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Presented by State Library Victoria

Oral Presentation on the Over Sexualisation of Children in Media

The first thing that would most likely come into mind when I start to talk about the over sexualisation of child actors by the media is TLC’s ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ right? A TV show filled with lots of drama, glitter, and fake eyelashes where children compete against each other in the massive world of pageants to see who can successfully pull off looking 25 in a 7 year old’s body. What could be more fun? It all seems like fun and games, yet we constantly see child actors being shamed for their choice of clothing. The bigger picture isn’t truly revealed. The children aren’t necessarily choosing their own clothing, and by allowing the media to tear apart these children’s humanity and sense of freedom, we’re stripping away their childhood.

Firstly, there have been many times where a child actor has risen to fame, only to be struck down by the media with reports of their ‘beauty,’ or ‘future potential for looks’ the only thing that people seem to be interested in, completely disregarding their acting talent or personality. This disregard can be damaging to children’s perception of themselves and their attitude towards the media will reflect the damage that is caused. Children who are overly sexualised from a young age more often than not show signs of a hatred or incompatibility towards ‘paparazzi’ or fans, as this sexualisation can lead to their self-esteem being damaged and causing them to have a fear of those who can make indirect contact with them.

Additionally, a recent survey conducted by the Barclays Spaces for Sports found that more than half of the 2,700 teenage participants felt no connection with their community and therefor 1 in 4 looked up to celebrities rather than people in their community like coaches, teachers, and family. 1 in 4 is a big number and to think that there are that many people being influenced by celebrities brings up the problem of then idolising bad influences. Celebrities and stars are constantly on show and are expected to uphold a façade of sorts and when these child stars that are more often than not looked up to are being pressured into doing things to appease the public, this then effects the population that look to them for support. It is very common for young people to have doubts about their appearances because they don’t look exactly like their favourite celebrities and recently these doubts have been voiced by children as young as 7 years old and it is only expected to get worse as this goes on. If the over sexualisation of child stars continues to occur it will in turn teach the next generation to care about their looks and their bodies at an unhealthy young age.

Furthermore, a ‘rant’ was published recently by Modern Family star Ariel Winters. In this self-proclaimed ‘rant’, Winters states that she was overly sexualised by the media from age 12 when she rose to fame, causing her mother to join in and try and make her look provocative. She says, ‘I would be mistaken for 24 when I was 12’. She explains how the pressure to rise to fame caused her mother to attempt to appease the media, dressing her child in outfits that would be considered sexually explicit and not appropriate for the child’s age. This is a more popular example of parents of young stars catering to the views of the media using their child so the media can sexualise them even more, to ensure that the child stays popular and current.

Some people would say the sexualisation of children isn’t a big deal and that its all for entertainment purposes therefor no one really cares, but I’d like to ask those people, is it entertaining to watch these kids grow up thinking that the only way anyone is going to like them is based solely on their looks rather than their talent? Do these kids that are being affected by this also ‘not care’? Would you find it so entertaining to keep essentially bullying these minors into appeasing the press and public in fear of getting rejected and having their careers stripped away because of something so trivial? I’d say to them: “Let me see your arguments then.”

In conclusion, if the over sexualisation of children in media continues as it does now, it will only become worse, with the child stars being pressured constantly leading to them becoming miserable which impacts on the children who look up to them as idols.