Lawrence High School student’s art comments on sexualization of young women; piece to be displayed on Topeka building

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Adele Erickson’s award-winning art piece is meant to make people uncomfortable.

The Lawrence High School junior created “Babydoll” to call out harmful advertisements directed at young women and girls. As part of a campaign to uplift Kansas students using their creativity for social change called Just Imagine Justice, the mixed media piece was selected as a 2024 Student Expression Contest winner.

“I want ‘Babydoll’ to be an opportunity for people to look at some of the things we are displaying in media and really reconsider the fact that we are putting these messages out into the world and out to young women,” Erickson said.

For being selected as a Student Expression Contest winner, “Babydoll” will be reproduced at a larger scale and displayed on the side of the Kansas National Education Association building, 715 SW 10th Ave. in Topeka, sometime this summer. Erickson also earned a medal and $1,000 in prize money.

An art class assignment inadvertently turned into her contest submission, and also gave her the chance to express a topic she’s passionate about. The class prompt was “Reveal or Conceal,” which students could interpret in any way, so she chose to reveal something she believes society should be more uncomfortable with.

“Babydoll” addresses the infantilization and over-sexualization of young women that Erickson said is normalized, though unsettling to its core.

“I’ve noticed that there is a big lean towards women needing to be young and attractive and sort of appealing to gender roles that men set,” she said. “Like a lot of female razor commercials: It’s all about being smooth and baby soft and sort of likening attractiveness to youth in a really bizarre way.”

In the piece, a young woman is depicted promiscuously, kneeling on a bed in a “girlish, frivolous room,” according to Erickson’s art excerpt on the Just Imagine Justice website. Erickson stitched on the pink lace garment the woman is wearing and used paint, textile and collage work elsewhere. 

Opening up the garment reveals underneath an assortment of advertisement language, which she pulled straight from beauty magazines that she found in her local grocery stores. Some words read, “And she’s only 18,” “Sexy” and “Angel.”

Erickson said media shouldn’t put “pressure on women to morph themselves into this sexual symbol”; instead, she hopes it evolves to “view women with kind eyes and doesn’t objectify them.”

Just Imagine Justice is part of the KNEA’s efforts to promote justice and equality in Kansas schools. Learn more on its website,

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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