“I think it hurts me because it hurts Jesus,” Mary Bawden told The Stream. For years, she’s watched the culture becoming increasingly ambivalent toward the “hypersexualization” of children.
Mary has a degree in modern dance and has taught dance. Fifteen years ago, a fellow church member invited her to a dance concert. She was shocked. “I was just jolted by almost every number being hypersexualized and a lot of hooting and hollering.” She’d never seen anything quite like that, but the dancers were over 18. Maybe it was a personal preference and she just didn’t like it.
The next year was worse. Then she began seeing a trend spread through the dance world. “I begin to see the same thing in the June dance recitals of high school students that were in the dance program I directed at our church. And then I began seeing the same hypersexualized dances in the junior high age group. And then I began to see the same hypersexualized dances in the elementary age range.” She saw them even in preschool groups.
Her eyes opened to this downward cultural trend and she decided to do something about it. She founded DA:NCE. The name stands for “Dance Awareness: No Child Exploited.” The group provides parents with research-based resources. These include an e-book on sexualization and videos that explain the difference between healthy and harmful dance, as well as a newsletter. All the resources are free.
Hypersexualization of Children
“Hypersexualization of girls can refer to girls being depicted or treated as sexual objects,” Canadian Women’s Health Network said in a statement. “It also means sexuality that is inappropriately imposed on girls through media, marketing or products directed at them that encourages them to act in adult sexual ways.”
Mary was seeing hypersexualization in dance through costumes, choreography and music. But children are being hypersexualized in other ways, too, through what they see on television and the internet. It’s a public health issue, says Mary. She’s not the only one who thinks so.
“Actually the experts are calling this a public health issue, much like tobacco, much like when there were no safety belts in cars — [a] public health issue to get safety belts on kids and adults. And so, the outgrowth of all of this is really … harming our culture.” It’s harming the kids, especially.
Children who are hypersexualized have codependency issues and eating disorders and they have a higher risk of porn use because they’re seeing it all the time, said Mary, referencing an APA study. “And so that sucks them into a really unhealthy culture online. They have a lower academic outcome. They tend to be more promiscuous. They tend to be objectified. We turn little girls into women that are objectified.” They also have a higher risk of teen pregnancy.
The culture doesn’t just affect girls, Mary said. “The girls are often hypersexualized. Boys are often hypermasculinized.”
How Does This Happen?
“We pornified the culture,” Mary said. “That’s what experts are calling it — a pornified culture. ” She added, “You can’t keep your child from it. What has happened with the advent of the internet and the mobile phone has opened up Pandora’s box for evil.” Kids are seeing “adult” content everywhere — on their smartphones and computers.
We’re living in an age of “unconsciousness, where people kind of seem not to be aware.” People are busy, but the media “normalizes things that are not normal. Everybody’s kind of accepting it and not pushing back in appropriate ways.” What’s not normal is now the normal thing. “And the healthy thing is the one that’s not normal.”
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The pornified culture has now trended toward “corporate pedophilia.” She explains that “Lots of kids don’t have the ability to identify sexual abuse.” The culture has normalized sexualization and that keeps children from knowing what’s being done to them.
They’re being abused, but when you’re a child and that’s all you know, and it’s normalized, you don’t even know you’re being abused. You don’t know you’re being groomed by the culture to not only have unhealthy experiences, but that’s when predators really can come in and take advantage of you.
Unfortunately, a lot of parents think the sexualized dances are cute. “They think it’s just darling to see their kids in adult costumes, choreography, and music.” She believes education on the issue can change their minds.
What Can Parents Do?
We must realize that children aren’t sexual commodities, says Mary. Parents must first name the problem and be aware enough to identify it. “They are the protective factors … and they can make a healthy choice for their child.” Parents also need to educate their children on the harmful effects of hypersexualization.
We’re all “blindsided” by hypersexualization, said Mary. “I think it hurts me because it hurts Jesus. I think He’s heartbroken over this and He needs His people to speak out. Nothing will change unless we speak out.”
Watch Experts Talk About Hypersexualization: