Sexualization: What Does Your Outfit Say About You?

Girls and teens are faced with the same choice every day – What am I going to wear?  This question often includes personal preferences of style and individuality, but it is also increasingly becoming about how much you want to participate in a culture that sexualizes girls.  It’s time for girls and teens to think differently about what they are wearing and the message it may be sending.

Before I go further, let’s talk about what the term “sexualization” means.   When someone is sexualized, it means that he or she is valued only for their sexuality and the object of someone else’s desires.  It may also mean that they are made to appear mature enough for a consensual sexual relationship before they may actually be ready.  Sexualizing someone objectifies them and ignores their inherent worth as a person with valid thoughts and feelings.

An easy way teens can take a stand against sexualization is to be conscious about the way they dress.  Here are some questions teens can ask themselves about their outfit (including makeup and hairstyles) to help them decide if their outfit may be sexualizing:

  • Who am I trying to please?  Wear clothes that you like and find appealing.  A focus on pleasing others can lead to seeing yourself as an object for someone else’s pleasure.  Value your own opinion.
  • What kind of attention will I get?  If your clothes accentuate your breasts, butt, or thighs, people may be more likely to see you as a sexual object.
  • Will people be able to notice my wonderful qualities?  Don’t wear clothes that distract from the beautiful person you are on the inside. If people are attracted to you because you look sexy, will you really be able to have a real, honest relationship with them?  Try to make friends who will like you for you.
  • Will the way I dress allow me to do the activities I’ve planned today?  If you’re self-conscious about how you look, you won’t be able to spend as much energy on learning in school.  Does your footwear enable you to play games outside with your friends?  Think about what you will be doing during the day, and make your outfit functional for that environment.
  • Is my outfit age-appropriate? Enjoy your girlhood! There’s no need to look like a woman before you reach womanhood.  Wear clothing and make-up that is appropriate for your age to avoid having others make assumptions about you.
  • What do well-meaning adults think of my outfit?  Yes, I’m asking you to consider your parent’s opinion!  Or your teacher’s or your coach’s or other adult role models in your life.  You may hate to hear this, but adults who care about you almost always have a better understanding of whether your outfit is sexualizing.  When in doubt, listen to their advice – they’ve been there.

If you want to make a statement with your outfit use some creativity! Make a statement that says, “I respect myself,” or “I’m smart,” or “I’m a good friend”?  Every teen can be an activist against sexualization by what they choose to wear.  Everyone has special and unique qualities.  Don’t let those qualities take a backseat to your appearance!

Check out the film Same that highlights the pressure girls are under to meet a certain media image. This film was part of Girl Guides of Canada’s Perspectives on a Girl film festival:

What kinds of statements will you make by the way you dress?

By guest blogger Amy Harman. Amy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a wife and mother.  She has worked as a therapist for several years, most recently as a therapist for women and girls with eating disorders.  In working with girls struggling with eating disorders, she has seen the harmful impact sexualized messages can make on young minds. While taking a break from working full-time, Amy has created a website to empower women by strengthening relationships and improving mental and emotional well-being. She is also on Twitter and has a Facebook page.

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