Charli D'Amelio turned 18 this month, and her social media was flooded with sexual comments.
Among them were requests she start an OnlyFans account.
This kind of unsolicited sexual attention can have far-reaching negative effects, experts say.
Charli D'Amelio turned 18 on May 1 and comments immediately flooded her social media accounts demanding she start an OnlyFans account. D'Amelio, who is TikTok's biggest star with 140 million followers, has faced years of intensifying sexualization, in what experts say is a harmful pattern of young women influencers being targets for unwanted sexual attention.
D'Amelio tweeted "18" and was inundated with support and love from her fans that have followed her since she made her mark on TikTok at 15 years old. But she also got replies from men demanding she set up an OnlyFans — a subscription service many stars and sex workers to share adult content — and comments, videos, and memes signifying propositions of sex.
Although D'Amelio has spoken out several times when other creators and fans objectify her, she remains a target for constant sexual comments online that are seemingly only getting worse as she gets older. This kind of unsolicited sexual attention on young women can have far-reaching effects, both on an individual and a societal level, experts say.
Elizabeth Jeglic, a clinical psychologist who studies sexual violence prevention, sexual abuse and sexual grooming at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Insider that not only has research found that sexualization of young girls can lead to mental health issues, it also perpetuates gender stereotypes, and contributes to attitudes that support sexual violence.
"There are huge ramifications on multiple levels," Jeglic said.
The sexualization young women face online can damage their mental health and sense of identity
D'Amelio and other young influencers and celebrities may experience unwanted sexual attention for years. "Stranger Things" star Millie Bobby Brown, for example, recently said she had been dealing with "gross" comments "forever," and noticed an increase once she turned 18. Britney Spears and Natalie Portman have also spoken out about the way they were sexualized by the showbiz industry as young teens. But this exposure doesn't mean they become immune to it.
Adolescent psychologist Angela Karanja, a mentor at Raising Remarkable Teenagers, told Insider the teenage years are one of the most important developmental stages, and also one of the most vulnerable. Most of the teenage brain is fully developed, apart from the frontal lobe, which is where "executive functioning" takes place — planning, setting goals, and looking ahead. This is why teenagers are so prone to taking risks, forgetting to do their homework, and not always thinking their actions through.
If they are subjected to intense sexual harassment on the internet during this time, it can be detrimental to their mental wellbeing, Karanja said, severely impacting the way they see themselves and everyone around them.
"If they haven't got that person, who's helping them to make sense of the world in a true way, in an authentic way, then they can pick up these ideas that this is how the world's supposed to be," Karanja said.
Growing and adapting to a world that weighs their value based on their sexuality and little else can set young women up for mental health difficulties. The sexualization of young girls "has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality, and attitudes and beliefs," according to a task force report by the American Psychological Association.
The result of this sexualization can manifest as poor self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, and anxiety. It can also decrease relationship satisfaction down the line, because the focus for a valuable partnership is on sexual attractiveness alone, rather than deeper connections.
Julie Ancis, a professor and chair in informatics and founding director of cyberpsychology at New Jersey Institute of Technology, told Insider presenting a hyper-sexualized image on social media that may not always be authentic can lead to young people disconnecting from their true selves — their own desires, wishes, and feelings. It can also lead to self-objectification, Ancis said, which is when girls "perceive and treat their own bodies as objects of others' desire."
"Such self-objectification is related to less assertiveness in sexual situations, decreased condom use, and tolerance of sexual harassment," Ancis said.
Young influencers face immense pressure to be attractive, which can impact the fans who look up them
Young influencers such as D'Amelio face enormous pressure to appear attractive in every facet of how they present themselves, Dr Lea Lis, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, told Insider. They are eroticized from the time they enter these platforms — encouraged to sexualize dance moves, clothing or poses — and their views and likes go up everytime they do. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, because the internet's biggest stars are often seen to be successful when they post suggestive content.
"They definitely are pushed to be erotic, to dress in bath suits, and to make sexy poses, and trying to look more like adults," Lis said. "It's self-reinforcing because our teens are very influenced by each other — the peer pressure is going to make it so that if one teen does it, they all want to do it."
On a broader scale, this feeds into the societal belief that women's worth is in their looks — being considered less attractive and therefore less valuable as they age, impacting everything from their personal lives to their career prospects. Women may feel pressure to lean into gender stereotypes and ignore pursuits that don't fit that mold.
Young women are bombarded with these misogynistic messages, Ancis said, and there is little to no accountability when they are treated that way. Those who speak out about it on social media may be "ostracized or otherwise punished," seeing a drop in engagement and followers as a result.
Ancis believes the antidote is for adults to provide alternative examples to sexualization, and work towards empowering and supporting girls, she added, "encouraging them to trust themselves, accept their feelings as valid, and develop resilience" in the face of these pressures.
This will require a big societal shift, Jeglic added — that we value women for their minds and their accomplishments — not for their appearance.
"But it's going to take a long time to make those changes," she said.
Read the original article on Insider