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The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It Hardcover – May 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

We've all seen it—the tiny T-shirts with sexually suggestive slogans, the four-year-old gyrating to a Britney Spears song, the young boy shooting prostitutes in his video game—and University of Iowa journalism professor Durham has had enough. In her debut book, she argues that the media—from advertisements to Seventeen magazine—are circulating damaging myths that distort, undermine and restrict girls' sexual progress. Durham, who describes herself as pro-girl and pro-media, does more than criticize profit-driven media, recognizing as part of the problem Americans' contradictory willingness to view sexualized ad images but not to talk about sex. Chapters expose five media myths: that by flaunting her hotness a little girl is acting powerfully; that Barbie has the ideal body; that children—especially little girls—are sexy; that violence against women is sexy; and that girls must learn what boys want, but not vice versa. After debunking each myth, Durham offers practical suggestions for overcoming these falsehoods, including sample questions for parents and children. In a well-written and well-researched book, she exposes a troubling phenomenon and calls readers to action. (May)
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From Booklist

In this intensely researched exploration of the media’s exploitation of girls, Durham exposes the links between destructive teenage self-images and the popular, highly sexed, and negative representations of girls in magazines, television programs, and movies. Considering everything from suggestive Halloween costumes for little girls to the relentless onslaught of articles about how to “get a guy” in teen publications, Durham makes her persistent way across the media landscape. Seventeen magazine in particular bears the weight of her analysis, and the results are both shocking and disturbing. By pointing to specific articles, she exposes a pattern of teaching girls to attract and please the opposite sex while minimizing serious conversations about sex or equal gender roles in relationships. In her conclusion, she asserts that this cumulative “Lolita effect” is “a major factor in the high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs in the United States and many other countries.” Durham’s provocative and erudite study of the demeaning way society views girls serves to both alarm and educate; consider it required reading for parents and their daughters. --Colleen Mondor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press; 1 edition (May 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590200632
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590200636
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Media and cultural theorists and people like Roland Barthes, Erving Goffman, and John Berger have been talking about many of the media construction ideas presented here for decades. What Durham does is to do away with the academic footnotes (even helpful footnotes and comments are supplied at the end of the book) and condense it into readable chapters, each ending with helpful suggestions to get one's daughter (and son) to question and eventually, challenge the industry-constructed truths ("myths"): they will ask themselves "how is this magazine or tv ad selling this idea of conformity to me and why should I be listening to it?"

Although Rosalind Wiseman (who wrote Queen Bees and Wannabes, which the movie Mean Girls was based on) have mentioned that young girls readily buy into the blond hair blue eyed Barbie ideal, even though they instinctively know it's a ruse. At the end of each chapter, The Lolita Effect does present great conversation starters between parents and their children on discussing ways to navigate around the labyrinth of media.

The internet today has shrunk the world into a few taps of the keyboard. Therefore I think it is important to examine the "myth" on an international level. For example, Hajaruku fashion (a Japanese phenomenon) actually features a style known as Lolita Gothic. Take a casual glance at the blog entries online and you will see many American teenage girls chatting about this look as if they just saw it on their way to the store. The point Durham makes is that in our modern technological age, everything is interconnected. If a teen pop star makes a face on an internet picture in LA, some girl in South Korea is going to be forcing "round contacts" into her eyes in less than 24 hours.
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29 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Sean C. Duggan on May 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I actually got my hands on a copy of The Lolita Effect about half a month ago in a bin of free books outside of a coffeehouse in Philadelphia. The copy I have is one of the unproofed galleys, so I will preface this review with the statement that some of my concerns may have already been addressed.

Overall, Durham provides some thought-provoking examples of how female sexuality is subverted by mass media and by culture. I learned of a few products I'd never heard of before (there's actually a pole dancing kit sold as a kids toy?) and was made more self-aware of existing products (I honestly hadn't given a second thought about what young girls wear these days, and was somewhat shocked to realize how sexually charged some of the sold clothing really is). She makes a good case for most of this trend being a matter of marketing rather than actually culturally ingrained. Even more useful, she includes sections at the end of each chapter on discussion topics, things which parents should talk to their children about. I've already passed my copy of the book on to a mother at my workplace who'd been complaining about how short girls' shorts had been getting. Overall, it was a good read, both engaging and informative.

The biggest problem I had with the book was one which Durham pointed out in the prologue of the book. Sex, especially when it comes to younger people, is a very polarized topic. It's hard to talk about it without being perceived as either saying "Sex is bad and you should avoid it" or "Sex is good and you should engage in it as often as possible." And, in the end, she largely avoids falling into either pole by avoiding the topic. She expresses her beliefs that sex is a positive thing, but that it should avoided until one is mature enough.
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82 of 118 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Males on August 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Is this book a bad joke? Is Durham really blaming Victoria's Secret, Barbie dolls, Peek-a-Boo Pole Dancing Kits, and media images supposedly inciting girls to act out "Lolita" fantasies for global teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, HIV, child prostitution, sex tourism, sex slavery, deaths from pregnancy and childbirth, intertribal rape in Africa, and Islamic honor killings? Can she be serious?

Durham's illogic is scary. And so is her gross misinformation. First, contrary to Durham's claim that media images are causing increased "teenage pregnancy," teen pregnancy rates actually are plummeting worldwide, especially for the youngest ages. In the U.S., the most recent National Center for Health Statistics reports show pregnancy rates for girls under age 15 have fallen to their lowest level ever recorded, as are birth rates among all teenagers. There was a slight increase in births among older teens in 2006 after 15 straight years of decline, hardly evidencing a "Lolita effect" and still leaving the teen birth rate near the lowest levels measured in 80 years of records. United Nations tabulations show similarly falling teen birth trends in most other countries.

Second, FBI and National Crime Victimization reports likewise show rape, sexual violence, and violent crime against both younger and older teenage girls are at their lowest levels since tabulations began 35 years ago. The best information indicates girls today are safer and less likely to get pregnant than any past generation we can reliably assess. I realize the news media and interest groups constantly try to profit by scaring us into thinking sex and violence are rising, but we should expect PhDs like Durham to do original research and provide accurate information.
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