Hypersexualized & Demeaning Images of Women in the Media

By: Mary James 

Image result for women in leadership
A woman and 3 men standing behind her in a professional setting 

The media can have a huge impact on self-esteem, success, and personal attitude. As a JAMM major I have focused on how the media portrays women. I’ve always been passionate about this topic because as a woman I can honestly say sometimes it’s hard to feel beautiful and successful in today’s society. I am also studying Women’s and Gender Studies, so this is a topic I’ve been interested in for years. I realize how much of an impact media has on our daily lives from social media, magazines, billboards, television, movies to celebrities.

Miss Representation is a film that exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film focuses on how the media is selling the idea that women’s value lies in their youth, beauty and sexuality and not in their capacity as leaders. It also focuses on how boys and men are the opposite, how their success is tied to dominance, power and aggression. It also focuses on critical issues facing society today.

In this society, media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms. Women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population yet in the last ten years, rates of depression among girls and women have doubled.  Girls and women struggle with the obsession and pursuit of perfection. 53% of thirteen-year-old girls are dissatisfied with their bodies. By age 17 the number increases to 78%. 65% have an eating disorder. Women often strive to be skinnier, prettier, and sexier. It’s almost as no one is ever going to be good enough. The film showed how celebrities are often photo shopped to look thinner and more defined. Their eyes, lips, ears, and body are edited to make them look perfect. Photographs of models are no longer just retouched in the media, now they are even being digitally altered that the results look picture perfect and impossible to obtain in reality.

Miss Representation also focused on how this obsession and low self-esteem start at a very young age. The film showed images from the show Toddlers and Tiaras. Parents enter their daughters in competitive beauty pageants. These children are often wearing a lot of makeup, little clothing, heels, and their hair is nicely done. There is this expectation for these young girls that they need to be picture perfect. Among children as young as ages 6-8 half the girls feel that they should be thinner.

Female stereotypes continue to thrive in the media we consume everyday through film, television, and magazines. Women who are portrayed in the media are often portrayed in a negative way. Although women are as every bit as capable as men, women are still under-represented in leadership throughout the U.S. The United States is 33rd out of the countries when it comes to women in the national legislature.

73% of students said watching Miss Representation changed their opinion about the way in which women are represented in the media. After seeing the film, sixty-one percent of students reported speaking up when seeing or hearing something derogatory towards women.” Tracy Layney, VP of Global HR Strategy, Technology & Operations, Gap, Inc.

This film reaffirmed me that I’m not perfect and I’m never going to be perfect but that’s okay. Far too often I see celebrities and models and catch myself thinking, “If only I had that body or if only I was that pretty.” I remind myself that these women are a composite, a body enhanced and edited to look that way. I want people to recognize how smart I am and not focus on what I’m wearing or how I look.


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