Why Your First-Grade Girl Wants to Be Sexy (and What You Can Do About It)

You know how you were terrified about the day your teenage daughter discovered she could be sexy -- and wanted to work it? Well, turns out you might have to wind that clock back. A lot.

An alarming new study has found that girls as young as six years old are keenly aware of their (so-called) sex appeal. The research, published this month in the journal Sex Roles, focused on studies conducted by psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. In the studies, the researchers showed 6- to 9-year-old girls two different paper dolls; one was dressed in a tight, revealing getup; the other was wearing something trendy but modest. Then they asked the each girl to pick out the one she looked like, the one she wanted to look like, the one who was popular, and the one she wanted to play with.

Are you sitting down? An unsettling 68 percent of the girls picked the sexy doll as her role model, and 72 percent insisted that the skank was the more popular doll. The lead researcher admitted she was surprised that such young girls already believe that sexiness leads to popularity.

But wait! There was some good news (well, relatively). The study subjects were culled from two different public schools and one dance studio. As a mom of two aspiring dancers, I was sure that the hip-shaking set would have fared far worse than the non-dancers, but I'm thrilled to say I was wrong. In fact, the dance squad chose the less-sexy doll more often in all four categories, results the researchers chalk up to an increased awareness -- because of dancing -- that bodies are built for far more than just looking good or dressing sexy. (They add that sports frequently boost body image across the board.)

And forget about blaming provocative pop stars like Mylie and Christina for twisting innocence and sexuality; the researchers found that it was the mom (um, yeah, us) who had the greatest impact on her daughter's degree of self-sexualization. Namely, daughters of self-absorbed, appearance obsessed moms fared the worst, while moms who openly schooled their girls on sexuality -- and pointed out examples of bad behaviors -- seemed to win the sensible-kid lottery.

The bottom line: While the whole thing puts a serious heap of pressure on us moms, it's good to know that we actually might be able to protect them from the sex-crazed world we live in.

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