while the other doll wore trendy but more modest clothing. For every question the researchers asked, there was a new set of sexy and trendy dolls for the girls to choose from. The girls were then asked which doll they resembled the most, which doll they aspired to be, which doll they thought was more popular, and which doll they wanted to play with.

The results showed that the girls chose the sexy doll more often. In fact, 68 percent of the girls answered that they wanted to look like the sexy doll and 72 percent answered that the sexy doll was probably more popular in school. "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," explains lead researcher Christy Starr.

Still, not everyone chose the sexy doll as their ideal image. While the girls in the study were mostly recruited from two public schools, a small group was invited from a local dance studio. Interestingly, these girls were more likely to choose the trendy but covered-up doll than the sexy doll. Researchers theorized that being involved in dance may have helped the girls realize that their bodies were more than just for showing off.

Aside from enrolling your kids into a dance class, how else could self-sexualization be prevented? Will minimizing TV exposure help? Surprisingly, TV exposure can sometimes help parents raise better-balanced children. The study also revealed that mothers who use TV and movies to instruct their kids have a better chance of avoiding self-sexualization than, say, more religious mothers who forbid media consumption. The research adds that religious mothers who allow their kids to watch TV were likely to raise kids with proper self-esteem. Mothers themselves are strong influencers.

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If your kids often see you worrying about your looks and body and how people see you, then they might just develop the same concerns as well. While you can’t really stop outside influences from popping up, you can at least be around to serve as a good example and that alone may be enough.

(Photo by smr+lsh via Flickr Creative Commons)

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