Q: As I shop in “family-friendly” stores, I am shocked to see the cover photos of popular magazines bordering on soft-porn. I am not surprised at the publishers, but I am surprised at how unaware stores are of this offensive content. No wonder our children think everything in our country is about sex and materialism — this is how they see the world portrayed in much of our media. I think what disturbs me most is the acquiescence to it by those of us who don’t approve. Parents and a few still-modest women are concerned, but how do we object without sounding like we are overreacting?
–Miffed by Magazines in Seattle, WA
A: Dear Miffed by Magazines,
As social standards change over time, magazines and other media will always be “pushing the envelope” in order to grab and maintain the public’s attention. As a result, there are more sexual images, just as there are more violent images, in mainstream media than there have been in the past. What one person finds offensive may not bother another person. Those who are concerned often give in, possibly because they feel helpless to protest. Media are everywhere, most parents feel overwhelmed, and they do not feel that they have anything to say other than that they are offended, which makes them feel embarrassed for being prudish. But you can respond to these images rather than being offended, and do so in ways that are effective if you have facts, rather than opinions.
Research shows that kids don’t necessarily imitate what they see in sexualized media, but they do pay attention, because they are learning about the world and the way they should behave in it. What they see teaches them about what is normal and what is attractive, so it guides the way they present themselves. Sexualized images also may build insecurity, which can motivate us to buy cosmetics, clothes, even cars, to feel better about ourselves. While making sales is the goal of advertising and the publications in which they are published, this insecurity can have unfortunate outcomes. Among adolescents, who are at their most self-conscious and insecure developmental stage of their lives, this can lead to real health problems, including anxiety and depression, eating disorders, body-building supplements, and substance abuse.
Magazine publishers and media producers do not seek to offend anyone with sexualized images, they want to get your attention. You are their potential customer. They want to know what you think and feel. Communicate with the magazines, advertisers, and consumer products companies and let them know. Don’t underestimate the power of sending a letter to corporate executives, they understand that they need to make you happy if they want you to buy their products. As consumers, we can create change by voting with our voices and our wallets. And don’t forget to give positive feedback, both in your communication and your business, to those companies that provide images, ideas, and products that make you healthier and happier.
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Enjoy your media and use them wisely,