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Media Deceptions About Women
A roundtable inspired by the documentary Miss Representation
YCteen staff

What do TV, advertising, music, and movies tell us about the role of women in society? According to the documentary film Miss Representation, popular media sends a powerful message to children and teens that “a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her potential as a leader.”

The film features interviews with teen girls and influential women in the news and entertainment industries, as well as female activists and politicians. These various interviewees reflect on the increasing pressure for women and young girls to look sexy and “perfect,” with little attention or regard given to their intelligence and leadership abilities. YCteen writers recently watched the film and then discussed how such misrepresentations and stereotypes can harm both women and men.

What does the film tell us about the way girls and women are represented in the media?

Isaura Abreu: The media represents us as sexy women; they don’t see who we really are or the important things we are saying. Girls are represented like objects or props.

Percy Tejeda: This film shows how little girls start having doubts about their physical appearance at an early age, like when they start watching Disney films that show princesses and try to imitate that. Later, models and movie stars [make young women feel inadequate]. But those models are not real—they’re all photoshopped. Girls try to look like them and don’t notice that they’re beautiful already.

Julieta Velazquez: Women don’t age in the movies at all, and they have so much makeup on. Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston—some of these actresses are in their forties and could pass for early thirties, because of editing and lighting. That’s crazy for me.

Julijana Stefanovic: It’s scary how we are so brainwashed. It comes from songs, music videos, TV, movies, advertisements—all different directions.

Elijah Hickson: What stood out for me was when they showed a reality show called Toddlers in Tiaras. Little girls were getting spray tans and wearing frilly dresses, putting on eye shadow, getting their hair curled. To allow this is disgusting behavior on the part of the [parents]. I have two sisters and I don’t want them to get the impression that they should be looking like that instead of just being who they are.

How do media stereotypes about gender affect both boys and girls growing up?

Percy Tejeda: I notice the toys we get from the time we’re kids: the girls get a Barbie or cooking toys. For the boys, it’s action figures, manly toys, guns. When I was a kid I thought it was pretty cool, but what if I want to be a chef and take care of my children? I think these toy companies are brainwashing us from the time we’re born.

Julijana Stefanovic: I like to do a lot of “manly” sports. When I told my mother and brother I was going to join the wrestling team at school, they looked at me like, “You’re going to get hurt.” I do weight training at school, and I can actually bench press more than the guys. I’m not really seeing any images of women doing those things on TV. I see them more on hair commercials, makeup commercials, Victoria’s Secret—not boxing and lifting weights.

Elijah Hickson: There are some sports apparel commercials that have girls in them.

Julijana Stefanovic: But what are they wearing? Sports bras and shorts—they’re kicking butt and doing all these action things, but pay attention to their body movement, what they’re wearing. The message is that she’s sexy, but not really important for what she does.

image by YC-Art Dept

Jerome Ralph: Miss Representation talked about how a guy [gets the message that] he always has to be better than a woman, smarter than a woman, he’s always supposed to make more than a woman. Then he goes to school and finds out the girl next to him is smarter than him, he might find out a girl is more athletic than him, his boss might turn out to be a woman. I think that creates self-esteem issues. Some guys end up lashing out in ways that are destructive, because they can’t really live up to the expectation.

Jian Shi: The media say women should be feminine, while men should be masculine, have muscles, and be tall, strong, and powerful, so that’s also affecting men.

What does the film say about the way the media affects women’s ability to take on leadership roles?

Elijah Hickson: They’re portrayed in the media more as sex symbols, always secondary to a man in a position of leadership. And the more power a woman gets, the more of a backlash she faces in media.

Julijana Stefanovic: They showed Hillary Clinton campaigning against Barack Obama for president, and news reports were talking about what Obama said, but saying what Clinton wore. There was a guy in the background holding a sign [directed at Clinton] that said “Iron my shirt!” I can’t believe he had the audacity to stand there and mock her.

Julieta Velazquez: A lot of people say women don’t have the emotional capacity to handle politics, and maybe being told so many negative things takes a toll, like “Hmmm, maybe they’re right, maybe I don’t belong here, maybe I am too emotional and can’t handle the stress of all this power.”

How do you think we could start to change these stereotypes?

Isaura Abreu: We are all on Facebook and Twitter. We can post videos talking about this and how we can change it. If your friends start to comment, then you can start having discussions and start thinking about it.

Julijana Stefanovic: I agree to an extent that social media can raise awareness, but how much is that really going to help? I definitely think that boycotting or striking is more effective than social media, but social media does help get the message out.
Julieta Velazquez: Get rid of some of those [beauty pageant] shows that portray girls and young women in that kind of light. That would definitely be sending out a different message, that they don’t have to look skinny and perfect in order to be considered beautiful.

Percy Tejeda: Stop editing those photos. People try to copy models, but those models are fake and if you show their true image, sometimes you’ll see that being beautiful doesn’t mean being perfect. Photoshop is lying to you, telling you try to “be like us” when it’s actually impossible.

Tairys Camacho: I’d encourage girls to wear whatever clothes they want, even if the media tell them to wear little dresses and pretty skirts. If you want to dress like a boy, dress like a boy. Just feel free to dress the way you like.

Julijana Stefanovic: There are these rap songs that are degrading to women, and women listen to it—I don’t know why. I don’t know if some girls would go along with changing things, because they strive to be what society portrays: perfect body, face, hair, but not so much the intellect. But if we were to start, I’d definitely say that we should cut down on those rap videos and lyrics.

Also, I would encourage my friends who are girls to go out and do sports, do things society doesn’t normally encourage a girl to do. And vice versa. The guys shouldn’t be all worried about being masculine; maybe we should all try something new.

Learn more about the film or find a screening near you at MissRepresentation.org.

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