Sex Sells…But at What Cost?

By: Ebony Taylor 

Ever watched a movie or tv show based in high-school? Think about the female characters. There’s often a character who’s a “school slut” or girl who wears revealing clothing. She is almost always over-sexualized. Reporters have noticed the almost obsessive need to sexualize the teenage experience, especially with Gen-Z. As a borderline millennial myself, I do not think movies and tv shows accurately represent teen life because the film industry has a skewed view of the high school experience. A more recent example is HBO’s Euphoria, a show meant to portray the mind of young teens.  

Although I have not watched the show, many critics of the show feel its objectification of underaged girls is an issue. The Daily Targum, an online newspaper, mentions that Hollywood has a history of setting unrealistic beauty standards, focusing on the women characters’ sexual development. This may have to do with men filling writing and directing roles, and that female characters are being used to appeal to the male eye.

This idea was brought to my attention on Euphoria,  because the writer and director of the show is also male. Are male writers and directors conscious of how they’re portraying women? Those who have watched Euphoria  agree that the show is not shy about displaying nudity. With the numerous sex, nude, and drug scenes, the Guardian writes that younger audiences may be accidental targets. From featuring former Disney costars, attractive models, to a soundtrack made of popular artists, I can see how this show would be appealing to them.   

The main topic of discussion here is to consider how society imposes sexuality on young girls. Media outlets like social media, tv shows, and movies impact girls and their mental health. Sexualization in media suggests that being “sexy” is liberating and powerful. However, when girls are exposed to unrealistic portrayals of girls their age, it can lead to internal conflict, confusion, self-loathing, according to a Verywell Mind article. Not only do media platforms persuade young girls to express their sexuality, but they open a channel for them to do it.  

Due to labor laws, directors may cast women to play the roles of high school-aged girls. I was shocked to learn that actress Rachael McAdams was 25 when she starred in Mean Girls  as a high school bully. The Daily Targum gave an opinionated review that though the sex lives of teens cannot be completely censored, it is a “fine line between sexualizing young women and being informative on how teens view and experience sexual activities.” It can give teens the wrong perception, that what they see (a grown, developed, working woman) is how they should look in high school. Granted, some girls develop more than others in their teens, but these films and shows are setting the bar almost impossibly high for growing girls.  

For social media outlets, there is a negative side to sexual exposure. The American Journal of Psychiatry mentions Nancy Jo Sales, writer of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, who concludes that social media can reinforce sexism and objectification. Many times, young girls are sent unwanted penis pictures, pressured to send nude photos, or portray themselves in a sexualized way to compete with other girls for “likes” online. It’s not only happening in the media, but in other parts of teen’s life. The answers for why girls’ sports feel that they need to dress in more revealing uniforms, why women who are more endowed and shapely play high schoolers, or why sex scenes can’t be censored and have to be shown repeatedly, can only come from females in the media industry. There need to be more women in the media to stop the sexualization of girls and young women. Female writers, directors, other creatives could help create realistic portrayals of women in the media. Stricter and more protective laws for women can also ensure safety for women of all ages.