Sexualization of women and girls

We are worried about the impact that the sexualization of women and girls has on today’s youth.  

Turn on the TV, walk through the mall, or flip through social media and you will see the hypersexualized landscape that youth are growing up in. Sexualization permeates all levels of society and is linked to three of the most common mental health problems experienced by girls and women: low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders. Sexualization impairs the ability of women and men to establish healthy relationships and is correlated with increased societal tolerance for inequality, sexual harassment and violence against women. The corresponding hypermasculinization of men and boys equally contributes to unhealthy relationships, resulting in difficulties expressing emotions and encouraging tendencies towards violence.   

What do we mean by sexualization of girls?

When we talk about sexualization, we are referring to: 

  • Sexuality being inappropriately imposed on girls, like push-up bras being marketed to 12-year-olds
  • The narrow, often unattainable standards for female attractiveness, like magazines for young girls encouraging them to ‘lose ten pounds, straighten their hair and wear a mini-skirt to attract their crush’
  • When sexual attractiveness is valued above all other characteristics, like athletic or educational abilities
  • The sexualization of girlhood, like adult women being portrayed as “sexy” young girls
  • Female sexual objectification involves a woman being viewed primarily as an object of sexual desire, rather than as a whole person

YWCA initiatives combatting sexualization

The sexualization of girls and women in contemporary media is of increasing concern to the YWCA Metro Vancouver and we are actively committed to combatting its impacts.

  • YWCA Youth Education programs teach young people about healthy relationships and positive body image, and help them to think critically about the media.
  • Strong Girls Strong World program uses a youth advisory council model to empower young  people to learn about and advocate for gender equality and speak out against sexualization.
  • The YWCA Culture Shift project addresses  sexualization and hypermasculinization of through research, community engagement and advocacy.
  • YWCA Mentorship programs offer opportunities for girls and young women to connect with positive role models.
  • YWCA Youth Conference teaches media literacy skills as a tool to combat the negative effects of sexualization and empower high-school students to take action.

Learn more about this topic

Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.

Letting Children be Children. Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualization of Childhood by Reg Bailey.

Sexualization of children in the contemporary media - Commonwealth of Australia 2008.