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Category: Girls

Girls Investigate: Is the Media a Mirror?

April 28, 2010

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And read Culley's commentary!

Girls Investigate: Our Portrayal…Chic or Sham?

by Culley Schultz

Gossip girlThe typical American watches four hours of TV and is exposed to 247 commercial messages each day.  This includes print ads, commercials, and billboards.  The life expectancy of an American woman is 80.4 years.  This means that the average American woman will be exposed to 7,248,462 commercial messages in her lifetime, and she will have watched 117,384 hours of television.  But are the messages sent in the media accurate?

In talking to other teenage girls about the depiction of women in the media today, the vast majority agreed that no, women are not accurately portrayed, and yes, there is a problem.  They also agreed that this is most apparent on television shows.

Television shows revolve around “beautiful” women. As teenagers during the age of Gossip Girl, 90210, and Melrose Place, we are exposed to the cultural assumptions of what teenage girls and women should look like as they are set forth by the media industry.  Girls should be chic, with designer clothes, perfect hair and make-up, Botoxed mothers -- the list can go on.  It only takes one look around the halls of my high school to notice that very few girls there have designer filled closets.  We are lucky if we have perfect hair on any given day!

New PictureMany reality shows, such as DietTribe, Dr. 90210 and What Not to Wear are focused on improving women’s looks.  They are trying to make women seem more like those on television; thin and ageless.  In reality, the average model or actress is 23% thinner than the average woman and less than 2% of American women have had Botox.  Clearly, there is a problem with the way the media industry is portraying women.  The show that has a leading woman who doesn’t conform to unrealistic beauty standards is called Ugly Betty.  It directly disparages a typical girl. A picture of America Ferrara as Betty could be compared to the average teen’s yearbook photo, so why are we showing disapproval?

When I began working on Girls Investigate: Is the Media a Mirror?, I knew the general problems, but not these specific facts.  The look of women in American media is more of a sham than reality.

At the start of my investigation, I thought that this idea of the external misrepresentation of women would be the focus of my film.  What surprised me was that my peers accepted the physical misrepresentation of women in the media.  They understood that the characters on television were not the girls they saw in real life.  Instead, what they wanted to talk about were the character traits, the strengths of women, and the independence of women that is lacking in the media. Every girl I spoke to during this project plainly told me that the portrayal of the complexity of a girl’s character is inaccurate. 

They were asking: Where are the shy girls?  The athletic girls?  The girls who do not vie for a boyfriend?  The girls who are not constantly rebelling?  These girls do not seem to exist in the media.  Why does the media continue to use women that are un-relatable?

When I spoke to my peers, they all knew what bothered them and what they would want to see changed regarding the portrayal of women.  At the same time, however, they all watched shows that directly violated their ideas of how women should be depicted.  Why do girls continue to follow the shows?  It seems as if there are no other shows to watch that are marketed to teenage girls.

Though media may be beginning to change it’s still not drastic enough.  In spite of this, I came upon an encouraging realization as I talked to other girls. Our generation  can make an impact.  As we enter the work force in the years to come, we can continue to alter the way the media shows women and girls.    And so, I am content knowing that girls see the problem and know what they want to change about the industry.  And they will.

Girls Investigate a collaborative project with Girls Learn International® (GLI). To learn more about GLI, please visit www.girlslearn.org.

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