Back to School for the Media: Tweens, Thongs, and “Coffee Sluts”

September 01, 2009

I ran across this piece on the Hardy Girls Healthy Women blog regarding the Maine Edge, which missed the memo on the inappropriate and appalling practice of marketing tweens and teens as sexual objects, which many people actually do find objectionable. The apology is truly remarkable — especially the part about it being a “teachable moment” for the staff. Have they been living under a rock? I actually have no idea what the article was about. I could not get beyond that image.

As the mother of two girls, 8 and 17, and a 10-year-old son, I am enmeshed in the trappings of modern girlhood, from Twilight to Hannah Montana, iCarly, and True Jackson, VP. There is so much to give you pause — the language, clothing, and not-so-subtle innuendo and sexualization of girls and boys are mindboggling. Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon are not “your mother’s cartoons.” I am often the spoilsport, but my children have also learned how to police themselves — knowing what makes them uncomfortable, knowing what our standards are, and having an innate sense of the “Ewwww” factor. Thongs for 10-year-olds? “Sexting”? Miley Cyrus as pole dancer? Hold on a minute!


So Sexy, So Soon by Jean Kilbourne and Diane Levin

In the book So Sexy So Soon, which was recently released in paperback, authors Jean Kilbourne and Diane Levin tackle the mixed messages being marketed to children and how to counteract the impact of the media on children and teens.

The Lolota Effect by

The Lolita Effect: Why the Media Sexualize Young Girls and What You Can Do about It by M. Gigi Durham

M. Gigi Durham, a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa, in her book The Lolita Effect: Why the Media Sexualize Young Girls and What You Can Do about It, outlines and debunks the five myths “that distort, undermine, and restrict girls’ sexual progress.”

The blog Packaging Girlhood also highlights the never-ending lapses in judgment in advertising and the “pornification” of our culture, also discussed in the provocative book The Porning of America: The Rise of Porn Culture, What It Means, and Where We Go from Here, by Kevin Scott, which traces the influence of pornography on our sensibilities.

T-shirt from

As also noted in a Newsweek article on the subject, studies have also shown that children exposed to this kind of sex in the media inherit more traditional views of gender — “boys as dominant, girls as submissive, in the bedroom and beyond.” Noted educator Rosalind Wiseman‘s blog had a post this summer written by school counselor Julia Taylor about her strategy for engaging her students in advocacy work toward companies that produce t-shirts where “bitch” and “slut” are popular terms. Not surprisingly, many of these t-shirts are worn by young women.

The next time you see an objectionable image, take a page from Ms. magazine’s “No Comment” feature on the media. Don’t just shake your head in disgust; speak up, write, text, call — and demand better for our girls and boys.

By:   |   September 01, 2009


  1. Hector says:

    As usual, the parents are to blame. Who allows their tween daughter to pose in such a sickening fashion? Was the shoot so lucrative that as to make common sense and decency expendable? It’s the girl’s mother and father who should be apologizing…to their daughter!

  2. Thank you for this important article with excellent references. This is an issue that AAUW needs to be more involved in for the sake of our young people and the future.

    Our AAUW branch and a local coalition of organizations brought Jean Kilbourne (See in your article) to our community to speak to some youth and AAUW leaders and then to a public forum. Interest was apparent in all ages and genders. Responses requested more education beginning in elementary school and more support in the health care system for eating, drinking, and smoking disorders. Effects of advertising are insidious and even alarming. Our society needs to wake up to reality and focus on its goals for the future.

  3. Ashley Carr says:

    Your post is so on point, Gloria! I don’t even have children, let alone daughters, and I feel very strongly about these issues. Not to mention the fact that children are scarcely allowed to be children anymore. And I say this not as a prude but as someone with a pretty open mind on what young people should constructively–but not exploitively–be taught about sexuality, including through the larger culture. Thanks for the issues you’ve raised and the message you’ve sent here.

  4. jeffery jones says:

    why are women publishing and promoting tucker max?

  5. Marian says:

    If only the answer was so simple. Girls have been known to change their appearance away from home. Role models are important, but “It takes village to raise a child.” What can you do to help?

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