Steamed About Sexualization? Healthy Media for Youth Act Now!

July 12-16, 2010: Healthy Media for Youth week!

Fed up with “boy chasin’ bed swappin’ lip-lickin’ hottie-hoochie booty-bouncin’ appearance-is-everything” cues comin’ at your girls?

Yah, so are we. It’s damaging, destructive, and fouling up a healthy sense of sexuality and self-worth as girls are objectified and ‘sold’ a bill of goods about behaviors, bodies, and what society values with a narrowcasted fixation that’s head-spinningly unhealthy.

This week, HR 4925 is coming to the forefront of the national dialog to raise awareness for a three-pronged approach to healthier media messages about girls and women via a legislative bill that:

a.)    creates competitive grant programs that encourage media literacy and youth empowerment

b.)    facilitates research on depiction of females in media and the affect on youth

c.)    establishes a National Taskforce on Women & Girls in the Media to promote healthy, balanced, positive images for the benefit of all youth.

What can parents do about sexualization via media literacy?  How can YOU help with H.R. 4925? Read the summary. Read the full HR 4925 document. Read who else is advocating for the bill and why. Then urge your congressional representative to cosponsor/sign on to the bill. (call/write/click/send, lots of action steps after the jump)

Ready to get healthy?

Here are just a few ideas from GSA’s public policy and advocacy division to jump right in to making change.

  • Direct your members and fans to the Girl Scouts Advocacy Network, where they can send messages encouraging their U.S. Representative to be a voice for girls and support H.R. 4925!
  • Post a Web Sticker/Banner to your website to direct supporters to the Girl Scouts Advocacy Network
  • Get the word out!
  • Post information about the bill on your social media sites – Blogs, Facebook, Twitter

Now…A deeper dive for the unconvinced:

You know…Those who ‘don’t perceive there IS a problem’…

….Those who might be desensitized to the proliferation of 24/7 media messages in surround sound…

…Those who are wondering if legislating change is viable, or if ‘media literacy’ matters, or if we need to address some of this crud as a public health/policy problem on a scientific level.

Here’s a solid overview post from a psychologist at the APA today with pertinent advice on Raising Healthy Kids in A Sexualized Media World.

Now…here’s my take on:

The Scope of the Problem: Hyper-Sexualizing Our Kids

Got daughters? Perhaps you ARE one?

It’s time to ‘take back the media’ from greedy profiteering to make a buck on the backs(ides!) of girls’ mental and physical well-being, with what amounts to corporate pedophilia at the expense of public health. (see APA task force harm of early sexualization,  (pdf here) the sobering stats on negative body image/eating disorders and escalation of teen dating violence/controlling unhealthy relationships)

When I tweeted about HR4925 to raise awareness of the bill for action this week, the first feedback I received was either “can you give us a shorter sound bite version?” Or “why is everyone yammering about GIRLS, boys are being sexualized/sold the sixpack abs/buffed boy bit too”

Yes to addressing both points.

First, the bill DOES have its limitations, (I personally DO feel boys are getting hammered with these vapid values too, just not to the same degree…yet) but I strongly feel HR 4925 helps ALL kids by moving beyond raising awareness to begin to connect the dots to understanding the full scope and depth of the problem.

How? By addressing some policy issues for gender equity at multiple levels…

Is there a ‘shorter summation?’ Yep.

Here’s the nitty gritty at a glance:

Who introduced the bill? Is it bipartisan?

This spring (March 24 to be exact) Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) put forth HR 4925 to make the world a better place for girls (and humanity!) by advocating for children’s rights as nonpartisan collective reasoning.

Why do we need H.R. 4925?

What are the findings on girls/gender in the media?

  • Eighty percent of girls feel a lot of pressure from the media to be thin. To lose weight, 55 percent of girls admit they diet and 37 percent admit to starving themselves.
  • Three of the most common mental health problems among girls, eating disorders, depression or depressed mood, and low self-esteem, are linked to sexualization of girls and women in media.
  • Less than one in three speaking characters in children’s movies are female.

Who’s backing H.R. 4925? Based on what research findings?

The Girl Scout Research Institute’s 2010 survey (1,002 13-17-year-old girls online nat’l survey) revealed the following:

  • Girls attribute media and fashion to the pressure to be thin.
  • Nine in ten girls say the fashion industry (89%) and/or the media (88%) place a lot of pressure on teenage girls to be thin.
  • Girls say they would prefer to see more “natural”/“real” images in the media.
  • 81% of girls would rather see “real” or “natural” photos of models than touched-up, airbrushed versions.
  • 75% would be more likely to buy clothes they see on “real-size models” than on super-skinny ones.
  • Girls have a love/hate relationship with the fashion industry.
  • 75% say that fashion is really important to them.
  • 48% wish they were as skinny as the models in fashion magazines.
  • 47% say fashion magazines give them a body image to strive for.
  • 41% say they prefer to see the latest fashions on skinny models rather than on fuller-sized women.


  • 65% of girls think that the body image represented by the fashion industry is too skinny; 63% think it is unrealistic; and 47% think it is unhealthy. More than a quarter (28%) say the fashion industry body image looks sick.
  • 60% say that they compare their bodies to fashion models.
  • Only 46% think the fashion industry does a good job of representing people of all races and ethnicities, with Caucasian girls the most likely to say this (52%, compared to only 42% of Hispanics and 32% of African Americans).
  • 31% of girls admit to starving themselves or refusing to eat as a strategy to lose weight.
  • African American and Hispanic girls have a more positive body image.
  • A higher percentage of Hispanic girls (79%) say they are satisfied with their bodies compared to their African American (76%) and Caucasian (72%) counterparts.
  • 17% of African American girls are completely satisfied with the way their body looks, compared to 14% of Hispanic and 10% of Caucasian girls.

(Methodology: Online national sample conducted November 19–December 4 by TRU, with 1,002 13- to 17-year-old girls)

What would the H.R. 4925 bill really ‘do?’ Can you give us a non-wonky capsulized version of the legislation?

You betcha: And even more APA resources here:

Section 1 – Short Title: “The Healthy Media for Youth Act”

Section 2 – Findings: Provides a series of findings outlining the concerns and issues related to how negative and unhealthy depictions of girls and women in the media impact youth.

Section 3 – Grants to Promote Media Literacy and Youth Empowerment Programs Creates a competitive grant program to provide for the establishment, operation, coordination, and evaluation of promising media literacy programs.

Section 4 – Research on the Role and Impact of Girls and Women in the Media on Youths’ Development Directs research on the role and impact of depictions of girls and women in the media on youths’ psychological, sexual, physical, and interpersonal development.

Section 5 – National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media Instructs the Federal Communications Commission to convene a National Taskforce on Girls and Women in the Media to develop voluntary steps and goals for promoting healthy and positive depictions of girls and women in the media for the benefit of all youth.

Section 6 – Limitation Prevents funding to support activities that are duplicative of programs already being carried.

Section 7 – Definitions Definitions of terms used in the bill.

Section 8 – Authorization of Appropriation $40,000,000 for each fiscal year 2011-2015.

What do the proponents of H.R. 4925 WANT?

How do you define ‘healthy’ media images for girls?

As a writer/producer and creative director by trade, the notion of legislating media is dicey to me, so this one really moved to the forefront of my mind.

(Last thing any of us wants is a Pollyanna approach to confidence and character cues being embedded in every contrived plot  point, so it behooves to ask the question…Are we talking numbers/quantity/role models or what? How do we DEFINE healthier offerings?)

Just like I don’t feel media producers should be mandated to sacrifice quality of scriptwriting to embed lame product placement, I also don’t want to see a candyland approach to artistic freedoms, film noire or character development, nor do I want to see tokenism under the guise of diversity in gender equity, so this part of the legislation is KEY to microscopic scrutiny as far as I’m concerned.

I’m thrilled to raise a fist pumping, ‘YES!” to the very basic, broad-based brushstrokes of what the Healthy Media for Youth Act (HR 4925) considers to be ‘girl positive’ in terms of healthy media images depicted…In other words, I’m in the camp of not just ‘yah!’ But 200% zealous YAH!

Here’s what the Girl Scouts put forth in their defining document for example:

“To Promote Healthy Body Images, the Media Should:

  • Feature and value girls and women with varying body types and ethnicities
  • Portray realistic, unaltered images of females with natural, physical imperfections
  • Show girls in age-appropriate attire
  • Make an effort to decrease depictions of hyper-sexualized girls and women

To Develop Positive and Active Role Models, the Media Should:

  • Include a diverse cast of female characters in active and ambitious roles
  • Feature females in traditionally male roles, such as CEOs or action heroes
  • Feature girls and women who have confidence in their abilities and appearances
  • Include more girls and women in leadership positions and as the main characters

To Portray Equal and Healthy Relationships, the Media Should:

  • Show equality and mutual respect between female and male characters
  • Feature positive relationships between girls and women, showing them cooperating with each other
  • Feature realistic and substantive courtships between characters who fall in love

Questions? You STILL have questions?

Really? Okay, fine. That’s part two.

I posed a few questions to girl advocate and Actionist ™ gal pal Melissa Wardy who’s known for Redefining Girly in a big way, and since she hails from Wisconsin, where HR 4925 initiator, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin resides…

I also lobbed the same queries to some of the bigwigs at The Girls Scouts like fellow Actionist ™ Jessica Lawrence who happens to be headed for Capitol Hill to make this bill a reality.

Stay tuned for Melissa and Jessica’s interview on the Healthy Media for Youth Act, and part three next week after Jessica Lawrence flies to D.C. to film her findings and chat with the powers that be on ‘The Hill.’

For a ‘why to buy’ snapshot on the need for curbing the sexualization of girls in media, I’m posting the latest film trailer from Killing Us Softly Part 4 by Jean Kilbourne (now available on dvd from Media Education Foundation, we use it in our youth/parent ed media literacy film screenings in house party style)

Jean is the author of So Sexy So Soon, (I interviewed Jean Kilbourne here) and long time pioneer in this conversation, as well as a fellow SPARKsummit convening colleague for the Oct 22, 2010 Hunter’s College NYC youth conference challenging sexualization in media.

Her work has been at the forefront of this issue for decades, and sadly, she says it’s “only gotten worse.” In her own words:

Killing Us Softly 4 Trailer:

Killing Us Softly 4 (first 10 minutes, part one)



  1. This seems like a great bill. I hope it pushes through.

  2. This is a fantastic article about advertising.I really enjoyed reading it and have subscribed to your RSS feed.

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  4. This is just plain stupid. How about parents telling girls how to behave and what is right and good for them in God’s eyes. I really don’t need 10,000,000 a year for 4 years going got this PORK! This is what is wrong with our world today, just introduce another bill and let the government do what common sense tells us we should be doing in our own homes. I am all for healthy images of girls in the media, but a $40,000,000.00 bill! NO WAY!

  5. Tracey, could you cite a comparative analysis of the fiscal figures proposed up against the quantifiable harm shown in the APA Task Force study in terms of the outcome of costs for treating physical/mental health of girls subjected to early sexualization? (not including societal costs, inc teen pregnancies, substance abuse/depression, mental health and eating disorders/obesity-anorexia corollaries etc)

    Just as you don’t think introducing a bill to curb the flow of $17 BILLION in ad spending/targeting kids to rip apart their psyches will help add to the “common sense” that parents are supposed to be telling girls how to “behave” I don’t think “God’s eyes” are gonna lend us a hand on this one ya know what I’m saying?

    In other words, we agree to disagree, since I do NOT think it’s “stupid” to use preventive tactics and deconstruction tools to counteract the bombardment to kids brains so they can walk through the world as healthier human beings.

  6. I’ll add that both Washington Watch And this citizen bill tracker have a solid break down in terms of the fiscal cost of deploying media literacy (which no doubt will get the whack and sack whittling away for ‘real costs’ to render it more of an awareness raiser, imho)

    Here’s the full Library of Congress doc on the bill too:

    And I’ll add, some basic ‘fact sheet’ spending from the MAREKETING PROFITEERS who imho are REALLY the ones who should be footing this bill/self-reining their own behavior in the name of public health and well being of kids!!

    Personally, I’d like to do away with the ‘hold harmless’ approach to repeat corp offenders and have THEM ‘own it’ when they pump out this crud repeatedly, like American Apparel’s ‘post your butt online’ bit and vampy sexed up dolls and toys…THAT would be a nice way to take the ‘pork’ out of the ‘meatmarketing’ and sink some teeth into the policies so we don’t keep crankin out ads like these:

    Just sayin’…

  7. I’d like to talk to you about syndication of this post. Can you e-mail me at


  8. Usually I don’t comment, I’m a lurker, but this time I had just to say thanks!

  9. In response to @Tracey – The only thing I see as stupid is continuing to singularly put the ownership on parents who face an onslaught of sexualized merchandise for girls in every direction they turn. The issues HR 4925 is meant to fight are bigger than a conversation at the dinner between parents and child. It is a systemic and it is the children’s rights issue of our time.

    You won’t be paying for this bill, as the funding is monies reallocated from previously approved spending. And even if you were paying for it, $40M isn’t pork. It is our daughters.

  10. Does anyone actually still update this?

  11. Yes, why do you ask?

  12. This is great, The bill would support media literacy programs, promote research on the effect of media images on young people, and encourage the adoption of voluntary guidelines to promote healthier media images for youth.

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