Too Sexualized to be Taken Seriously? Perceptions of a Girl in Childlike vs. Sexualizing Clothing

Abstract

Girls in the United States are increasingly confronted with a sexualized culture, including sexualized clothing made especially for pre-teen girls. Previous research has shown that when adult women are portrayed as sexualized they are seen as less competent. In the present study we depicted a pre-teen girl in sexualized clothing to determine if similar effects would occur as have been found with depictions of adult women. One hundred sixty two male and female students from a small liberal arts college in the Midwestern U.S. looked at one of three images of a fifth-grade girl (obtained from an internet advertisement and manipulated through computer software) who was presented in either childlike clothing, somewhat sexualized clothing, or definitely sexualized clothing. Level of accomplishment was also manipulated so that the girl was described as either average or above average in accomplishment. Participants then rated the girl on ten different traits. The clothing and accomplishment manipulations significantly affected ratings of the girl’s masculine-stereotyped traits such that the girl who was portrayed as more sexualized and less accomplished was seen as the least intelligent, competent, determined, and capable. In addition, the sexualized girl was seen as perhaps “responsible” for her sexualized clothing in that she was rated relatively low in self-respect and morality. Possible implications of the sexualization of girls are discussed.

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Correspondence to Sarah K. Murnen.

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Graff, K., Murnen, S.K. & Smolak, L. Too Sexualized to be Taken Seriously? Perceptions of a Girl in Childlike vs. Sexualizing Clothing. Sex Roles 66, 764–775 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-012-0145-3

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Keywords

  • Sexual objectification
  • Sexy clothing
  • Gender stereotypes