The Unrealistic Portrayal of Women in the Media
Media is one of the most influential aspects of modern society. It plays an enormous role in setting societal standards and depicting how people, especially women, should act and appear. In everything from advertising, television programming, newspapers and magazines, to comic books, popular music, film and video games the media sets unrealistic standards for women.
These unrealistic depictions of the role that women must play, and the image that women must have in order to be accepted are drastically affecting societies views and the self-worth of women worldwide.
In all forms of media, women are grossly misrepresented. Women are most often shown in the home, performing domestic chores; as sex objects who exist primarily to service men; as the romantic interest; as characters who rely greatly on men; as victims who can not protect themselves and are the natural recipients of beatings, harassment, sexual assault and murder. Women rarely play leading roles or roles of significance in movies and television shows, and when they do, they are rarely cast as independent or as a hero.
Only 16 percent of films feature women protagonists (Richardson, 2011). In 2012, women represented less than one-third of the speaking characters (Eveleth, 2013). For every one female on screen, there were two and a half men. Women are not given enough positive role models. Even in Disney movies, female characters ride off into the sunset at age 16 with a prince they barely know; sending the message that we are reliant on men. Furthermore, almost every single cleaning product advertisement created features a woman cleaning up after her children and husband.
Despite the fact that in real life, this concept of patriarchy and women being fragile and weak is largely is outdated, the media continues to portray women in this way. This is sending a entirely inaccurate image of how things should be to society, especially to young girls and women. Women are not only being told to play a certain role in society, but being pressured to look a certain way as well. From young age, women are exposed to the idea that they are supposed to be sexy; tall, have a small waist, be buxom, have perfect skin, etc.
All Disney princess movies, however harmless they may seem, show girls sexually. In G-rated children’s films, female characters often look just as sexual/revealing as they do in R-rated movies. Many online games for young girls, such as Selena’s Date Rush, do a similar thing. The instructions for Selena’s Date Rush are simple: “When Justin comes to pick her up in the morning, she just woke up with no makeup! Please help her complete her makeup before Justin finds out! “; implying that you are not beautiful enough to be seen until you are in makeup.
Additionally, while Barbie is supposed to be a positive role model for children, the proportions of the Barbie doll are humanly unattainable and the outfits that she wears are impractical and revealing. Not only Barbie dolls, but other popular dolls such as Monster High dolls and Bratz dolls, promote that same image. These unrealistic role models, that skew the meaning of beauty are present through women’s whole lives. There is a constant bombardment of hyper-sexualised, airbrushed images of women as well as messages of needing self-improvement, in all forms of media.
Almost all advertisements for cosmetic products and clothing feature digitally modified, underweight models. In fact, the first and only ad campaign featuring average and overweight women is a Dove ad campaign. The Canadian Health Network found that the average female model is not only much taller than the average woman, but weighs nearly 25% less (ojejwow, 1996). Even commercials about obtaining a healthy and physically active, lifestyle feature the presence of very thin actresses with a wide range of body and facial cosmetics. This leads to the assumption, that only thin women can be beautiful and healthy.
Also, three-quarters of women’s magazine covers feature articles about overhauling one’s physical appearance and studies indicate that nearly three-quarters of all female characters in sitcoms are underweight, and those that are overweight are often the subject of comments or jokes about their bodies made by male characters (“Portrayal of women,” 2009). Everywhere that young girls and women turn they are faced with the idea that their looks are everything, that pleasing the male gaze is paramount and that hiding their “imperfections” and making themselves sexy is the sum total of their value.
It is only when one looks at all of these things together that one starts to realise the immense impact it might be having on them. The way in which women are portrayed in the media has an overwhelming negative effect on society. Media reinforcing the idea that women are weak and nothing without men continues to create problems with the way that women are treated and viewed by society in the workplace and in many social situations.
It also creates problems in the way that women treat and view themselves, especially in relationships. 1 in 3 girls between the ages of 16 and 18 say sex is expected for people their age if they are in a relationship (“Statistics,” n. d. ). Unfortunately, women are often pressured to conform to societies standards regarding sex and relationships, especially as adolescents. Media constantly creating unrealistic standards for beauty is effecting the physical and mental health of women and girls.
In one survey nearly half of nine- to twelve-year-old girls said they wanted to be thinner and had either been on a diet or were aware of the concept of dieting and in another study in one study half of girls ages 16-21 said they would undergo surgery to improve their bodies (“Body image- girls,” 2012) Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders, Inc. (2011) says that one out of every four college-aged women uses un-healthy methods of weight control- including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self induced vomiting. Eating disorders have become more and more prominent in young women.
Psychological factors that cause these disorders include low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy or lack of control, which are often caused by the unrealistic standards set by media. Even if eating disorders are not an issue, self-esteem problems frequently are. Dove’s Real Truth About Beauty research (2011) revealed that by the age of 14, 55% of Canadian girls feel pressure to be “beautiful”. By the time they are 29, this number increases to 96%. This industry has gone too far in pushing a dangerously thin, unrealistically “beautiful”, misguided image that women, and young girls, try to emulate.
The harsh reality that low self-esteem, low self- worth, and feelings of inadequacy are evident in almost all women’s life in some form is not one to be taken lightly. Media, while providing people with information and entertainment, also affects people’s lives by shaping their opinions of and attitudes toward society and themselves. This is particularly relevant pertaining to the image of women in the media. Mass media still uses gender stereotypes and unrealistic definitions of beauty to reach the consumer, and the effects that these tactics have on women are severe.
With most women facing oppression regarding gender roles of some form and with only 4% of women being able to call themselves beautiful (“Surprising Self-Esteem Statistics,” 2011), it is clear that change needs to occur. The media needs to stop using underweight women to sell products to every day women, instilling feelings of inadequacy in women in order to sell products, presenting women in sexual, dependent, or domestic roles and need to begin instilling self-worth in young girls and women of all makes and give them positive role models.
Changing the media’s projection of woman has been a consistent agenda of the women’s movement since the early l960s. However, little has happened and it will take an enormous shift in the mentality of media producers and society itself before a great deal can happen. For now, if people become aware of the stereotypes and teach critical viewing skills and the real meaning of beauty/equality to young girls and one another, perhaps they will be less likely to succumb to the effects of the unrealistic standards that the media has put in place for all women.