Flip on the television. Open the pages of a newspaper or magazine. What do you see? Advertisements focused on “improving” women’s appearance. Weight loss commercials. Endless pitching of products to help remove unwanted hair, grow longer eyelashes, or have the perfect smile. In today’s culture, we are constantly inundated with media messages that dictate standards and expectations for how we think about, behave, and present as women. But Jennifer Siebel Newsom (and the many incredible women with whom she collaborated) wants to change these messages and revolutionize how women are represented in the public eye.
Her award-winning documentary “Miss Representation” premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was recently aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) as a part of its documentary series. The film adeptly points out the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America with insightful interviews and sobering statistics. For example, women comprise 51% of the US population but only 17% of Congress. And as of 2011, only 34 women have ever served as governor where as 2,319 men have held this same position. When women do succeed in obtaining a position of power, the media will often focus on their appearance rather than their achievements (i.e., Hillary Clinton’s “football helmet” hair or Sarah Palin’s breast implants). So instead of truly valuing the achievements that women in power may contribute, the attention is again directed toward what’s “important:” physical appearance.
Clearly such a misrepresentation of women has serious consequences. Eating disorders and negative body image pervade among young women and even girls as young as eight or nine. Women in their thirties and forties are undergoing greater numbers of plastic surgeries including facelifts, tummy tucks, and Botox. And even more dangerously, young girls lose sight of their personal goals and dreams and sacrifice their potential to instead conform to a preconceived notion of femininity. They lack positive role models to whom they can aspire to be like and thereby have yet another obstacle to overcome. Marie Wilson, Founding President of The White House Project, concisely summarized by saying, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
We have allowed the media (and those who control it) to determine what is important to the definition of womanhood for too long. But the time to change that story is now. So start the conversation with your friend, your sister or your coworker. Become a local advocate for finding and stomping out these one-sided and dangerous messages about what it means to be a woman in today’s society. And help create a new image: one that is inclusive of all ages, races, and shapes. One that emphasizes the importance of being a person with potential and drive. And one that encourages women and young girls to spend more of their time changing the world and less of it changing their bodies.
Watch: Miss Representation on OWN, November 12th at 11am
Start the conversation: http://missrepresentation.org/take-action/
By: Christine Peat, Ph.D.