The focus on female appearance and the promotion of specific types thereof has become quite noticeable in the modern social environment. While the propensity toward encouraging diversity and a broader look at gender normativity has also been noticed, a large number of online toys and media still uses stereotypical images as a shorthand for portraying male and female characters. Utilizing female characters with overly sexualized features and stereotypical appearance in online games and media affects the self-esteem and self-image of girls and young women, causing psychological issues and a loss of self-esteem.
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The perspective used to portray people in media produces a clearly visible effect on how the depicted group of people sees themselves and their opportunities in advancing in the target society. Therefore, the stereotypical images of women and the depiction of femininity in modern media and the toy industry has to be revisited to ensure that prejudices should not limit children’s opportunities for personal and professional development in the future. Specifically, the portrayal of female bodies adhering to rigid standards, such as having unrealistic body proportions and performing very traditional gender roles, has to be reconsidered.
Studies also show that the effects of changing the portrayal of women in the media that is targeted primarily at children contributes to the latter’s development of flexibility in perceiving gender roles and the idea of body image. For instance, a recent article about the promotion of peer toy play to introduce children to the concept of gender flexibility serves its purpose perfectly, encouraging both girls and boys to build a more analytical outlook on gender normativity and perceived idea of gender roles (Spinner et al. 326).
In the current discourse about women’s representation in media and specifically in media targeted at children, several key themes can be located, some of which may be quite contradictory. On the one hand, one can clearly see the propensity toward inclusion of diverse images of women into toys created specifically for children. On the other hand, an undisguised reinforcement of traditional gender roles and beauty standards through appearance in online games for older children, adolescents, and young adults (Slater et al. 2049). The latter has a visibly detrimental effect on women’s and girls’ self-esteem, causing a wide variety of physical and mental health issues (Coyne et al. 6). The former, in turn, creates the foundation for subverting gender normativity and promoting the notion of diversity, which affects girls’ and young women’s self-esteem positively.
The observed trend needs to be encouraged in other domains as the main tool in advancing the issue of body image and self-esteem in girls and young women. The studies in question have shown that the creation and promotion of toys portraying different types of female bodies and representing women playing different social roles has a doubtlessly positive effect on how young women and girls perceive themselves and their social roles.
However, given the increased demand for the stereotypical portrayal of female bodies and representation of social roles for women in modern media and gaming industry, the change needs to take place on a larger scale. Overall, the current discourse about the roles and images of women in modern media and toy industry tends to be geared toward diversification, yet cultural and social stereotypes seem to dominate the gaming industry, causing young women and girls to experience a drop in self-esteem and expectations for professional development (Spinner et al. 327). Introducing a shift in the social perception of women through the enhancement of the intercultural dialogue in modern media is a crucial step in addressing the described concern. Thus, the changes in question need to be reciprocal in order to prompt an increase in girls’ and young women’s self-esteem and body image through the portrayal of female characters in toys and online games.
Overall, the current trend toward diversifying toys for younger children seems to have a profoundly positive effect on young girls’ self-esteem and body image. The same trend in modern media for younger and older girls, as well as young women, also improves the self-esteem and body image of the specified vulnerable groups (Coyne et al. 7). However, the persistence of stereotypes in online games due to the necessity to cater to a very narrow demographic leads to the reinforcement of gender roles and the principles of gender normativity, affecting the further perception of self in young women and girls (Coyne et al. 8). Therefore, changes have to be made on a social level to address the current concern and introduce girls and young women to a wider range of social roles.
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The presence of female characters that possess overly sexualized physical characteristics and perform traditionally feminine activities in online games and media affects girls’ and young women’s self-esteem and body image, limiting their range of choices in their personal and professional development. Therefore, the integration of more diverse characters and gender roles into the contemporary media and online games is required. However, the specified change may pose a challenge to the gaming industry, which is geared to cater to a very specific audience that introduces the demand for the described type of female representation. Therefore, changes in the special perception of women need to be made through the redesign of the current characters and introduction of new ones.
Coyne, Sarah M., et al. “Pretty as a Princess: Longitudinal Effects of Engagement with Disney Princesses on Gender Stereotypes, Body Esteem, and Prosocial Behavior in Children.” Child Development, vol. 87, no. 6, 2016, pp. 1909-1925. Web.
Slater, Amy, et al. “More than Just Child’s Play? An Experimental Investigation of the Impact of an Appearance-Focused Internet Game on Body Image and Career Aspirations of Young Girls.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 46, no. 9, 2017, pp. 2047–2059. Web.
Spinner, Lauren. “Peer Toy Play as a Gateway to Children’s Gender Flexibility: The Effect of (Counter)Stereotypic Portrayals of Peers in Children’s Magazines.” Sex Roles, vol. 79, no. 5, 2018, pp. 314–328. Web.