Continuing the discussion on the sexualization of girls (and their mothers)…

Yesterday Judith Warner wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about the APA report on the sexualization of girls (unfortunately, you have to be a paid subscriber to read it, but if you are, you can read it here).

Among other things, she has this to say:

We all tend to talk a good game now on things like body image and sexual empowerment. We buy the American Girl body book, “The Care and Keeping of You,” promote a “healthy” diet and exercise, and wax rhapsodic about team sports. But do we practice what we preach?

Not when we walk around the house sucking in our stomachs in front of the mirrors. Not when we obsessively regulate the contents of our refrigerators in the name of “purity.” (Did you know that there’s a clinical word fore the “fixation on righteous eating”? It’s called “orthorexia.”) Our girls see right through all our righteousness. And they hear the hypocrisy, too, when we dish out all kinds of pabulum about a “positive body image,” then go on to trash our own thighs.

Overall, I am surprised by Warner’s discussion. In general, I have found her to be incredibly supportive of mothers, and while not letting them off the hook for being selfish or inappropriate parents, she has stood against the tidal wave of guilt that our society provides in plenty for mothers.

This op-ed article, on the other hand, addresses women who are already overwhelmed with body image issues (first about how their own bodies should look and feel, and second about how they should get their pre-teen daughters’ bodies to look and feel) and tells them that they’re still doing it all wrong.

I am disappointed that Warner did not take a higher road on this issue.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Hi Karen,

    Last fall, while visiting my daughter in Philadelphia, I watched the Dove soap video that’s out. Have you seen it?

    Dove has a campaign to build self-esteem in women and an intention to show women, as they are.

    In the video, they show how a company changes and adjusts the features of one model. The comuterized touch ups cause the model to look “perfect” instead of as she is….a human being.

    Pretty amazing to see what women have to “face” in this culture. And this one example doesn’t include body image.


  2. But how can a mother learn to “improve” her own body image if she isn’t aware that what she currently has is inappropriate? And how can she learn that if noone tells her? I found the quotes you gave here to be in the nature of trying to wake women up to their own behavior, so that they can begin to address it and I am all for that.

  3. It is one thing to address women, to say that our pride and our beauty comes from within, to build up a healthy sense of self and sexuality. This place of building up and supporting is the space I have always found Warner to be writing from.

    In this piece, however, I found her writing to be shaming of mothers, telling them that they’re doing wrong rather than pointing towards the light. The mothers who do and say the things Warner suggests are falling prey to the same forces that they are trying to keep their daughters from, and much of that force draws on women’s shame over their bodies. Simply adding more shame from the other direction isn’t the way to positively impact the situation.

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