The documentary film, Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, will change your life. Have you ever thought about how much media you take in on a daily basis? There’s online social media such as Facebook and Twitter, sitcom and reality TV, listening to music, watching movies, and we can’t forget the glossy magazine covers that stare back at you while you wait in line to pay for groceries. According to the documentary, it all adds up to about 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption a day.
Newsom wrote and directed MR after learning that she was pregnant with her first child. She feared for her future daughter’s emotional stability in a world where she herself admits to struggling with self esteem, eating disorders and body image issues despite being a successful student and athlete. In the documentary, we learn that 53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies and that the number increases to 78% by age 17, eating disorders plague 65% of the female population, and rates of depression among girls and women have doubled between 2000-2010. Newsom wanted to understand why. What was going on in our American culture that might possibly be contributing to the lack of healthy self esteems and confidence in the female population? She offers viewers an in depth look into the possible culprit- mass media. The film contends that today’s media is shaping our society and conditioning young girls to measure their worth by their physical appearance rather than by their accomplishments.
It’s difficult to distinguish what’s “real” in the media when the so called ideal image of beauty has become more extreme and impossible to attain with the use of digital altering and air brushing. Young men are also exposed to these unrealistic images which can lead them to have certain expectations of what girls should look like and judge them more harshly. Ever notice how female bodies are in constant display everywhere you look? There’s no shortage of women in bikinis, mini skirts, and low cut tops in the media, whether it be in the latest episode of teenage shows such as Gossip Girl, a new hip hop video, or even the daily news. The film contends that this objectification makes it nearly impossible for females to be taken seriously in the workplace and in politics. Even strong female leaders are disrespected on popular talk shows as well as on news coverage. The focus is put on how they look rather than what they are saying. By the same token, media coverage of powerful women in politics is minimal when compared to male politicians. One of the examples shown in the documentary compared the media coverage of former U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to current SOH, John Boehner. In his first four weeks as SOH, he was featured on five magazine covers. Ms. Pelosi appeared on zero.
Violence and oversexualized content in entertainment and advertising would make you think that something would be done to minimize it. The question is why hasn’t anyone put a stop to this? Who’s calling all the shots in media these days? According to the documentary, men are. Media today is overwhelmingly run by men. All the big TV networks such as NBC, FOX, Time Warner and Disney have male CEOs with only a handful of females serving on their boards. Also, according to the film, women own only 5.8% of all television stations and 6% of radio stations. Women also make up only 3% of influential positions in media. At the end of the day, lawmakers and media giants are largely male dominated.
As stated in the beginning of the film, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. -Alice Walker”. If you take anything away from watching Miss Representation, it is this- we have the power to change this and it starts with you as an individual. The director closes the documentary by calling on women to join forces and be mentors and role models to each other. Some tips given are to monitor what you read and watch on television. ”Turn off the TV,” says one mentor, “one hour can be fun, four hours can be destructive.” Tabloids and sensational gossip headlines are the kind of reading that bring women down, so don’t buy them. Be mindful of the things you purchase. Ask yourself what the motivation behind your purchases are. Did advertisers convince you that you are not good enough in any way, shape, or form so that you are now willing to spend your hard earned cash on something you were targeted to buy? Have your own voice heard. Write a letter to the editor to let them know your thoughts on any negatives messages they send about women. Create your own pro-female media wih your own blog. Most importantly, champion other women instead of criticizing and competing with each other. Because if women don’t stand by and up for each other, nobody else will.