The Effect of the Media on Women and Girls Mass media creates unrealistic, unhealthy portrayals of female sexuality, sexual health, and shows unnecessary female sexuality and nudity on an immense level. The average woman is misrepresented in the media; this is unhealthy for many women and girls. Studies show viewing sexually objectifying material contributes to eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression and body dissatisfaction. In a 1992 study of female students at Stanford University, 70% of women reported feeling worse about themselves and their bodies after looking at magazines.
Lack of identity is a major concern for adolescents and the media is constantly telling them who or what to act and look like. While it is up to an individual to accept or reject what they see, read or hear, the media effects women and girls consciously and subconsciously; often leading to self esteem problems, eating disorders and other psychological issues. Magazine covers such as this are found in stores all over the country, it is impossible not to see them while in the checkout line. The Media has been shown to misrepresent the average woman.
Consider the movie industry; body doubles are frequently used to cover up imperfections of the female movie star. There is no disclaimer on the substitute to let people know that is not the person staring in the movie. The majority of women that are seen in the media are fashion models, singers and actresses, many of which are shown to be free of imperfections and presented as the how women should look or act in today’s culture. Consider video games; in a recent study, Haninger and Thompson (2004) sampled 80 “teen rated” games released in 2001, 46% of the games depicted women in a sexual way.
The study also showed that only female characters were portrayed as highly sexualized and it is common in video games for women to be prostitutes as characters that are targets for the male hero. The media is everywhere. Television, internet, newspaper, magazines, billboards and more all show women and girls depicted in a sexual manner. The Girls, Women & Media Project (2010) estimates that the average young television viewer will see about 14,000 references to sex each year, this is an astounding figure. In advertising, women’s bodies are used sexually to ell products more often than men’s. Overexposure to the media among youth can teach both girls and boys that women are sexual objects. There are countless examples of ways that the media sexualizes women and girls. One is the music industry which has become a large contributor to the sexualization of women. Andsager and Roe (2003) noted that one of the distinct ways in which sex is used is as a metamorphosis. They examined how teen artists exploit their sexuality to show a more mature and “edgier” version of themselves as they begin the cross over from teen icon to adult musician.
The most recent example of this is teen queen Miley Cyrus, who has gone from being a Disney darling to her latest music video “can’t be tamed” in which she is scantily clothed dancing provocatively in a giant bird cage. This picture was taken from Miley Cyrus’s new music video, “Can’t be tamed”. Up until recently Miley Cyrus has been depicted as a role model for young girls staring in wholesome, family orientated television shows, movies and music. The Disney show Hannah Montanna which stars Miley is rated Y7, which is appropriate for children ages seven and older which is a large jump from the new “Can’t be tamed” video.
Furthermore many music lyrics refer to women in highly degrading ways. “That’s the way you like to f***…rough sex make it hurt, in the garden all in the dirt (Ludacris, 2000), another example is “I tell the hos all the time, bitch get in my car” (50 Cent, 2005). To many people this type of language has become the “norm” and acceptable, songs with lyrics such as these and worse are played on the radio and music television on a daily basis. This leaves impressionable minds to believe that this is acceptable behavior.
The effect and consequences of the media on women and girls is potentially harmful in a variety of ways. There are countless studies that show viewing sexually objectifying material contributes to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. “Girls develop their identities as teenagers and as women, and they learn the socially acceptable ways to engage in intimate relationships by modeling what they see older girls and young women doing” (Bussey & Bandora, 1984, 1992) and “by imitating the ways in which women are represented in the media” (Huston & Wright, 1998).
There is no question that girls and boys grow up in a society and culture that is saturated with sexual images. Girls are major consumers of the media. The average child or teen watches three hours of television a day, the numbers are higher for Black and Latino youth (APA Task Force Report, 2005). When various media are combined, children view 6 hours and 32 minutes per day of media exposure (APA Task Force Report, 2005). There are psychiatric and developmental effects caused by the sexualization of women and girls.
The developmental process is relevant to how girls perceive sexuality and what society deems acceptable. Defined as cognitive development, this affects children’s ability to critically process cultural messages. Researchers Borzekowski & Robinson (1999) discovered that “very young children are highly susceptible to marketing, they have difficulty distinguishing between commercial and regular television programming”. It is only after the age of eight can a child recognize the purpose of advertising is to make them want something, they believe everything that they see and perceive it to be reality.
In Western cultures identity formation is a developmental trait of adolescence. For many adolescent girls everyday is a struggle to feel like they fit in and many adolescents experiment with different identities or social “masks” many of which they base on what they see in the media. This makes them more susceptible to the messages that society conveys and messages and products may be more easily accepted during this developmental stage. This picture depicts the many things that can go through a young girls mind when suffering from low self-esteem or just trying to fit in with everyone else.
Another growing identity issue is the increasing number of cosmetic plastic surgery procedures being performed on teens. With increasing self esteem issues many teens are turning to plastic surgery as an option, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons the number of procedures for young women ages 13-19 has significantly increased. Cosmetic Surgery Procedure2000 Totals2009 Totals Breast Augmentation3,6828,199 Ear Surgery3,3457,909 Eyelid Surgery1721,892 Liposuction2,5233,179 Nose Reshaping(Rhinoplasty)29,70034,994 Botox2,60711,889 Laser Skin Resurfacing3,28616,310 Laser Hair Removal45,26465,308
The increase of plastic surgery for young teens can be linked to body image issues created by society. The statistics are astounding, many of the number have doubled, tripled or more. For instance the use of Botox in the age range of 13-19 has gone from 2,607 in 2000 to 11,889 in 2009. Botox is typically used to diminish lines and wrinkles which something that should not be an issue or concern for girls in this age group. The media pressures the look of youth and perfection and causes many young women to being over criticizing themselves and their outer beauty to keep up with constant pressure of how they should look.
The sexualization and objectification of women in the media appear to teach girls that as women, all they have to offer are their body and face, and that they should expend all of their effort on physical appearance. There are those that argue the use of the First Amendment, free speech, in regard to what can and can not be used in the media. It is up to the viewers’ discretion. “Congress shall make no law…. abridging freedom of speech or freedom of the press…” (US Constitution).
Free speech is the right of every American, however when “speech” is done for profit, such as media “products” from the information and entertainment industries it is called commercial speech and is held to a different standard. When the Government has an interest in public health and protection it is legal for them to regulate “speech” including advertising and the entertainment industry. One example is the display of pornographic magazines where it is accessible to children; there are no Playboy magazines in public libraries where children could inadvertently get their hands on them.
Playboy is well within their right to publish their sexually explicit magazine and any person of legal age is welcome to purchase or read the magazine however when it comes to the safety of children the Government steps in to regulate the use, display and sale of the magazine. Advertisers often circumvent the rules of commercial speech, for example commercials for adult content programming or products are shown in the time slot of a family rated program. No matter how many laws and regulations that are placed in effect there will always be a person or organization that finds a loop hole and way around.
There are many alternatives and approaches to counteracting the influences of sexualization. The first step is awareness which begins at home in the early years of childhood. Family can help girls and women to interpret cultural messages and sexual content in a way that can prevent harm to them. Many studies have shown that a strong, nurturing and supportive family environment is a solid base for children with strong identities and high self esteem. Schools and formal education can also help create awareness. The development of media based literacy programs can help in counteracting the influence of the media on children and adolescents.
Other researchers have suggested that the use of athletics to encourage girls to focus on body competence instead of body image is successful; it has been shown that girls and women involved in athletics have higher self esteem than those that are not. The effect that the media has on women and girls is enormous. Beginning at an early age children begin to process what is socially acceptable and try to imitate what they see. This affects girls in the form of self esteem and other psychological issues and also effects boys by teaching them pre-conceived notions on how girls should look and behave.
Every person is entitled to their right to exercise the First Amendment, however only if it does not interfere with the safety of the public. The Government does it’s best to protect the public by governing commercial speech, sadly many media outlets have found a way to circumvent the law to their advantage. There are many organizations both public and private that are working to increase public awareness of how the media affects women of all ages and teach people how to counteract the influence of sexualization. The first step to do this s within the family unit, by helping women and girls to interpret sexual content and messages in a way that prevents harm to them. This is a struggle that is not new society and will continue to be an issue in the years to come, consider this quote from 1964, “Advertisers in general bear a large part of the responsibility for the deep feelings of inadequacy that drive women to psychiatrists, pills, or the bottle. (Marya Mannes, But Will It Sell? , 1964) References Star Magazine Cover. 50 Best and Worst Beach Bodies. December 27, 2008 Haninger and Thompson (2004).
Haninger, K. , & Thompson, K. M. (2004). Content and ratings of teen-rated video games. Journal of the American Medical Association, 291 The Girls, Women & Media Project, 2010. Sobel, T. (2002-2007). Girls, women + media project. Girls, women + media project. Retrieved from http://www. mediaandwomen. org/index. html Andsager and Roe (2003). Andsager. J. , & Rose, K. (2003). “What’s your definition of dirty, baby? ”. Sex in the music videos. Sexuality & Culture: An interdisciplinary Quarterly, 7(3), 79-97. Miley Cyrus video picture (2010) Retreived from http://www. oogle. com/imgres? imgurl=http://img. metro. co. uk/i/pix/2010/05/05/article-1273061254387-096D5B34000005DC-825880_636x1238. jpg&imgrefurl=http://www. metro. co. uk/metrolife/music/824703-miley-cyrus-breaks-free-in-cant-be-tamed-music-video&usg=__x3YBt8gPbLkOmbbU7BkSQYIIU4w=&h=1238&w=636&sz=152&hl=en&start=219&itbs=1&tbnid=UKkLZJtISj6LqM:&tbnh=150&tbnw=77&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dpictures%2Bfrom%2Bmiley%2Bcyrus%2Bcant%2Bbe%2Btamed%2Bmusic%2Bvideo%26start%3D210%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26rlz%3D1R2ADBF_enUS362%26ndsp%3D21%26tbs%3Disch:1 Ludacris (2000).
What’s your fantasy from the Ludacris album, Back for the First Time, released by Def Jam, on September 19, 2000. 50 Cent (2005). Get in my care from the 50 Cent album, Massacre, released by Aftermath on March 3, 2005. Bussey, K. , & Bandura, A. (1984). Influence of gender constancy and social power on sex-linked modeling. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1292-1302. Bussey, K. , & Bandura, A. (1992). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676-713. Houston, A. C & Wright, J. C. (1998).
Mass media and children’s development. In W. Damon, I. E. Sigel, & K. A. Renninger (Eds. ), Handbook of child psychology: Vol 4. Child psychology in practice (pp. 999-1058). Borzekowski, D. L. G. , & Robinson T. N. (1999). Viewing the viewers: 10 video case studies of children’s television viewing behaviors. Journal of Braodcasting and Electronic Media, 43, 506-528. Picture of Girl with Self Esteem Issues. Retrieved from http://www. google. com/imgres? imgurl=http://i175. photobucket. com/albums/w146/cams_23/2ezjlw56. png&imgrefurl=http://www. teendiariesonline. om/blog/%3Fp%3D3750&usg=__p3HvjyOTl5x_uvrtsg9FHSEIK50=&h=377&w=374&sz=196&hl=en&start=9&itbs=1&tbnid=tQolbMR20rmHqM:&tbnh=122&tbnw=121&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dpictures%2Brelated%2Bto%2Bself%2Besteem%2Bissues%2Bin%2Bwomen%2Band%2Bgirls%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26rlz%3D1R2ADBF_enUS362%26prmdo%3D1%26tbs%3Disch:1 APA Task Force Report, 2005. American Psychological Association, Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. American Society of Plastic Surgeons, (2000 – 2009). Age Distribution of Cosmetic Surgery Reports, 2009. US Constitution (1791). Founding Fathers. Marya Mannes, But Will It Sell? , (1964). Published by Lippincott, 1964