Media Literacy is Half the Battle
March 30, 2010
I’m a HUGE fan of Media Literacy. But as Chloe Angyal of Feministing points out on The Huffington Post, literacy is not the sole cure for transforming how girls react to the damaging media messages that they are inundated with every day. A recent study by the Girls Scouts Research Institute and the Dove Self Esteem Fund found that, overall, even though the girls 13-17 were media literate, they still aspired to be the unnaturally thin, and unattainably perfect – just like the models they staring back at them. In other words, they are striving to reach ideals that they KNOW are unrealistic – and unhealthy. While this and other key findings are pretty disturbing, it should not take away from the value of media literacy and what it can provide to all children, especially girls. After all, as the old – but true! –cliché goes, “knowledge is power” and there are significant benefits that students gain from media literacy curricula. However, Angyal points out that this is only part of the solution to the symptom of the insidious sexism that exists through in our culture and society – the foundation of why these images exist in the media in the first place. She concludes:
“The other equally important half of the battle…is to change how we see beauty, to expand the definition beyond young, white and painfully thin. If we can do that, we can create a world in which young women who want to be considered beautiful by media standards, who want, like all teenagers, to be accepted and liked, don't feel the need to starve themselves in order to do so.”
Indeed. It’s one thing to tell girls that these images are unrealistic. But the next step is to make sure that the girls represented in mainstream media reflect the diversity of the girls in this country – regardless of weight, race, class, and sexual orientation. This, of course, would require a fundamental shift in how these girls are viewed overall in our image-obsessed culture. But wouldn’t it be nice to give girls something a little better to aspire to than waif-like, powerless creatures dominating our TV screens and fashion shows? Imagine the media being inundated with images of strong, powerful, diverse women who are valued and praised in society. Imagine shape, race, and age diversity as a celebrated norm, rather than an anomaly praised only on special occasions (see Real Women Have Curves). Perhaps, then, it wouldn’t be the tragedy that it is right now to have so many girls emulating what they see in the media.