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SALT LAKE CITY — The images are everywhere. In movies and video games, on Facebook and YouTube, girls too young to vote are seen wearing high, high heels and shorts beyond short.

While parents and teens have argued about fashion for generations, the push to sexualize teens seems more pervasive than ever. And experts say the consequences last a lifetime.

When we talk about the sexualization of teens, the term speaks for itself. It includes showing women for their body parts, depicting girls as acting older than their age, and basing someone's sense of self on narrow standards of attractiveness.

To illustrate the problem, KSL News took three high school girls shopping. We told them to go to their favorite stores and try on outfits they would choose, based on what was available. They took pictures of their selections, and then put them to "the mom test" to see if they'd get a thumbs-up.

Jayden was first. She chose a white top and a pair of short shorts. Her friend Jillian went with a see-through shirt and a short skirt. And Gabbie chose a belly-baring shirt with short shorts.

Jayden's mom, Shannon Moss, said she was surprised at her daughter's choice. "I don't think it would be dress code-appropriate," she said.

"Where is the undershirt?" asked Suzanne Gallegos, referring to her daughter Jillian's outfit. "I'm really not pleased."

As for Gabbie, her mom, Denielle, couldn't make it to the shopping trip, so Gabbie sent her some photos on her phone. Her reaction was clear from the text message response: "Need to middrift!"

But sexualized fashion isn't just a problem for moms and daughters at the mall. As Moss pointed out, there's a good chance the outfits the girls chose don't meet school dress code.

The dress code at Skyline High School is clear. Posters are hung in every classroom stating the school's rules: no tank tops, shorts must fall below the fingertips, mid-drift must be covered, no see-through clothing.

Still, on any given day, many students are "coded" for violations — and part of the punishment is new clothes, of the school administrators' choosing.

"For (too-short) shorts, you get scrubs," Jayden explained. "For tank tops, you get a T-shirt."

In fact, Jayden admitted she's been coded this year, and would have been coded for the outfit she was wearing during our interview, but none of the monitors saw her.

"It's hard to find outfits, buying them just off the shelf, that are dress code-approved," Jayden said. "You can find capris, but nobody sells shorts that go down to your knees anymore."

But all the girls admitted it's not only lack of choices that dictate what they wear. They can find modest clothes, but it's not as cool to wear them.

"That's kind of the fashion nowadays," Jayden said. "You kind of have to put yourself out there."

In the end, the girls also take accountability for what they wear, admitting that what mom says, while not always popular, is probably right.

"She's right. It's not the best image to be showing," Gabbie said. "As much as the media can influence, they can't make your decisions for you."

Most experts agree the sexualization of girls will have a lasting impact on them as they develop into women. University of Utah Professor Theresa Martinez joined me on KSL News at 6:30 to talk about the issue. Click the on the extra video clip to view our discussion.

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Nadine Wimmer

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