Not So Picture Perfect
The Dangers of women’s portrayal in media
The average person in the U.S. is exposed to 15.5 hours of media consumption per day. We are exposed to countless images in advertisements, magazines, television shows and movies that set standards for how we should look, act and behave. Although many like to believe that they are exempt from the effects of the media and advertisements, only about eight percent of these images are processed consciously. Women are objectified in the media so often that we rarely question its impact on the way women and girls view themselves.
Sexuality educator and YouTuber Laci Green in her video “Sex Object BS,” defined sexual objectification as, “the viewing of people solely as de-personalized objects of desire instead of as individuals with complex personalities and desires or plans of their own.”
In her video, Green also claimed that when women are seen only as sexual objects, it allows for men to be perceived as sexual subjects who are in control of their own destinies and women to be seen as pretty objects that exist for the pleasure of men. It is all too common that we are exposed to images that depict women that fit one standard of beauty: she must be unhealthily thin, beautiful and white. This teaches women and girls to believe that their value comes from their looks and men’s perception of their appearence.
Movies and television also feature men of all different body types only dating women who are conventionally beautiful, Andi Zeisler, co-founder and editorial director of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, said. “I think that there is certainly a lot of places where we see this, particularly in family sitcoms where chubby, middle-aged men have good looking wives,” Zeisler said. Some examples of this she gave were the King of Queens and According to Jim.
Zeisler said that sex sells, however, and that this focus of women in media has not as much to do with the people producing media as it is the content being demanded. “It’s not that the media is male-dominated, but instead the media tends to focus on the things that make money,” Zeisler said.
Caroline Heldman, chair of the Politics department at Occidental College participated in the documentary Miss. Representation, said regardless of who is to blame that media sets the agenda for what is considered normalized appearances.
“Not only does the media set up standards of beauty, it sets up beauty as a standard,” Heldman said.
Jean Kilbourne, in her documentary Killing Us Softly 4, claimed that if you flip through any magazine, it is highly unlikely that you will come across a model that has not been digitally-altered to be impossibly thin and beautiful. This creates a climate where women are expected to be flawless and average women believe that they are inadequate because they are presented with impossibly perfect, digitally-altered models that they cannot possibly look like.
Only 5 percent of women have this shown body type, so this fails to represent 95 percent of the population, Kilbourne said. Kilbourne even stated that the models are skinny because women are taught that they shouldn’t take up too much space, so they are literally disappearing.
“The vast majority of images in the media are sexually objectified women and this type of coverage is very dangerous,” Heldman said. “It lowers self-esteem, lowers cognitive function, and lowers physical mobility, like the ability to throw a baseball, and women have lower political efficacy. Women then internalize this idea and believe that they are sex objects.”
In her TED Talk, “The Sexy Lie,” Heldman stated that “because of this women engage in habitual body-monitoring every thirty seconds, where they constantly think about their physical appearance. Doing this takes up time that could be used productively and results in lower self-esteem, GPAs, involvement in Science, Math, and Engineering fields, and women are less likely to hold a position of political power.” Women are also more prone to suffer from depression and eating disorders. Rates of depression among women have also doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to Forbes.
“We have laws that clean up toxic air, but we don’t have laws that clean up toxic images.” Heldman said. “[They] need to put on body armor to protect themselves from the toxic culture that they are born into.”
Christina Tudor is a freshman writing major who is a Bitch junkie. Email here at ctudor1[at]ithaca.edu