Kids, TikTok and Sexualisation
February 4, 2021
“Try searching up schoolboy and schoolgirl online, see the difference” (Anonymous, 2021). I was sifting through the responses of a survey I released to 20 individuals in Year 11 and 12, and this was one of the ones that caught my attention. As the person requested, I did in fact search “schoolboy” and “schoolgirl” online. I implore you all to do the same at some point.
When asked what they define as “sexualisation”, the survey responders all had similar answers:
“Anyone who is regarded in a sexual manner, whether it’s about their body or behavior” (Anonymous, 2021).
“Objectifying and making someone “appealing” towards modern sexual standards” (Anonymous, 2021).
“The act of making something or someone completely unrelated to sex seem purely sexual” (Anonymous, 2021).
My definition or interpretation of sexualisation does not differ much from the responses: I believe that it entails viewing certain objects or individuals as sexual and enforcing sexual connotations when that particular object or individual is not inherently sexual.
The American Psychological Association claims that there are many components to “sexualisation”, which can essentially be summarized as:
- “a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior (…)”
- “a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (…) with being sexy”
- “a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use (…)”
- “sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person” (2007).
Sexualisation of individuals, especially young individuals, has been prominent for years, particularly in the media. Social media,movies and shows use young people to portray a standard; an unrealistic, overly sexual standard that enforces a dangerous message on the young people involved and their audiences. To this day, sexualisation of youth, and even more so of young girls, on social media platforms such as Instagram and Tik Tok is ubiquitous; not only does it impose harmful ideals on young girls and have an acute negative impact on their mental health and self-perceptions.
To begin, since its release in 2010, Instagram has been a platform of distortion; the app sets unrealistic standards for life, money, relationships, and, above all, beauty. Affecting men as much as women, the beauty standards portrayed on Instagram have put a significant amount of pressure on youth to conform to expectations, such as particular body types. Over one billion people are active on the app. It is equally important to note that most influencers with a wide reach are women: in 2019, 84% of influencers creating sponsored work were women. Similarly, TikTok, renamed and adapted from musical.ly in 2016 has rapidly become one of the most used social media platforms; the app went from being an embarrassment to have, to a staple application within a few months, and now, even the biggest influencers have an account. With over 800 million users, the app promotes trends and sounds that people use for recreation, dancing, or simply voicing their opinions against certain movements, behaviours and trends, for example.
When asked, the twenty survey respondents all acknowledged that TikTok and Instagram were the worst apps for the sexualisation of young girls, and I couldn’t agree more. Regardless of some of the benefits of the social media platforms, they can also encourage dangerous standards and trends that put young girls at risk. Trends on TikTok are especially prone to this, and many young girls have taken to participating in trends that require a hypersexualisation of themselves, their attitudes and personalities, and their bodies. One might argue that some of these trends promote “body confidence”, however, the nature of these challenges involves the components of sexualisation that the American Psychological Association outlines.
Instagram influencers tend to hypersexualize –and one can even say “pornify”– posts in order to promote sponsored material; influencers such as Daisy Keech and Tammy Hembrow do so often. Although the purpose of this article is not to criticize the way in which these influencers portray themselves, it is important to note that their status as influencers directly influences their audiences, which, in most cases, happen to be teenage girls. The implications of social media’s influence on young girls and the imposition of sexual connotations on them are vast and varied, and are, in every case, incredibly harmful. Out of the survey respondents, 95% of them agreed that the sexualisation of girls in the media was a severe problem.
The biggest concern for young female individuals being sexualised in the media is child predation and pedophelia; many of the survey responses highlighted this as the main consequence. Social media platforms often poorly police inappropriate behaviour and comments on posts, whether it be on the posts of adult influencers, or on girls who happen to have a public instagram account. Apps such as TikTok are a magnet for pedophiles who seek to communicate with young girls, or simply watch and use their videos with bad intentions. Sexualisation of girls in the media makes them targets, and puts them at direct risk of harm from grown men who seek to abuse them.
The implications of sexualisation of girls in the media is also considerable on audiences, particularly harming the ways in which they view themselves and their personal confidence. One of these respondents of my survey described: “it has had a mostly negative impact because it dampened my self confidence and increased body image issues. I found myself comparing my body to girls with flatter stomachs, bigger butts etc (…), it was an unrealistic expectation (…)” (Anonymous, 2021). Issues with self confidence and body image can lead to more severe implications, such as eating disorders, mental health issues such as depression, and can, in the worst cases, even lead young girls to take their own lives. In the last decade, the suicide rate for teenagers has increased dramatically, and although it is impossible and irrational to link all teen suicides to social media, there is some positive correlation between both factors. More can be read about the implications of social media on mental health in the article (on the media’s portrayal of mental health) written by Gargi Manek.
Although I hate to be the bearer of bad news, there is not much that we can do. Stating the facts and figures is not going to change anything; if that were the case for example, people would have stopped smoking years ago. On that note, the most that individuals can do is be aware of the dangers. If you happen to have younger sisters or younger friends (especially female) who are on social media, you shouldn’t monitor them. Instead, you should try to go about educating them and making sure that they are fully aware that not everyone has the best intentions. Furthermore, promoting and interacting with posts and trends that rely solely on the sexualisation of youth is you contributing to the problem. Avoid interaction with these at all costs. The fewer people interact with harmful trends, the smaller their reach, and potentially, the less harm will be done to potential victims. It is important to recognize that, whether you feel affected or not, millions of girls around the world feel pressure enclosing on them from the desire of the media to portray girls as sexual objects and limit their value to exclusively their sex appeal.
“Personally it used to greatly affect me since I have been sexualized since the age of 10, (…) and I genuinely believe that this played a big part with my poor relationship with food and my own perception of self” (Anonymous, 2021).