224 | 28, pp. 223-239 | doxa.comunicación

January-June of 2019

State of the issue of child sexualisation in the digital environment and media literacy proposals

ISSN: 1696-019X / e-ISSN: 2386-3978

1. Introduction and objectives

A recent revealing article in a national newspaper warned about the prototype of women who achieve great success on social networks such as Instagram. This profile is of a virtual assistant for technology and videogame companies whose features are stereotyped and make women appear as objects. Experts interviewed by the journalist called for responsibility from the media, universities and society as a whole to put an end to “the sexualisation of robots that only human beings perceive” (Biosca, 2018: 33). This phenomenon is widespread in the cyber culture of leading industries such as those in Japan and the United States. Virtual reality portrays women in a hyper-realistic way, changes our way of looking at them, and reinforces the tendency to commodify the female body to the value of a sex object, encouraging an increase of sexual violence and pornography on the Internet (Inguscio, 2017).

This call for social responsibility regarding the sexualisation of girls is also being voiced by regulators, parents and researchers (Moloney and Peleach, 2014). Studies of this type regarding images on the Internet have found that a person’s value is reduced to his or her physical attractiveness, thereby imposing a role of sexual attraction that is especially harmful to minors (Jongenelis, Pettigrew, Byrne and Biagioni, 2016; Daniels and Zurbriggen, 2016; Llovet, Díaz-Bustamante and


Social networks offer both positive responses as well as situations of risk for children’s empowerment. The social phenomenon of child sexualization, already rejected by women due to discriminatory connotations, the passive role, and tolerance to violence, has become widespread on the Internet with apparent impunity for brands and the media who reproduce these images due to the low level of awareness among girls and parents who publish them on social networks. Faced with a call from legislators, parents and researchers to protect children’s rights, the objective of this research is to gain greater knowledge regarding the state of the issue of child sexualisation in the digital environment, and to gather some proposals for media literacy. The methodology used was a review of the literature on sexualisation, digital advertising, childhood commercialization, as well as children and fashion in the databases of academic journals and university libraries. The conclusions demonstrate the contributions necessary from opinion prescribers the media, parents, educators and advertisers in order to avoid reducing sexuality to sexualisation, and in raising awareness of the impact of commercial images that are capable of generating risky behaviour.


Sexualisation of girls; stereotypes; Internet; media literacy.


Las redes sociales plantean para los menores tanto situaciones de riesgo como respuestas positivas hacia su empoderamiento. El fenó-meno social de la sexualización infantil, ya rechazado para las muje-res –por las connotaciones de discriminación, rol pasivo y tolerancia a la violencia–, se ha generalizado en Internet con aparente impuni-dad por parte de las marcas y medios que reproducen esas imágenes y débil concienciación entre las niñas y los padres que las publican en redes sociales. Ante la llamada de reguladores, padres e investigadores para proteger los derechos de la infancia, los objetivos de esta investi-gación son conocer el estado de la cuestión sobre la sexualización de la infancia en el entorno digital y recoger algunas propuestas de al-fabetización mediática. La metodología utilizada ha sido la revisión de la literatura sobre sexualización, publicidad digital, comercializa-ción de la infancia e infancia y moda en las bases de datos de revistas académicas y bibliotecas universitarias. Las conclusiones arrojan la necesaria contribución de prescriptores de opinión, medios, padres, educadores y anunciantes para evitar reducir la sexualidad a la se-xualización y tomar conciencia del impacto de las imágenes comer-ciales que pueden generar conductas de riesgo.

Palabras clave:

Sexualización de las niñas; estereotipos; Internet; alfabetización mediática.

Received: 17/11/2018 - Accepted: 18/03/2019

Recibido: 17/11/2018 - Aceptado: 18/03/2019