One of the most powerful experiences for me at the SIA Convention in Hawaii was the opportunity to hear Jennifer Siebel Newsom talk about her efforts to raise public awareness of how our culture devalues girls by only recognizing them for their beauty. Messages to girls are mostly about their looks, not their intelligence, creativity or leadership ability. As a culture, we really don’t celebrate girls–except as beauty queens. While boys are taught to master their universe (think superhero), girls get little to no encouragement to master theirs. Boys are encouraged to strive to become superstar athletes–while girls get little to no encouragement to excel in sports (despite Title IX). When it comes to the media–whether it’s television, movies or magazines–there simply are too few women in roles that reflect positions of leadership. When girls mostly experience women and girls in the media as bodies, sex objects and beauty queens, they begin to believe that’s what they should become, too. As Seibold Newsom pointed out, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
The film, Miss Representation contains some shocking facts and statistics. Did you know that 77% of prime time television content has sexual references? Did you know that the number of youth (i.e., under age 18) getting cosmetic surgery for youth tripled between 1997 and 2007? That 80% of girls between the ages of 11 and 17 have dieted to try to attain an unrealistic body like the photo-shopped ones they see in magazines? The film made me shocked, then sad, then angry, then sad, then inspired, and finally, really, really angry.
Since watching the film, I’ve been thinking about how I have been inadvertently contributing to culture that devalues girls and their abilities. Jennifer Seibel Newsom said, “It’s really up to us to change our practices and demonstrate a better way.” She encouraged us to do this by celebrating and supporting good media–and by challenging and not purchasing harmful media. Could my weekly People magazine subscription be contributing to a culture that glorifies celebrity and appearance over substance and contribution?
Women represent 86% of the purchasing power in our country. So I’m going to be more choosy about what I watch, and what magazines I buy. (In other words, perhaps it’s time to cancel that magazine subscription). And when I don’t like what I see, I’m going to say something about it. Silence is a form of acceptance. Because of what I’ve learned, I can’t be silent any longer.
For more information about Miss Representation and ways you can get involved in changing our anti-girl culture, visit missrepresentation.org.