Last night, my issues with my body image came to a head when I started watching Miss Representation. This documentary, available on Netflix, focuses on the way that media portrays women and how that image impacts not only women’s self-image and worth, but men’s views of women, and girls views of themselves from a very young age. People learn more from media than any other source of information, and in turn media delivers content that is shaping our society. We are bombarded with images of women that even the women in them couldn’t attain–thanks to makeup and Photoshop–that are derogatory and hyper-sexual. These are the images that the average girl and woman are subjected to as the “standard” of what is beautiful. It’s no wonder, then, that 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, a number which increases to 78% by the age of 17.
Media does not portray reality, and bases all of a woman’s worth on her appearance. This is her power, they seem to tell us. But what happens once a beautiful face or body begins to diminish with age? Women are just expected to go away.
Just look at the stark contrast between the covers of GQ in which Robbie Williams and Tinie Tempah are well-dressed in suits and bow ties as a sign of their status, with captions such as “Icon of the Year,” and “Artist of the Year.” Lana Del Rey, also a well-known artist, is wearing jewels, and nothing else with the caption of simply “Woman of the Year.” This is the sign of her status. There’s no reason that a woman should not be just as qualified as a man to be an icon, or artist, yet we are placed in a box that limits the growth of an entire gender. This is what our psyches have been irreparably exposed to.
A gross injustice is the effect that these advertisements have on the male population. This is an issue that is often overlooked because it is not as overt as the effects that media has on women, but is just as vital to the perpetuation of the power struggle that exists between the sexes. In film, magazines, music, advertisements, television shows, and video games, girls are getting the message that their looks are what’s most important, and boys are getting the message that this is what’s important about girls. So no matter what else a woman achieves, her value still rests on the way that she looks. When men learn to look at women like they are objects rather than people, rates of violence reflect that ideology.
About 25% of teen girls will experience dating violence.
25% of women are abused by a partner in their lifetime in the U.S.
1 in 6 women are survivors of rape or attempted rape.
15% of survivors are under the age of 12.
It also doesn’t help that over time, women begin to view themselves and other women as objects. As it was so well said in this documentary, “we are a nation of teenage boys.” It disturbed me that as I was watching, I began to pick up on how I was unfairly judging the women versus the men that appeared on the screen. When a woman spoke, I would immediately pick apart what they were wearing, how their hair looked, how little or much makeup they were wearing. Any time a man came on screen, there was no loss of focus on what he was saying. This is a direct effect of the ideas that have been ingrained into my head from the constant barrage of media that I’ve been exposed to on a daily basis from before my cognitive functions were fully developed.
Very few films feature women as the powerful protagonist, yet we don’t question this. When women are featured, the films are often labeled under the subcategory of “chick flick,” a genre that–let’s face it–also revolves around men. As women, we pit ourselves against other women. Frankly, this is bullshit. There’s a need to be the “most.” Most attractive, most loved, most appreciated by men. We become catty, competitive, uncompassionate towards the other women around us when what we should be doing is empowering one another, because if we don’t speak for each other as women, no one will.