Chapter Three: Sexualisation
The Wattpad CG talks about sex. It mentions sexual things. There is a third word, however, which was not mentioned at all. It has great potential to damage adolescents and their concept of self, including body image. It has been shown to negatively impact mental health. It teaches us to objectify others. It is ignored by Wattpad. That word is sexualisation.
So how do we define sexualisation?
To make something sexual in character or quality.
What exactly does this mean? How do you ‘make’ something sexual? The easiest way to view this is to review the media on Wattpad, particularly the covers, since these are what we see on our home pages and search queries. I have included several examples, albeit with the book identifiers removed. Let’s look at a common word — “schoolgirl”. I chose this word because it is one that we associate with a lot of our 13–17 year old users on Wattpad — the gap between the Everyone and Mature categories:
A non-sexual and non-sexualised cover.
Found in Teen Fiction (Everyone)
Altogether, the examples of the actual book covers from Wattpad show that sexual and sexualised can be considered separately. This is important. A focus group by the American Psychology Association (APA) in 2006 found that sexualisation differs from healthy sexuality in that:
•A person’s value comes only from his or her appeal or behaviour, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
•A person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
•A person is made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision-making and/or
•Sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person. (This is especially relevant when children are imbued with adult sexuality).
So sexualisation can be bad. But how bad can it be? Catherine McCall from Psychology Today (04 Mar 2012) wrote of the following effects:
•Chronic attention to physical appearance leaves fewer cognitive resources available for other mental and physical activities;
•It limits the form and effectiveness of girls’ physical movements;
•It leads to increased feelings of shame about one’s body;
•It creates appearance anxiety;
•It leads to greater body dissatisfaction among girls and young women;
• It is associated with negative mental health outcomes in adolescent girls.
•The incidence of anorexia nervosa among 10-to 19-year-old girls during a 50-year period found that it paralleled changes in fashion and idealized body image;
•Young women who have greater body dissatisfaction have earlier onset of smoking cigarettes;
•Self-objectification has been correlated with decreased sexual health among adolescent girls (measured by decreased condom use and diminished sexual assertiveness);
•Idealized narrow ideals of female sexual attractiveness make it difficult for some men to find an acceptable partner or to fully enjoy intimacy with their female partners.
So how does all this apply to Wattpad? Remember, Wattpad’s CG was heavily invested in policing sexual content. The CG has no mention of sexualisation. Is it in the too hard basket?
In doing the search for this chapter, I can only note that Wattpad’s policing of its Everybody category is in the least, flawed and at the worst, indifferent. I could barely find pictures to post in this chapter that were not outright pornography. What was not pornography was so sexualised, either in media or content that I would hate for any adolescent, male or female to read them. I even found a book under the Everyone rating (for the schoolgirl review) that said this:
I repeat. Rape, but nothing drastic. Abuse, but nothing dramatic. This book claims to be about BDSM. The author has no idea.
But am I really downplaying Wattpad’s sluggishness to protect its readers? After all, they slapped a Mature rating on my friend for poetry that were neither sexual or sexualised. Surely they must be uber effective at keeping the Everyone category clean as a whistle? The author of “rape, not drastic” as above had something to add:
I know that I should try to end this chapter on a high note. But I can’t. The only thing that I have to offer is that the next chapter would be on how Wattpad actually sets standards on media, the infamous ‘partial nudity’ clause.