Sharon Lamb, author of Packaging Girlhood, says the media is to blame for our society's sexualization of girls.
"I think it's coming at girls from every direction at this point," said Lamb. "I think it's in the movies they watch, the TV shows, in the magazines they buy, on the Internet. I think you can't turn off everything as a parent because it's going to be everywhere they are."
Lamb spoke to a crowd of a few dozen people at Western Technical College last week. Educators, counselors, therapists, social workers and teens were among those invited to here her thoughts on how the media and advertising marketers try to sell girls a stereotype of what it means to be a girl.
"I think girls and teenagers are trying to conform to an image of what it means to be attractive which is based somewhat on pornography," said Lamb.
Kelly Parks Snider, co-founder of Project Girl, an arts-based initiative created in Madison, Wisc., teaches teen girls to become better informed consumers of mass media. Snider, who also presented at this conference, also believes commercial media is to blame for our girls' body image issues and why some girls have such a tough time getting along.
"You have to open their eyes," said Snider. "And we know that if you open kids eyes they start seeing this... then you/they begin thinking about it and making the connections between some of the tricks and the manipulation that marketing campaigns in this commercial culture."
Snider educated these girls about how advertisers try and sell their products, and it didn't take long for the girls to sniff out the rats and bust the advertisers for selling more than just a particular item.
"I found this ad," said Alicia Krause, Onalaska High School junior. "It says that all girls need to dress like... basically they're showing their bodies off so people like them. Like they need to wear less clothing, and they need to wear their hair a specific way, and they need to dress as if they're preppy. Like every single girl needs to look the same in order to fit in. And I think it's wrong."
After developing this kind of media awareness, the girls are then asked to cut out the gimmicks and paint a picture of reality.
"Rather than being satisfied with the media that's being produced for them in Hollywood that are typically contrived stories that are created to sell products, the media and art that the girls make are real stories about what real girls are about," said Snider.
"Everywhere in the magazine it says the look. So, I'm going to write 'the look' and then 'No... it's your look.' So what ever look that you want," said Darion Reinart, a Blair-Taylor 8th grader.
And it's this type of individuality and independence from advertisers and the media that Lamb and Snider want all teens to embrace.
"We need to have media literacy become part of our public education," said Snider. "We need to... if we don't teach our kids about the media, the media will be our kids' teachers."
"I'm hoping that people will walk away thinking that they have to provide media literacy in the schools and in the homes for girls and for boys," said Lamb. "So that when they are being targeted, they know they're being targeted. When they're being played, they know they're being played. And they won't be doops."