Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

What is sexualization anyway?

Since this blog has attracted a lot of new readers lately, I thought it was important to go back and revisit the idea of sexualization. I talk about it a lot, but new readers may be wondering, “Exactly what is sexualization anyway?” I hope this answers some of those questions.

One of the concepts I’ve been discussing is that of sexualization, which is treating other people and oneself as an object of desire, with their value primarily from sex appeal and physical attractiveness.

Another idea that I discuss frequently on this blog is  self-objectification. This is where one learns to think of and treat their own body as an object of other people’s desires.

It’s important for us to be on the same page with these definitions for a couple of reasons. The first one is so you understand that when I talk about the media sexualizing women, I’m not just talking about promoting beauty. When I talk about girls and women sexualizing themselves, I’m NOT talking about enjoying looking nice, coloring your hair or wearing make-up. I think that is up to the individual.  In fact, I enjoy looking my best, with the emphasis on MY best. I know I can’t look like anyone else, so I’d like to embrace who I am today.

What I AM talking about is the point that girls and women get to when they no longer see their own value outside of their ability to attract men.  The idea that frightens me is that girls are learning to value themselves only as they can be viewed as attractive to the opposite sex. And then, they begin to see themselves only as objects of other people’s desire, rather than someone who’s beautiful and valuable in and of themselves.

So, that’s what I’d like for us to think about combatting, the depiction of females as only valuable for their sexual attractiveness.  It’s time for men and women to say, females are more than that. They are valuable for their kindness, compassion, intelligence, etc. Help me make a difference. It’s time to take a stand.

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3 comments on “What is sexualization anyway?

  1. Laura
    February 23, 2010

    Here’s my struggle — how do I help my daughters (and myself, frankly) know the difference between what MY best, my sense of style, and my likes, are and what they have persuaded us is best?

    • drshew
      February 23, 2010

      I think that’s a great question. I feel like at the ripe old age of 3_, I’ve found a style that I enjoy and feel comfortable with for myself. But, I really struggle with this with my daughters sometimes. Especially when they start the “everyone else is wearing….” One of the things that I really try to help them think about is, are they being respectful to themselves and who they are with the clothing choices they make.

  2. Renee Randazzo
    April 27, 2011

    Yes, these are important issues to consider when raising a daughter. I myself have a 5-year-old daughter and I feel like I am enjoying these moments of simplicity before she becomes the target of marketers and media that pushes her to consider “girl power” to be defined by sexualization, self-objectification, and product loyalty.

    I am also lucky enough to work for an organization that addresses these issues head-on, called Hardy Girls Healthy Women. We have a webinar coming on Friday called “Envisioning Healthy Girl Sexuality” with author Dr. Sharon Lamb. In this webinar, she will explore how girls navigate pressures to conform to narrow beauty ideals and self-objectify… and also give us adults tips and strategies for talking to girls about this. Check it out! http://www.hghw.org/content/training-institute

    Great blog!

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