Author Nancy Jo Sales has spent much of her time researching the relationship between young girls and social media. To accomplish this, Sales traveled the United States through the course of several years to interview girls about the role media played in their lives. Sales recounts those interviews in her book American Girls. Some of them can be heard during her NPR interview. Sales discovers that young girls are often participating in hyper-sexualized behaviors due to their exposure to sexually driven media, and the demands of their male counterparts.[1] The interviewed girls’ expressed that social media has become a platform for sexism and bullying. Most of the interviewed girls said they felt pressured to send nude pictures because boys demanded and threatened them to, but also expressed how those same nude photos caused their peers to harass them, call them names, and in some cases shun them. The girls recounted stories of boys asking for sexual favors, nudes, and sending them “dick pics”, all with the expectation girls would reciprocate. This caused the girls to feel confused and uncomfortable, and resorting to the internet (i.e porn) to learn about how they should react.[2] Sales found that this lead girls to higher tendencies to participate in risky sexual behavior, having sex earlier, and objectifying their own bodies.

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Most girls acknowledged the way for them to be noticed and liked was to pose sexy, the standards of sexy being primarily based on what those girls saw in celebrities like the Kardashians or porn stars. Meaning that girls across the nation came to see their bodies as tools to make them liked, so long as that body looked similar to bodies they saw in the media. If and when a girl did not look like their peers expected, that girl was outcasted and heavily bullied online. However, there were also cases of girls dressing provocatively and still being bullied, even when their more popular counterparts were praised and adored. The result being a convoluted relationship between girls, their bodies, displaying those bodies, and their overall appearance and popularity. Friendships could be torn apart if girls didn’t wear the right crop top or if a boy said she was ugly.

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In a study conducted by Piotr S. Bobkowski, Autumn Shafer, and Rebecca R. Ortiz teens between the ages of 13-15 were asked to construct social media profiles with specific parameters for Bobkowski et. Al. to determine the individual’s sexual perspective of themselves and the relationship between sexual media consumption. Bobkowski et. al. found that when teens see themselves as a more sexual person they will look for more sexual media, but also, higher exposure to sexual media tends to make teens perceive themselves as sexual beings.[3] The relationship between identity and social media is circular and sexual media influences the ways in which adolescents behave. These findings directly reflect the qualitative data Sales collected. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat deliver sexual messages that tell adolescents how to behave. Which in turn teaches young girls to be sexual and objectify themselves to garner the attention of their male counterparts.

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Examples of this can also be seen in the research Safiya Umoja Noble conducted. Noble dissects the way in which Google’s search algorithms erase black girls and women, and when black girls and women are portrayed it is hypersexualized or infantilized. The message Google then sends to black girls, who might be searching for themselves or role models online, is that black girls and women are inherently sexual objects.[4] This means that if our society assumes Google, and technology is objective, and teen girls are seeing images that sexualizes them.Causing them to be susceptible to identifying themselves as sexual objects created for consumption.

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Sexualization and objectification of their own bodies reinforces larger patriarchal and capitalist structures in American society. When girls try to replicate the images they see they are buying into a beauty and health industry that generates millions of dollars for the American economy. Girls subject themselves to diets, make up, fashionable clothing in attempts to attract their male counterparts, because that is what they are taught via the media. Starting at ages as young as six years old, girls are seeing bodies of other women in one structured way, and identifying with those sexualized bodies.[5] Which can lead to eating disorders, depression, and anxiety, especially if they feel their body does not match what they see represented.[6] These pervasive ideals that girls are exposed to bombards them every single time they log on to their internet profiles, turn on the TV, listen to music, or open up a teen magazine. Pressure from peers, and pressure from our society pushes girls to conform to one narrative. That narrative being highly sexualized.

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[1] Teen Girls and Social Media: A Story of ‘Secret Lives’ and Misogyny [Audio blog interview]. (2016, February 29). Retrieved March 2, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/02/29/467959873/teen-girls-and-social-media-a-story-of-secret-lives-and-misogyny

[2] Sales, N. J. (2016). American Girls: How Social Media is Disrupting the Lives of Teenagers. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from http://time.com/americangirls/

[3] Bobkowski, P. S., Shafer, A., & Ortiz, R. R. (2016). Sexual intensity of adolescents’ online self-presentations: Joint contribution of identity, media consumption, and extraversion. Computers in Human Behavior, 58, 64-74. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.009

[4] Noble, S. U. (2013). Google Search: Hyper-Visibility as a Means of Rendering Black Women and Girls Invisible. Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture, (19), 1-40. Retrieved March 2, 2017.

[5] Samakow, J. (2012, July 17). Why 6-Year-Old Girls Want to Be Sexy (STUDY). Retrieved March 02, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/6-year-old-girls-sexy_n_1679088.html

[6] Newsome, J. S. (Director). (n.d.). Miss Representation [Video file]. Retrieved from http://therepresentationproject.org/film/miss-representation/

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