“Putting on” Sexiness: A Content Analysis of the Presence of Sexualizing Characteristics in Girls’ Clothing
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Objectification theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) proposes that women from Western cultures are widely portrayed and treated as objects of the male gaze, leading to the development of self-objectification, in which girls and women internalize these societal messages and view their own bodies as objects to be evaluated according to narrow standards of (often sexualized) attractiveness. Prompted by findings from the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (APA 2007), the present study considers girls’ clothing as a possible socializing influence that may contribute to the development of self-objectification in preteen girls. Accordingly, in this content analysis, we examined the frequency and nature of “sexualizing” clothing available for girl children (generally sizes 6–14) on the websites of 15 popular stores in the US. Sexualizing clothing was defined as clothing that revealed or emphasized a sexualized body part, had characteristics associated with sexiness, and/or had sexually suggestive writing. Clothing was also coded for childlike characteristics, such as child-like fabric (e.g., polka dot pattern) or a modest, non-revealing cut. Across all stores and all articles of clothing, 69% of the clothing items were coded as having only childlike characteristics, 4% as having only sexualizing characteristics, 25.4% as having both sexualizing and childlike characteristics, and 1% as having neither sexualizing nor childlike characteristics. “Tween” stores like Abercrombie Kids had the highest proportion of sexualizing clothing. The findings are discussed within the framework of the development of self-objectification.