M. Gigi Durham


On her book The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do about It

Cover Interview of December 05, 2008

A close-up

The Lolita Effect promises girls that they can experience joyful sexuality and femininity, but only at a price: the price of conforming to the restrictive ideals it imposes on the entire landscape of female sexuality.  So if a girl is not slender-yet-voluptuous, if she is “too” dark-skinned or light-skinned or freckled or birthmarked, if she is modest about flaunting her body, if she has a physical or mental disability, if she doesn’t strive to measure up to the imaginary standards of the imaginary male gaze, if she is concerned about violence in her life, if she thinks sex is not a commodity to be traded, bought and sold … then she’s out of luck, as far as the Lolita Effect is concerned.

The Lolita Effect is not an affirmation or celebration of girls’ sexuality, in all its diverse and blossoming forms.  On the contrary, it is a restrictive, hidebound, market-driven set of impositions on girls’ sexuality.  And it’s virtually inescapable, because it’s the only definition of girls’ sexuality that’s represented in the globally circulating mainstream media.

The feelgood the Lolita Effect promises is a consumer fantasy, and it’s designed to be short-lived, because the Lolita Effect needs to fuel constant consumerism in order to support the interconnected web of industries, from diet aids to pornography, that depend on it.  So any sense of genuine, self-loving, unfettered sexual pleasure is inimical to it.  It needs girls (and later, women) to feel the anxieties it generates about sex enough to spend exorbitant amounts of money in its pursuit.  But it offers a façade of sexual empowerment that is a powerful lure.  The Lolita Effect is a sexual Venus’ Flytrap, seducing unwary victims with promises of nectar, then devouring them.

The Lolita Effect has toxic side-effects that are manifested in girls’ everyday lives.  From eating disorders and body image issues to dating violence, teen pregnancy, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, girls everywhere grapple with the fallout from the Lolita Effect.  For some girls, the side-effects aren’t significant.  They can move past them and experience fulfilled, potent girlhoods and adult lives.  But for others, the impacts are significant, long-term and devastating.  The Lolita Effect operates on a continuum, affecting some girls much more negatively and brutally than others.  But no girl is immune to it.

By maintaining that sex and desirability are the prerogatives only of girls who conform to the restricted criteria of the Lolita Effect, a whole range of possibilities and potential joys are being implicitly denied to millions of others.  And even for those who come close to meeting the Lolita Effect’s grueling criteria, the stress of measuring up surely makes it hard to enjoy a relaxed, pleasurable sexual experience.  Even as it dominates, the Lolita Effect is actually antithetical to girls’ sexual fulfillment.