Thursday, July 10, 2008

M. Gigi Durham's "The Lolita Effect"

Meenakshi Gigi Durham is an associate professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. For more than a decade, she has been conducting research on adolescent girls and the media.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What You Can Do About It, and reported the following:
The Lolita Effect, as I define it in my book, is a media myth that promises girls they can experience joyful sexuality and femininity, but only at a price: the price of conforming to the restrictive ideals that the corporate media impose on the entire landscape of female sexuality.

My analysis of this phenomenon begins with the premise that sex is a normal, natural and wonderful part of the human experience, and that children’s sexual development is a key aspect of growing up that can and should be handled thoughtfully and in age-appropriate ways. But the mainstream corporate media hypersexualize girlhood in ways that actually counter girls’ healthy sexual growth and contribute to a myriad of social ills, from teen pregnancies to eating disorders. I argue that we need more diverse, progressive and factual understandings of girls’ sexuality in order to move forward and truly empower girls. My book is not about censorship or prudery: it’s about positive, ethical reconceptions of girls and sex.

Page 99 of the book only focuses on one aspect of the Lolita Effect: the persistent image of the real-life Barbie doll as epitomizing the female sexual ideal. We all know that the Barbie body is one not found in nature — it’s a very slender, yet voluptuous, body, so there’s a basic contradiction at work that requires extreme dieting and exercise combined with plastic surgery to attain. Beyond that, the images of sexy girls in the media are digitally altered so that the models themselves bear little resemblance to the final images. Yet this body is presented as attainable to the girls who are targeted as viewers and consumers of these media. Page 99 actually deals with a commercial anomaly, the highly rated Disney ’tween show, That’s So Raven, which features a girl with a heavier body. In a way, the example on page 99 stands in stark contrast to the wide-ranging analyses of more pernicious pop culture products throughout the book.

So in fact, nothing on this page even begins to address the range of issues explored and synthesized in the book, or the media literacy strategies I provide for helping girls negotiate them. Alas, The Lolita Effect doesn’t meet the Page 99 test, but page 99 may pique a reader’s curiosity about what else the book contains!
Learn more about the book and author at The Lolita Effect website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue