6. Media Literacy

What is the media teaching girls about their value in our society?

By Janet Nash, MSW, LISW-S, RYT, Reiki II

So many people tell me that they aren’t affected by media images…of course, often these same people are wearing Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and sporting a Louis Vuitton bag. The truth is that we are all, if not consciously then at least subconsciously, affected by media images. Girls and women are especially barraged by images of frighteningly thin women in print and television ads. Often only portions of the bodies of these women are focused on: breasts, lips, buttocks, bodies chopped off at the neck or waist by the camera angle. In a very large number of print ads women are portrayed in a subordinate role to men with the men frequently positioned in a threatening manner or suggesting physical violence toward the women. Why? And how does that sell products? And what mark does that leave on the psyche of girls who may know intellectually that this is fiction, but learn in a rather subliminal way what our culture values? What is it teaching them? The most pervasive communication women receive from the media, that is educating another generation of young girls, is that a woman’s primary value is in her looks, her youth, her sexuality–and not in her capacity to be successful in other areas of her life. I’d like to hear your comments on this topic. For further information, check out Jean Kilbourne’s YouTube videos entitled “Killing Us Softly.” And the documentary, “Miss Representation.” What do you think? What can be done?

Key Points from the Media Education Foundation:

  • Women and girls are sold the myth that they can, and should, achieve physical perfection to have value in our culture.
  • What’s defined and reinforced as “physical perfection” in advertising is an unhealthy standard of thinness unattainable by most women.
  • Women’s bodies are constantly turned into objects in advertising in order to sell products. Often, women’s bodies are dismembered ~ just one part of the body is focused on and used to sell the product.
  • In recent years, computer retouching (PhotoShop) has emerged as a primary advertising technique, with photographs digitally retouched to make models appear perfect. Complexion is cleaned up, eye lines are softened, chins, thighs and stomachs are trimmed, and neck lines are removed. Computers can even create faces and bodies of women who don’t exist by using body parts of many women to make one whole “perfect” woman.
  • Advertisers themselves acknowledge that they sell more than products, that the images in advertising affect the reality of our lives.
  • There is a trememdous amount of contempt for women who don’t measure up to the advertisers’ ideal of beauty. This is particularly true for women who are overweight.
  • As girls reach adolescence, they get the message that they should not be too powerful, shold not take up too much space – a constant message that they should be less than what they are.
  • At least 1 in 5 young women in America today has an eating disorder.
  • Only 5% of women have the body type (tall, genetically thin, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, long-legged and usually small-breasted) seen in almost all advertising. (When the models have large breasts, they’ve almost always had breast implants).
  • Food and diet products are often advertised with the language of morality. Words such as “guilt” and “sin” are often used to sell food.
  • Women are shamed for eating, for having an appetite for food.
  • There are double standards for men and women surrounding eating.
  • Control is often associated with thinness in advertising.
  • The obsession with thinness is related to the infantilization of women and the trivialization of women’s power.
  • Changes in advertising will depend on an aware, active, educated public that thinks of itself primarily as citizens rather than as consumers.

Depiction of a gang rape in a Calvin Klein ad…what exactly are they selling?

Sexualization of a woman in a Burger King ad

Disparaging and demeaning print ad

Inappropriate distribution of power in relationship

Objectification of a woman’s body in a print ad. Her body becomes the bottle.

Objectification of a woman in a BMW ad. The implication is that women are useful for nothing other than sex.

Dolce & Gabana gang rape.


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