Internalized sexualization and its consequences across the middle school years
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The sexual content of media aimed at pre- and early adolescents (including magazines, movies, TV shows, and websites) has increased dramatically in recent years (Durham, 2008; Levin & Kilbourne, 2008; Olfman, 2009; Oppliger, 2008; Orenstein, 2011; Sarracino & Scott, 2008). Psychologists have expressed concern that exposure to such material leads to “internalized sexualization.” A recent APA Task Force (2007) called on researchers to study sexualization among pre- and early adolescent girls to understand its impact on development. For my dissertation, I sought to fulfill this mandate by completing a longitudinal study of internalized sexualization and its consequences. Ninety-nine girls and 94 boys at a private middle school were recruited for the study. They completed measures twice a year for a total of four waves of data. At each time point, girls completed measures of: (1) internalized sexualization, (2) body surveillance, (3) body shame, (4) body satisfaction, (5) general perceived self-competence, (6) physical perceived self-competence, (7) social perceived self-competence, (8) cognitive perceived self-competence, and (9) sociometric popularity. Girls’ pubertal status and grade point average (GPA) were also obtained. Boys completed the measure of sociometric popularity. Cross-sectional analyses suggested that internalized sexualization among girls increased as a function of age; however, linear growth curve modeling did not suggest intra-individual growth in internalized sexualization. Across time points, higher levels of internalized sexualization were associated with higher levels of body surveillance, body shame, and pubertal development, and lower levels of body satisfaction, general perceived self-competence, and cognitive perceived self-competence. Structural equation models suggested that increases in pubertal status temporally preceded increases in internalized sexualization, and increases in internalized sexualization temporally preceded decreases in general perceived self-competence, cognitive perceived self-competence, and GPA. Implications for intervention and social policy are discussed.