Wednesday What is it?  The Pornification of Girlhood


We haven’t Come a Long Way Baby

by Melinda Tankard Reist

Publicly sexual

In 2009, former Hi-5 children’s entertainer Kellie Crawford posed for a lingerie photo shoot for men’s magazine Ralph. The Ralph cover for April features Kellie in tiny knickers and black bra, and shouts ‘It’s Hi5 Hottie Kellie!’ with the subtitle ‘Busting out some bedtime stories.’ It includes another smaller picture of Kellie in her Hi5 costume.

In the accompanying interview, Kellie explained that as a children’s star, she ‘just forgot I was a woman.’ She did the photo shoot to ‘find the woman in me.’ I responded in media interviews by asking why it was that the Wiggles were not expected to prove their manhood by stripping down to their jocks and having their photos taken for a magazine shoot, yet women were expected to take off most of their clothes to prove their womanhood? Opponents of my position, both men and women, filled my inbox with intellectually challenging arguments.

These included:

That I was sad, old and dog-ugly

That I had saggy breasts and a droopy arse

That I needed liposuction

That I was a bitter ugly woman

That my face would break a 60-inch plasma television

And, my personal favourite, that I was ‘as ugly as a hat full of arses’ (obviously not a hat full of Kellie’s arses, because hers was magnificent, according to her fans) (email correspondence, April 2009).

However, one little girl in Victoria who seemed not to care about whether I was bitter or needed cosmetic surgery, wrote (email April 20, 2009, used with permission):

My name is Delaney and I am 10 years old. On Today Tonight I saw a story about Kellie from Hi-5. Of course, you know that she has done a photo shoot for a men’s magazine. I think it is very silly how she feels she has to do it. It sets a horrible example for younger kids like me. When I was little I used to love watching Hi-5 and it makes me feel disappointed [sic] that she has done something like that.

Delaney, and girls like her, receive messages from every level of the media and popular culture that the baring of the female body is what makes you a ‘real woman.’ Very few young girls have Delaney’s courage to distance themselves from this message.

Ideal womanhood is now all about sexual allure; the ability to attract the male gaze has become what is important in life. As Pamela Paul writes in Pornified, ‘being publicly sexual has become the only acceptable way for girls to demonstrate maturity’ (2005,p. xxiv). Putting yourself on show for the sexual gratification of others is what counts. Look at what happened after Susan Boyle’s stunning performance of ‘I have a dream’ on Britain’s Got Talent which had attracted 100 million YouTube hits at time of writing (June 2009). One of her first offers was from a porn film company keen to ‘relieve her of her virginity’—on film of course (http://

The sexualisation industry has a voracious appetite for appropriating and corrupting people and things deemed ‘innocent,’ and remaking them in their own image. There are thousand of porn sites featuring children’s cartoon characters. And a growing number of sites depicting the ‘defloration’ of young girls.

Bearing the brunt

Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls argues that girls should not be objectified in this way. Girls are worth so much more than this. Our contributors take us on a troubling journey across the culture in which we are trying to raise happy, healthy, resilient girls, and demonstrate that much needs to change if this is ever going to be possible. Collectively and compellingly, the writers here show how adult sexual concepts are seeping into girl world, co-opting girls into a XXX world well before they understand what is happening. Even in ordinary everyday places, there is material that is deeply disturbing.

Julie Gale, for example, exposes porn magazines sold in corner stores, milkbars and petrol stations, as well as porn-related products found in family shopping malls. Some readers might take offence at what appears in this book and wish they hadn’t picked it up. But care needs to be taken not to shoot the messenger. We should be troubled and disturbed by the way pornified messaging stalks girls and boys and threatens their healthy development.

Not that Susan hasn’t been humiliated before. Twenty years earlier, when she appeared on another talent show, My Kind of People, judge Michael Barrymore spent half the performance lying on the floor looking up her dress. After standing up, he ran his hands around his crotch area, while she continued to sing ‘I don’t know how to love him’ from Jesus Christ Superstar. At the end he grabbed Susan and forced his lips onto her mouth (it would be a misuse of the word to call it a kiss):  Girls are facing unprecedented social pressure, their emotional and psychological well-being at risk in many new ways.

Girl paints her lips with red lipstick

In The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, Joan Jacobs Brumberg writes:

‘More than any other group in the population, girls and their bodies have borne the brunt of twentieth-century social change, and we ignore that fact at our peril’ (1997, p. 214).

The proliferation and globalisation of sexual imagery, along with sexualised clothing, music, games and magazine content for girls, and the social imperative of a perfect body, are all part of this social change.

The pressure to conform to an idealised body type in a sex saturated culture that values girls who are thin, hot, sexy and ‘bad’ is taking a terrible toll. Despite the many opportunities at school, university and in the workplace available to them, girls today are struggling. Courtney E. Martin (2007) describes it as ‘the frightening new normalcy of hating your body.’ Self-hatred is so prevalent, it’s like a rite of passage for teenage girls.


The 2007 report of the American Psychological Association(APA) Task Force on the Sexualisation of Girls (APA TSG, 2007,p. 3) links the objectifying and sexualising of girls and young women with the most common health problems suffered by them.

Objectification is reinforced through embedded sexual content everywhere we look. According to the APA, ‘A culture can be infused with sexualised representations of girls and women, suggesting that such sexualisation is good and normal’ (p. 3). The Report argues that this leads to girls and women feeling bad about themselves (p. 23):

…there is evidence that sexualisation contributes to impaired cognitive performance in college-aged women, and related research suggests that viewing material that is sexually objectifying can contribute to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depressive affect, and even physical health problems in high-school-aged girls and in young women.

In addition to leading to feelings of shame and anxiety, sexualizing treatment and self-objectification can generate feelings of disgust toward one’s physical self. Girls may feel they are “ugly” and “gross” or untouchable.

The world needs girls who desire to be whole, well rounded, citizens of the world—and adults who will facilitate this. We need to insist they (and all of us) deserve better. We all need a world that makes true human development possible. There’s a lot of dark material in this book. However, there is hope. A new movement is taking shape against objectification and sexualisation, one that goes beyond the usual polarities of left and right and religious and other differences. A diverse collection of organisations and individuals are coming together to agitate for the dignity and worth of girls and women, using everything from culture-jamming grassroots activism to more formal lobbying and advocacy.

This movement presents great hope. It is helping girls see that succumbing to the demands and dictates of popular culture, and adhering to pornified roles and behaviours, causes them to live limited and constricted lives. May this book provide strength, solidarity and resolve to this new movement, for the benefit of girls, boys—and all of us.

Melinda Tankard Reist

You can connect and follow Melinda on

If you feel like you would like to contribute to this work, you can join Collective Shout.  Collective Shout is a grassroots campaigning movement against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture.

***This was an excerpt from the Introduction to Melinda’s book: Getting Real.  I highly recommend that you get this book and read it.  Underline it and pass it on – purchase multiple copies.  We need to be aware of these issues so that we can protect our children.

Recommended Reading:

Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls

Purchase Getting Real through this link:

Assembling writers, advocates, and academics, this volume spotlights the sexualization and objectification of girls and women in the media, popular culture, and society. From clothing and music to magazines and toys, this collection explores today’s advertising and merchandising techniques and the effects they have on the premature portrayal of girls as sexual beings. Arguing that the sexualization of girls leads to self-destructive behaviors such as eating disorders and self-harm as well as to increased anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, this account blames corporations, the media, and the sex industry. Informative and spirited, this record will interest critics of the “pornification” movement.

The unprecedented mainstreaming of the global pornography industry is transforming the sexual politics of intimate and public life, popularizing new forms of hardcore misogyny, and strongly contributing to the sexualization of children. Yet, challenges to the industry continue to be dismissed as uncool, antisex, and moral panic. Unmasking the lies behind the selling of porn as entertainment, this book reveals the shocking truths of an industry that trades in violence, crime, and degradation while discussing topics such as racism in gay male porn, the use of animals in porn, child pornography, and BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism). Fearless and controversial, this examination will challenge the current view of pornography.

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Love Lisa

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