Innocence Lost? The early sexualisation of tween girls in and by the media: An examination of fashion.
Thesis DisciplineMass Communication
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The relationship between the mass media and children is historically fraught, characterised by a concern for the potential effects on the leaders of the future. This thesis addresses the role of the media (particularly magazines) with regard to ideas of sexualisation, examining fashion clothing and identity in relation to tween girls aged between eight and 12-years-old. The impact of mass media is undeniable, and vital to a discussion of modern sexualisation of girls, as Huston, Wartella and Donnerstein maintain there are “strong theoretical reasons to believe that media play an especially important role in the socialisation of sexual knowledge, attitudes and behaviour” (1998: 12). Surveys were conducted with a total of 168 tween boys and girls, and focus groups with 28 girls in this age bracket in New Zealand, to explore the roles of fashion, media and sexualisation in the lives of young people growing up at a time of unprecedented consumerism and media exposure. The results found that parents still have great influence in the clothing choices of their tween, though they are shown to move progressively towards independence and autonomy as they approach adolescence. When looking at advertising images and fashion in magazines, these girls showed clear signs of age aspiration and an intense dislike for anything remotely ‘kiddy’. Whilst the examination of sexualisation had to be conducted on an implicit level, many girls commented explicitly about the degree of sexuality in some images, their dislike for such characterisations waning over time. As the goal of the mass media and advertising is to turn people into consumers, even commodities themselves, this research contributes to a growing discourse around the need for children to be protected and taught to engage critically with media texts to prevent sexualisation, commodification and exploitation from drowning out the tweens’ unique voice.