You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sexy Dolls Study and Religious Modesty

I suppose by now most of you have seen the article by C.R. Starr and G.M. Ferguson entitled "Sexy Dolls, Sexy Grade-Schoolers? Media and Maternal Influences on Young Girls' Self-Sexualization." The article has been covered a bunch, mostly with people expressing their shock and horror that 6-year-olds want to be sexy. I have to tell you, as someone who works with large groups of kids, I wasn't surprised at all.

The part you likely didn't hear much about was that they looked at mothers' religiosity as a protective factor (ie. would a child exposed to lots of sexualization in the media still want to be sexy at age 6 if her mother is more religious?). That, for me, was the most interesting part. Now, mind you, this was a majority Christian, majority White, midwestern U.S. sample, so Heaven only knows if you could actually generalize this to other people, but it's interesting nonetheless.

So here are the basics: girls were shown a sexily-dressed doll and a fashionably-dressed, but in more modest clothes. (You can check out that image here.) They were asked to choose which doll 1) looked most like them, 2) looked most like they wanted to look like, 3) looked most like the "popular girl" and 4) they'd want to play with the most.

Mothers were asked about a bunch of things, including how often they monitor their kids' TV use, how they feel about their bodies/appearances and their religiosity. The religiosity questions included: "How important is religion to your daily life?" and "How important do you think it is to teach your children your religious values?" This, in and of itself, is pretty cool. Most studies measuring religiosity just ask how often you attend religious services. That can be useful, but there's a huge difference between someone who goes to church once a week and doesn't think about it at all during the rest of the week versus someone who may not even go to weekly religious services, but who thinks about their religion all the time during the week.

The verdict was this: many of those thing that we all expect make children want to be "sexy" did, but only a little. Media influence? Yup. Mothers' opinions of their bodies? Sure. Of course, if you monitor your child's TV/internet/magazine use, that goes down a little. But what about religion?

Well, if a child watched a lot of TV and had a very religious mother, she was still likely to choose the more modest-dressing doll as who she wanted to look like most. And if a child's mother taught her about religion more, she was less likely to choose the "sexy" doll as popular. And the more religious the mother, the more likely a girl was to choose to play with the modestly-dressed doll.

Here's the kicker though: if a child watched very little TV and had a religious mother, she was more likely to say she wanted to look like the sexy doll.

Moral of the story, maybe? Being sequestered from the media only makes "sexiness" this forbidden fruit that everyone else has. But when you see "sexy" things on TV, but your nearest and dearest same-sex role model (because, let's be honest, for most 6-year-olds, that's mommy) is offering a modest alternative, that's the one you're more likely to pick.

This is good-- religiosity is just like every other part of your life; it can be used for good or evil. So choose wisely, my friends.

Starr, C., & Ferguson, G. (2012). Sexy dolls, sexy grade-schoolers? media and maternal influences on young girls' self-sexualization. Sex Roles, doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0183-x