Customer Reviews: The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It
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on February 19, 2009
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.

And why are these bits of information being constantly shuffled around? Sex is used to confuse and suspend us in a state of distraction. But the real motivation, the author succinctly points out, is only one thing: profit. So I think one of the strongest points that Durham makes is the need for us to truncate sex from being the scapegoat. She repeats the importance of differentiating between sexualization vs. fostering positive attitudes towards sex.

There is also a helpful appendix on where readers can go (online addresses and mail addressed) to look for more resources and places for more information.

I have mixed feelings about the cover. On one hand, it is obvious that it's a play on the notion that advertising corporations use the young, thin, Western, blond-hair blue-eyed ideal to sell a product (all topics covered in the book). At the same time, the publishers of the Lolita Effect teeter on the brink of disseminating the very notion the author makes a clarion call to all her readers to challenge. No matter how you argue the point, if the image of a young, thin, blond girl with open red lips made you "notice" a product (in this case a book) has, in effect, propagated the Lolita Effect one more time.

I also felt a little sad that the author's first name was not presented on the cover. After expounding on the importance of teaching one's daughter to challenge the status quo, I'm sure it would have been inspiring to young female writers to think outside the box and know they themselves have a fighting chance of toppling the Lolita Effect when they see that such a thoughtful book can be penned, picked up, and published by someone not by the name of Michelle, Mary, or Megan, but Meenakshi.
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on May 1, 2008
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. When one is mature enough is, of course, never discussed and with the way she talks about rampant promiscuity, you're left with the impression that it doesn't matter how carefully you talk to your son or daughter; they're going to be engaging in sexual activities, and probably when they're too young to avoid getting damaged by it.

Ultimately, once one gets outside of the main topic of the "Lolita Effect", parts of the book get a bit uneven. As aforementioned, there's waffling on how to deal with the fact that children are engaging in sexual activity at a young age. Durham flops back and forth between the necessity of teaching children about sex at an early age and a fear of instilling in them a healthy fear for what can happen if they do engage in it. Lastly, there's a slightly annoying bit in the book where she denounces the American culture for how it's twisted sex as compared to European countries... which works until you notice that many of her statistics on increased sexual activity among children are regarding these European countries.

As I said before, these may have been fixed since the early copy I got my hands on. And, overall, it is a good read as long as you ignore the minor inconsistencies.
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on April 12, 2011
Although I liked a great deal of what the author wrote, there still seemed to be something cursory about the effort-- she could have done so much more, and she should have limited her overview to American problems with the ongoing sexualization and tacitly approved lewd pursuit by men of pre-adolescent and teenage girls, not go through the international problems -- which are terrible, yes, but this society needs to focus on the direct trouble caused by our immediate culture.

I remember wondering, when I was just entering my teens myself in the mid-1970's, why grown men suddenly began "bothering" girls right around the time they entered the 7th grade --why was it that at that age my peers and I were cruelly scrutinized, rated, berated, and preyed upon in loudly obscene vocal summaries and threatening lurking by adult males either passing by on the street, or when we were in shopping centers, etc., when a year prior to jr. high - the last year of elementary school -- none of us were pursued or even noticed by them? (But at least we were spared the horror of attention from pedophiles.)

It was as if the moment a girl became even vaguely pubescent in appearance, it was open season not only for boys to judge and harass us, but for adult men to do so. Male teachers in my junior high school approvingly favored and flirted with the prettiest girls whom they openly referred to as "sexy" and "foxy" [hey, remember that term, 70's nostalgia buffs?]and insulted or even bullied the unattractive girls in their classrooms. This tawdry behavior by adults set the tone for boys to cruelly demand unreasonable criteria for pulchritude in their female peers, and make them miserable if they didn't meet the set standards. It also gave carte blanche for girls to humiliatingly mock and bully other girls for the same reasons, and thus the ascribed behavior continued throughout the rest of the teenage school years.

I don't see the media being entirely to blame for this, whether 40 years ago or now, although it certainly always has fed into the culture and glutted the market with a disgusting and very prurient objectification of girls. I blame "men in control" who are so threatened by women having any sort of power or autonomy that they have to prey upon helpless little girls and sexualize them (and yes, that is directly what influences advertising and entertainment).

I also just as much blame the adult women who feed into this scheme of things and complacently comply: in a manner pandering and pimping these very girls they are in charge of by demanding their maintaining a highly seductive physical appeal and making sure girls always please, service, and subordinate themselves to the boyfriends, men teachers, male job supervisors, sports coaches, and so forth in their lives.

Female beauty contest judges, cheerleading coaches, fashion magazine editors, guidance counselors, and therapists are just as guilty for demanding that even very young girls must be attractive in the celebrity criteria and HAVE to be sexually appealing to "make it in life" -- that they won't find boyfriends and husbands, succeed academically, make it through college or have decent careers if they are "failures" in attracting and appealing to discerning males (and I shouldn't wonder if gay/lesbian people must maintain just as cruel a standard of criteria among themselves to obtain the "right" to personal happiness). The author was very correct to point out how fashion magazines for teenagers center around pleasing males and ask nothing of a girl's individuality and interests. Women are automatically disenfranchised from the get-go -- power and apparently one's self respect lies only in appeal and desirability. It is a shameful disintegration of what passes for culture in this country now.
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on March 30, 2016
The whole trend about glorifying fair-colored young girls is nothing new.

In fact, we are biologically attracted to a very cute and youthful-looking female because she seems to be at her healthiest and most fertile. And she is also our favorite object of fantasy because she's a shiny new thing with a whole future ahead of her and not a single blemish on her flawless little body. That is EXACTLY why we are experiencing a recent outpouring of Disney princesses, Bratz and Monster High dolls, anime schoolgirls, Japanese girlie bands, Toddlers & Tiaras, etc. at the very dawn of 21st century. And a beautiful young girl is also a very popular image in virtually everything from fairy tales of old to WWII pin-ups to today's comic books, advertising, and pornography. The world itself is historically dominated by the white race, so naturally, a blue-eyed blonde with a perfect body is the "ideal" model.

And of course, the younger a girl is, the prettier and more unspoiled she is considered to be. This is where "Lolita" comes in.

"Lolita" is based on an infamous story about a seemingly seductive preteen girl who had ignited the heart (and of course, the pants) of an older man who had kidnapped and sexually abused her. So now Lolita has became a modern symbol of sexualized little girls who seem to "ask" for it. (FYI, "loli" and "lolicon" are also Japanese terms derived from this very name regarding extremely underage animated girls in sexually exploitative situations.)

So here is a very clever little book calling out on this beguiling idea of a "perfect" young female popping up everywhere and not only dismissing other groups (different race, being older, not well-proportioned, etc.) altogether, but also cruelly exploiting girl children as sex playthings. (This may also explain why females are almost always the victims of abuse and violence, BTW.) To add to this problem is the fact that girls and women aren't "allowed" to have their own sexual interests while being used FOR sexual interest. (That is EXACTLY what has been bothering me while I spent so many years struggling with body image and self-esteem problems during my young adulthood. What's more, girls and women who don't fit the "preferred" model also fear that they will never find a nice partner.)

But - there's one little drawback in this otherwise insightful book: the author seems to want everyone alive to live The Fairy Tale, where you are completely fulfilled by pairing up with an ideal "special someone" to spend "happily ever after" making rosy-pink love and perhaps a few rosy-pink babies if you're really interested. Get real, dame. :P

First, it's not an easy or simple feat to find and keep the right mate, nor will the relationship be a smooth sailing 100% of the time.

Second, while the author wisely encourages kids to develop good attitudes about sex (and also teaches girls not to shy away from boys and sex in spite of all the negative sex messages, uncertain body images, and sex-related crimes, of course), she ultimately doesn't have any real business telling them what to do with their bodies or their lives. In fact, asexuality can be a valid choice as well as sweet, fluffy romance of every chick's (including hers) dreams.

And finally, sex is, in reality, nothing more than a sloppy and very risky biological function that is SUPPOSED to roll out whole generations of rosy-pink babies - so we don't go the way of dinosaurs and mammoths, of course. more thing, the author herself - as well as the entire culture she lives in - is obviously quite infatuated with bright-eyed young girls. Of course, it has nothing to do with sexual interest at all. Like I said, it's all about girls, girls, girls, girls, girls. See how the author gushes over how wonderful girls are and how much they have going for them, too. So that is why she also teaches little girls when she isn't writing this book.

Don't get me wrong, though. It is a very good move to educate new generations of young women to be wary of manipulative messages from the money-hungry media as well as enable them to live the kind of life they would prefer without conflicting ideas getting in the way. But as usual, it's all about kids, kids, kids (a marketer's favorite cash cow FYI) in today's society full of obsessive moms wanting the best for them - or hopefully projecting their dreams on them - especially when they're no longer "part" of the idealized human group in a world that desperately worships youth and perfection.

That is uh, precisely why Toddlers & Tiaras came into existence in the first place. :/
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on June 22, 2016
This is a must-read for parents and teachers of girls, and a should-read for everyone else. I've read my fair share of media criticism, especially about gender inequality and representation. What sets this one apart is that the end of each chapter has an action plan. The title of the book is true to form: each chapter dissects the media sexualization of girls, and ends with what we can do about it.

Also useful (especially to me, since I teach similar content in my Popular Culture Studies class) are the pages of resources and notes Durham includes. It is a goldmine of information.

I haven't been this affected by a book about the pressures girls face since I read Reviving Ophelia nearly 20 years ago.
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on August 15, 2008
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.

Third, Durham wildly exaggerates surveys of teenage sexual activity, comparisons with the original reports she cites show. A lot of the scary numbers and trends in "The Lolita Effect" seem to be copied secondhand from unreliable sources or simply made up by someone.

I understand that Durham and others are deeply offended, often rightly, at many aspects of popular culture. But that doesn't justify her wholesale butchery of facts to manufacture the misimpression that girls today are more dangerous and endangered and to downplay serious threats that do exist.

The most offensive aspect of this book is Durham's suggestion that sexual violence, rape in African tribal wars, murders of girls by Islamic fundamentalists, maternal and infant mortality, and impoverished and abandoned children forced into prostitution are rooted in young girls acting out Lolita fantasies. Despite feminist pretenses, Durham resurrects primitive 19th century notions that girls are weak, self-destructive ninnies corrupted by the sinful culture they seek and in need of more restriction and supervision. But isn't it really the men who rape and exploit girls who should be held responsible? Why isn't this book titled, "The Humbert Effect"?

The reader has to wade 200 pages into this book before Durham mentions (briefly) some real causes of girls' victimization: domestic violence, epidemic poverty, repressive anti-female customs, brutal tribalism, and war. Durham also admits (briefly) that sexual exploitation and violence against girls was worse in the past, long before MTV, MySpace, and pushup bras. But "The Lolita Effect" is a conventional, puritan book that spends pages berating the sins of fictional media without bothering to show they have anything to do with real-life dangers. Durham rhetorically affirms girls' right to sexuality but then righteously disapproves of even their mildest sexual expressions.

I worked in child abuse prevention and youth programs for years and now analyze the rampant misinformation on young people. Books like this one manufacturing silly, sensational pop-culture panics obscure real, hard-to-confront dangers to girls like poverty and family violence. They also create unwarranted fears of and for girls, who in reality and are handling pop culture and modern life remarkably well and are not as stupid and corrupted as Durham thinks.
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on October 14, 2013
This book, written in a simple and straightforward way, is a must for everyone interested or not in the subject. Every page depicts the way women behave or are treated in the western part of the world. It's crucial to familiarize with what is happenning nowadays to fight against it and to protect women's dignity and rights.
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on July 15, 2010
This is a great book for parents and educators of adolescents and pre-adolescents. It looks at how media affect the way we as a society and as individuals perceive girls/women. Arguments/Ideas are clearly presented and well supported.
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on October 18, 2008
As a high school teacher who is concerned about the conflicting sexual messages my female students are getting, this book was incredibly helpful. Beyond a thoughtful description of the problem, The Lolita Effect offers practical tips for discussing these issues with girls--and boys--of all ages.

The author does not demonize sexuality, but aims to teach girls to be critical of the media's images of female sexuality. When I see 15-yr-old girls wearing Playboy paraphernalia and thinking it's a symbol of female empowerment, I know something is wrong. This book has given me some tools to address this issue with students and with my own children. A must-read for anyone with a young daughter!
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on June 29, 2008
To those who may find the cover art hypocritical.

Might it be the cover is to grab the attention of someone who might not otherwise read the book? And NEEDS to read the book? Yes, maybe it sell more books, but to reach those who need the message, you need to reach the basic instinct first. They see the cover of the book, pick it up, read a bit of it... and maybe, you can get someone who hadn't thought about this before, to start thinking about it. Even if the book gets put back on the shelf, the idea has now entered that someone's conciousness. Let's face it, a book with NO face on it is not going to grab the attention of those who truly need thier eyes opened to the issue.
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