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Way too sexy, way too soon: Levin and Kilbourne hit nail on head with book

I picked up this book because it covers a topic I’m very much interested in knowing more about. I’m planning on studying psychology next year in grad school, and the topic covered in Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne’s book, So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids is what interests me more than any other topic in psychology, mostly because I have a strong motivation to help children and teenagers with developing into productive and healthy adults. It also fascinates me how much of a factor the human mind plays into every aspect of human life, sex and sexualization being two of the biggest motivators and of the most powerful influence.

As is this book’s main focus, our society is only becoming more and more sexualized as the days go on. Levin and Kilbourne use examples to demonstrate this assertion such as teenage girls wearing thong panties and padded bras to school, and barely-there Halloween costumes each year. They also mention t-shirts that read “Chick Magnet” sold for toddler boys. All of these examples are true, as I’ve seen them with my own eyes.

My reactions to these examples in experiencing them in real-life situations ranged from shock to disgust with what I’ve seen some young girls wear these days, knowing that when I was their age my mother would never have let me out of the house wearing anything similar, and from laughter to revulsion with some of the choice words used on infant and toddler apparel I’ve seen today.

Sexism is defined as, according to Dictionary.com, “Discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp., such discrimination directed against women.” Any and all of the examples Levin and Kilbourne provide in this book demonstrate how this social pitfall is only getting worse. At the same token, a new and worsened sexist attitude is emerging.

Levin and Kilbourne also bring up another important point, one that many of us are already familiar with because it has received some decent media attention, and that’s about the sexy content on television, often featuring attractive female pop stars in provocative clothing, dancing suggestively while singing their songs with oftentimes sexual and sometimes even violent lyrics. As Levin and Kilbourne say in the book, “These products are marketed aggressively to our children; these stars are held up for our young daughters to emulate, and for our sons to see as objects of desire.”

I’ve actually experienced some of this myself with an ex-boyfriend. He once asked me to dress a certain way and get certain procedures done to “enhance” the look of my body, essentially so that I would look like the “women on MTV and VH1.” I laughed at him then, but just a few months later, I was breaking up with him, wondering how he could reasonably expect me to do what he asked. I couldn’t understand where he was coming from and thought that he must realize that the women he saw on television were simply not real; however, he did not, and as this book points out so importantly, this new sexualized image of American women and American people in general, is so farfetched and unreasonable, it’s giving many people unrealistic expectations and is causing problems.

Of course, this unrealistic expectation has put considerable pressure on many women, teenage girls especially. Levin and Kilbourne bring up the rising number of cases of anorexia and bulimia. Girls ruin their bodies trying to look like whatever “hot” female star is on the television screen or whatever magazine cover at the time, a hot female star who is likely to be grossly unhealthy herself, all to accomplish a certain appearance.

Something I found disgusting to read about in this book, though I could have guessed at, is that corporations capitalize on this disturbing trend, much like cigarette companies do in targeting teenagers in many of their ad campaigns. Obviously this is because teenagers are far more impressionable than grown adult, and of course this fact makes it increasingly difficult for parents to deal with because while they may say one thing to their child or teenager, that child or teenager is still constantly bombarded through the TV, radio, magazines, and other media outlets with this new image of sexualization. Sadly, there really isn’t a whole lot parents can do.

This is where Levin and Kilbourne’s suggestions for combating this overtly disastrous culprit come into play. Some of these very helpful suggestions include helping children expand their imaginations by “suggesting new ways for them to play with toys–for example, instead of ‘playing house’ with dolls, they might send their toys on a backyard archeological adventure.” They also suggest confronting gender stereotypes common in today’s media by asking a son to help with cooking, for instance, and getting a daughter to go outside and play catch.

Probably the most helpful tip Levin and Kilbourne deliver in this book, in my opinion, is one of their last suggestions, which is helping spread the word about this problem and getting together with others such as relatives, other parents and friends and coming up with ways to deal with this seemingly ever-growing societal issue.

Knowledge truly is power, but skewed knowledge can be destructive. Finding out what your children are watching when you send them to a relative or friend’s house is important, or even in your own home. This is where parental controls become important and should be used to protect more impressionable minds.

After reading this book, I honestly think every parent in the United States should read it. It’s highly informative and extremely helpful. I think parents would most benefit and find use in the real life stories highlighted and real life solutions families decided on to combat some of these issues.

This issue of sexualization is unfortunately a strong part of our society today. People need to get in the know about it and begin to understand how to work with it and prevent some of its harmful effects and from hurting others and their own families.