Teen girls are witnessing the transformation of longtime Disney channel mainstay Miley Cyrus from a cute preteen to a preening performer who knows no limits. Like Rihanna and Britney Spears before her, Cyrus recklessly flaunts an objectified version of sexuality on the world stage. Her persona communicates to girls that their primary identity should revolve around their potential physical desirability and how they make other people feel.
Christian girls are struggling to hold onto their identity in Christ while they live in a culture that encourages them to use their sexuality to gain attention and power. It is imperative that churches confront sexualization head on.
In my work and research with adolescents, I hear time and again that girls desperately want to be able to talk about these messages about sexuality with their church family. They long to receive guidance, to ask questions, to see how other Christians deal with these pressures.
As a body, we can help girls see the great lie of sexualization: that their power lies in their desirability. Instead, we can shine the light of God upon the beauty of the real plan he has for them. God wants them to be his light in a broken world.
Girls deserve the chance to follow the dreams that God has placed in their hearts, to cultivate the talents that he’s given them and to fully examine how God wants to use each of them to make this world a better place, in ways large and small.
It’s time for us to work together to fight the perception of women and girls as objects and to stand against a worldview that hurts our daughters and keeps them from achieving wholeness.
So how do we help our girls fight this dangerous mindset?
Here are a few ideas:
• Encourage vulnerability: Girls are hurt by the everyday sexualization that focuses solely on appearance. They need the freedom to be vulnerable with family — at home and within their church. They must be able to drop their guard and be themselves. Girls should be loved and accepted for who they are inside, not for how they look.
• Believe in girls: We must build girls’ belief in themselves by first positively reinforcing the beautiful, authentic people God made each of them to be. Plan opportunities for adults in the congregation to speak words of encouragement and support to girls. Let those young women know that they are an important part of the body and that God wants them to use their gifts to make the world a better place.
• Focus on strengths: Don’t dwell on the physical. Refrain from commenting on girls’ physical appearance in connection to worth or value. Instead, shine a light on what each girl does well, on her gifts and talents and on the way that you see God working in her life.
• Praise courage: Give the girls in your church encouragement when they are willing to try something new, when they choose to allow God to use their gifts to serve him and others and when they do something to make the world around them better.
• Talk openly about sexualization: Girls are exposed to sexualization whenever they see an advertisement, watch television or movies aimed at their age group and listen to most music. Don’t be afraid to talk about how the messages they’re seeing and hearing affect them. “What did you think about how that show depicts girls your age? Do you think it’s accurate? Why or why not?” Keep the lines of communication open, and give girls the opportunity to talk about sexualized media. If we ask them, girls will let us know what they think.
May we as a body be bold in standing against sexualization, and may we raise more girls who have the courage to honor and cultivate the gifts God has given them.
JENNIFER W. SHEWMAKER, an associate professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University in Texas, is a licensed specialist in school psychology who has worked with hundreds of families, children and teachers. She shares her insight on her “Don’t Conform...Transform” blog at www.jennifershewmaker.com.