Kathleen Parker

When it comes to figuring out what's gone wrong with our culture, we can usually rely on the American Psychological Association (APA) to catch on last.

Thus, it came to pass a few days ago that the APA released its findings that American girls are sexualized. And that's bad.

If you missed the headlines, it may be because of stiff competition from the breaking news that Anna Nicole is still dead and Britney is still disturbed.

Irony doesn't get to be ironic when it's that conspicuous.

The APA report found that girls are sexualized in nearly every medium and product -- from ads and video games to clothing, cosmetics and even dolls. Anyone who has walked down an American street the past few years has seen the effects -- little girls dressed as tartlets and teens decked in bling, while mom takes pole-dancing lessons at the gym.

We shouldn't need a scientific study to tell us that sexualizing children is damaging, but apparently common sense isn't what it used to be. We can now assert with confidence that most of the primarily girl pathologies -- eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression -- can be linked to an oversexualization that encourages girls to obsess about body image and objectify themselves.

That said, some of the report's findings are ... odd. One claim, for instance, is that girls who worry about body image perform poorly in math. The research that led to this conclusion involved putting college students in dressing rooms to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater. While they waited alone for 10 minutes wearing their assigned garment, they were given a math quiz.

Apparently, female near-nakedness and cognitive thought are incompatible. But you knew that. The young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse than those in sweaters. There were no differences among the young men.

Researchers concluded from this that ``thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals disrupted mental capacity.''

I'm not a psychologist, but isn't it possible that wearing a bathing suit isn't conducive to math testing, rather than that bathing suits made them so unhappy with their bodies that they couldn't do math? Paging Larry Summers.

If nothing else, I think we can conclude that girls shouldn't wear bathing suits to take the SAT.

While finding ways to desexualize girls would be a welcome development to sane adults, one wonders why there is no comparable concern about the effects of our sexualized culture on boys.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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