Sexualization Summit: Save the Date Oct 22, 2010 NYC

May 17, 2010 As irony would have it, on Thurs, May 13, in New York City, a small tribe of thought leaders convened on how to best address rampant sexualization of youth in media and marketing.

Each invitee of this diverse group was hand-selected for the purpose of “bringing their entire communities” into the conversation and sharing next steps, best practices, and public health data to turn up the static and turn down the media volume of toxic cues blasting kids.

Who was at the table for this intimate planning session? Academic rockstars like Jean Kilbourne author of So Sexy So Soon, filmmaker of just released Killing Us Softly4 and one of the earliest pioneers in this conversation long ago…Then there was Shaping Youth advisory board member Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D, co-author of Packaging Girlhood (and one of the  core crew initiating this important dialog, along with True Child, Women’s Media Center, Hardy Girls Healthy Women, etc.) and yes, yours truly, who was honored to be amidst such luminaries 😉

All told, about two dozen heavy hitters dedicated to changing the channel of media influence to a healthier frequency convened, discussing how fast our culture is frying brain cells into full tilt desensitization (as evidenced by my own Miley Cyrus/L.A. Times yawn awhile back). Meanwhile…(simultaneously, ahem…)

…About 2 million YouTube viewers virally upended the blogosphere asking, “Seven Year Olds, Really?” as Jessica Gottlieb did here commenting on the talented but controversial video of  “Single Ladies” (age 7) which was taken down from YouTube (and of course, reposted again; quel surprise; digital fingerprints have lasting lives)

The video not only  lit up the digital circuit in a nanosecond, it quickly segued to mainstream media talk show fodder, with parents and dancing coaches entering a testy battleground of public opinion.

Elsewhere, passionistas like PigtailPals’ Melissa Wardy and local tween actionististas like MsTwixt in D.C. were busy climbing aboard the same runaway media train to blow the whistle on sexualization and why “Fishnets, the Tooth Fairy & Capitol Hill” don’t belong in the same breath.

Encourage the House of Representatives to pass HR 4925

As Melissa voiced so passionately in her blog:

…”I get bile in my throat when I see little girls in a manner of dress similar to sex workers. I get tears in my eyes when I see little girls move or use their bodies in sexual ways that they shouldn’t even know about yet. They are, after all, little girls. Little. Girls. Their right to a childhood should be fiercely protected. The viewing or thinking of children in a sexual way SHOULD BE TABOO. And the worse part of it all, is that many times these very children don’t understand what they are doing — that is the beast of sexualization.

Friday morning I scheduled a meeting with Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) office in Washington DC to discuss a bill she co-sponsored and had just introduced in March – HR 4925 Healthy Media for Youth Act.

The hope for HR4925 is to create a competitive grant program for media literacy and youth empowerment programs, facilitate research on how media affects youth, and to establish a National Task Force on Women and Girls in the Media.”

I’ve hashed out the Good Morning America parental ‘context vs. content’ bit on Dr. Robyn’s Facebook page which is linked in her piece below, so I won’t repeat myself other than to express incredulity at the parent posse once again (both in her own comment stream, and in the various others throughout the blogosphere that left me rolling me eyes, forehead banging and exhaling in exasperation…a LOT)

So I’ll jump to what I consider to be the one truly shining media moment of the whole media melee of “Right vs. Wrong Ways to Let Kids Do Pop Music” (BlogHer post by Mir Kamin) which is the  unearthing of the kidvid All The Scholar Ladies (get an A on it) which is a FUN tribute to how media/pop culture CAN be used to empower rather than consume kids. (see below!)

Needless to say, I’ll be focusing on the October 22, 2010 plans and a full recap of key points, but meanwhile, here’s  Shaping Youth’s child development expert/body image pro, Dr. Robyn Silverman weighing in on the epic fail in brief, concise, “point/counterpoint” insightful style:

Shaping Youth’s Child Development/Body Image Pro Recaps HER  Take on the Media Melee

by Dr. Robyn Silverman

We ended last week in a media storm. We were dealing with the backlash, well, mostly, stemming from watching several extremely talented 7-8 year old girls in a youtube video dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” in skimpy belly-bearing costumes gyrating on stage.

We discussed it on my Facebook Fan Page and differing opinions came out.  We heard it on the news, and yes again, different opinions came out.  So, I thought I might take a moment to answer some of the points that were brought up by folks, including the girls parents, who felt that no wrong had been done.

Let’s look the problem in the face.

1.) “But they want to do it:” Of  course they do. The celebrities are doing it. Their teacher, who they likely respect and idolize,  has taught it to them. Everyone is clapping, laughing, and screaming for them.  Yes, yes, of course they want to do it. Children want to do things that have rewards. The whole idea behind rewards is when you use them, children want to do more of the behavior that gets them those rewards.

While a child shouldn’t be punished for displaying a behavior that they have been carefully taught, adults need to step back and say, “should this behavior be rewarded?” If not, and I hope it’s no, parents need to take steps to explain why the behavior is inappropriate, apologize if you made a mistake and had a part in it, and let them know what behaviors are appropriate.

2.) “What harm can it really do?” There are have been numerous studies that have shown that sexualizing girls at an early age may lead to major problems.  According to the large-scale APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, sexualizing girls may lead to:

  • Self objectification (such that they evaluate their own bodies in terms of sexual desirability rather than their own desires, health, achievements and competence).
  • Acceptance of more sexualized images: Because they are trying to figure out their identity and tend to be more elastic in trying on different “hats”  or “masks” as they’ve been called, the girls may be more accepting of sexualized messages and internalize them as part of their identity.
  • Too much attention paid to the physical: When girls spend so much time focusing on how they look, they spend less time focusing on their mental and physical activities.
  • Poor body image: When girls are sexualized early, it undermines how they feel about their bodies which can leader to poor self worth, shame, anxiety, and disgust with oneself.
  • Eating issues and poor mental health: Sexualization has been correlated with depression, eating  disorders, and low self esteem.

There are more consequences—but we don’t have all day.

3.) “But they are so talented.” Yup. They sure are.  There is no dispute that these girls can rock the stage.  But, talented or not, gyrating on stage in little dinky outfits is not age-appropriate.

One commenter, Manny Cabrera III, who is also a martial arts school owner in Florida mentioned:

“….They expressed more skill when they were doing the kick spins to a controlled vertical leg hold than … shaking their tushes in a way that you really only see rap video vixens dance.”

4.) “It’s what is expected:” A dangerous road. The last time I used the excuse with my Mom “but everyone is doing it,” it didn’t go over all too well.  But this was the excuse given by one set of parents on Good Morning America who felt that these kinds of costumes and these kinds of dance moves are customary in the dance world among this age group.

But what lesson does this teach our daughters? If “everyone” is doing it, that makes it OK? Good luck when they become teenagers.

Along these same lines is pointing the finger at other activities that ask the girls to take on sexualized movements as a typical part of choreography—or to point to other sports to explain away the skimpy outfits.  But…Cheerleading! But…Swimming! Or how about that martial arts teaches self defense and that isn’t always safe…right?

Oy.  Yes, some cheerleading squads do use sexualized routines for little girls.  Nope, don’t think those are right either.  Swimming? Do we really need to go there? Swimmers are swimming in the water.  They are not wiggling it on stage.  There is nothing particularly sexual about doing the backstroke. And martial arts.  Well, when you teach children martial arts there is a safe time, place, and way to use it.

As I said on my Facebook Fan Page, there is no safe time, place, or way when it comes to sexualizing children. And yes, putting them in skimpy outfits while they are doing it does make the whole thing seem worse.

I would like to be very clear here: Teaching children to dance early is NOT the same as teaching children to dance sexually.

There is no dispute about whether the girls should have been taught to dance. Little girls should be taught to dance in age-appropriate ways.


Many of you chimed in to underscore that this was not an issue of context—it was of content—whether it was on a dance competition stage or elsewhere.

According to Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, who commented on my FanPage:

…”Even if you argued ‘context’ in terms of the dancing skill (e.g. highly costumed/attention getting competitions, showcasing performances etc.) we must remind ourselves that the ‘content’ is no longer living in that silo. “

…”When digitally broadcast into mass media (YouTube, HuffPo, GMA whatevah) it leads to further ’shock & awe’ sensationalism, moral outrage/parental panic, and/or social norming, desensitization of sexualization, age compression cues etc. It all depends on who’s doing the loudest shouting.

…”Reminder: We are living in a ’surround sound’ culture. NO ONE can simply play the ‘it’s no big deal it was just a dance number’ card…because “context” and “content” are now often interchangeable. To me, this is a public health & children’s rights issue. Period.”

In a world that screams “top that!” I have to wonder, if this is what the girls are doing at age 7 or 8, what in the world must be prepare ourselves to witness when they turn 15? And how must parents prepare their own girls who may be entering dance—shall we just expect that this is the way it is?

In the end, it is the parents who make the decision. It is the same type of decision we asked for when Miley Cyrus was photographed wearing nothing but a sheet. It is the same type of decision we ask for as companies come out with thongs for 6 year olds  and fishnet stockings.

Parents, society is screaming, “take it off,” “shake it,” “show me more,” it is YOU who must emphatically yell back, with no exception, “no.”

Your thoughts?

Dr. Robyn Signature

We’re notably proud to have Dr. Robyn Silverman (full bio here) as a Shaping Youth Advisory Board member of our team. She is a leading Child and Adolescent Development Specialist with a focus on character education and body/self esteem development during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

As a strong believer that children are assets to be developed not deficits to be managed, her work reflects a positive approach that shows that with the right tools, all young people have the ability to thrive and succeed.”

Thanks, Robyn, for saving me some time doing a full ‘wrap up” …

Here’s the joyful video (below) that I found to be the ‘antidote’ to the viral venom that punctured my weekend with such amazing change agents and cyclebreakers a tad…These girls from Hope School uplifted and renewed my own hope that we CAN and WILL begin the arduous education process, and use media as the conduit to appeal, inspire and engage youth in fun, fresh ways. Enjoy!

All the Scholar Ladies (Hope School)

Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 4



  1. EXCELLENT analysis, opinion and call to action!
    Very thoughtful responses here and the icing on the cake was the Scholar Ladies video. Amazing! It gave me chills to think of all the ways we can encourage our young women to express themselves creatively – and NOT have to shake their asses to do it!
    Bravo Robyn and Amy!

  2. Thanks, Jess, looking forward to seeing you this weekend for ‘part two’ of powerhouse planning sessions while in L.A. with the hopes of paying it forward to other like-minded orgs and entities. (hope L. is on the mend!) Talk soon, Amy

  3. This goes to show you how some very bad ideas can just float into fruition unless people with a modicum of sense and guts are willing to speak up and point out that madness is just madness. Seven-year-old dancing girls in lingerie with hip-hop-ho gyrations? The only thing that comes to mind is “wth?”. As the father of two girls, I wanted to say thanks to you and Dr. Robyn for laying this out. Amy, nice work.

  4. Thanks for this post. I look forward to hearing more about the summit. Our culture is so out of whack. Where is the comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education? [Insert crickets chirping here]. Girls learn all about booty-shaking, but they don’t learn much about how to appreciate their bodies or make informed choices. It’s true–we must say “no” to the rampant sexualization of girls, but as parents and advocates, we must also say “yes” when it comes to teaching girls how to develop healthy, empowered sexuality.
    .-= Claire´s last blog ..Oprah’s Mea Culpa: “I Publicly Shamed Myself” =-.

  5. Super excited to be involved with the SPARK Summit on Sexualization of Girls, too. Our committee is working on bringing some incredible activism to the 50% teenage girls who are schedule to attend. The summit itself is much needed, given the calls to action at the end of the APA report in 2007. A movement is afoot — we are going to galvanize it.

  6. This is true. I wanted to help educate other people on the impact of gaming and how it can be good too. Almost everyone these days plays a role completely different from their real life selves and it’s becoming a problem already.In this sense, social games we see on the internet have been exploited for ill purposes. I’ve been thinking of writing up an article about the importance of parents playing video games with their children to supervise children’s gaming habits and what games they play. I actually made an initial post about it on my blog (it’s at to see if visitors would find it useful or not. I made my blog to also inform people that video games is not bad. If you could suggest a story to write concerning such an issue I would be glad to write about it on my blog.

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