GALESBURG, Ill. (CBS) -- A new study by Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., indicates that girls as young as 6 are beginning to think of themselves a sex objects.
For the study, which was published earlier this month in the journal Sex Roles, researchers asked dozens of girls from the Midwest between the ages of 6 and 9 to choose a doll that looked like themselves, that they wanted to look like, that would be most popular in school, or that they wanted to play with.
Across the board, they chose what have been termed the sexy dolls – dressed in tight and revealing clothing. LiveScience reports a total of 68 percent of the girls said the sexy doll represented how they themselves wanted to look, and 72 percent said the sexy doll would win a popularity contest up against the non-sexy doll.
Lead researcher Christy Starr told LiveScience the girls likely equated sexiness with popularity, which comes with "many social advantages." Starr told the publication she was surprised how many 6- to 7-year-old girls picked the sexy dolls as the ones they wanted to be like.
The girls in the study were recruited from two public schools and a dance studio, and the girls in the dance studio chose the non-sexualized doll more often, LiveScience reported. Starr and co-author Gail Ferguson believe being involved in dance and other sports likely boosted the girls' body image, LiveScience reported.
The researchers also blame the media and moms for hyping sexy images. The study found that girls who watched a lot of TV and movies, and who had mothers who worried about their clothes and appearance several times a day, were more likely to choose the sexy doll, LiveScience reported.
The study also found that girls who consumed a lot of media but had religious mothers were less likely to choose the sexy doll, likely because their mothers held more conservative values such as modesty, the publication reported. But girls with religious mothers who did not consume a lot of media overwhelmingly did choose the sexy doll, in what the authors called a case of "forbidden fruit" that the girls idealized due to a lack of exposure to it, LiveScience reported.
Concerns about the increasing sexualization of girls at young ages have been mounting for several years. LiveScience points out that the American Psychological Association sounded an alarm on the trend in a 2007 report, which cited such trends as advertisements such as the Sketchers "naughty and nice" ad featuring Christina Aguilera dressed provocatively as a schoolgirl in pigtails, and Bratz dolls that come with sexually suggestive clothing, as contributors to the disturbing trend.
In a 2011 column published by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Chicago-based Washington Post columnist Esther Cepeda characterized the trend as out of control, citing the TLC show "Toddlers & Tiaras" and a French lingerie company that sold "adult-looking panty and bra sets for girls ages 4 to 12" as among the most egregious examples.
The trend, Cepeda's column said, has served to encourage pedophilia.
"Back when the professional pageant photos of JonBenet Ramsey started appearing in the media, I remember a radio talk show host exclaiming that the dead 6-year-old was hot. 'I'd 'do' her,' he said, 'I mean, I hate to say it, but look at her. Isn't that what you're supposed to think when you look at her?'" Cepeda wrote. "People are still reacting that way to little kids who have no idea what they're being cheered on for."
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