I am worried about the future of women. If you don’t understand, I don’t blame you—but if you’re a woman, go find a mirror. Take a long look at yourself. What is the first feature you notice about yourself? Likely it’s a physical trait. Is your reflection starting to get foggy? Are you comparing yourself to someone else in society? Many women’s mirrors fog up because they are comparing themselves to airbrushed advertisement models and societal images of what is “beautiful.” I imagine a 13-year-old woman opening a beauty magazine, then tugging at her thighs and dreaming that “life would magically be better” if she only had that “majestic” thigh gap so many girls desire. This “foggy mirror” image of young women is why I am worried for the future.
However, there is some solace in knowing that I am not the only one who’s worried. A new documentary, Miss Representation, looks about how women are misrepresented and influenced by the mainstream media. A particularly exciting segment of the film focuses on “minute mentoring,” in which young women go from one successful women to another, asking for mentoring advice from each one.
“Women have the desire to be mentored,” says Jessica Shambora, one of the brains behind this mentoring initiative. “When women mentor each other, it is really powerful.” The girls in this film listen attentively to the women that spoke to them. Many of the girls said they felt empowered afterward, and energized simply by meeting successful women who take an interest in mentoring them.
However, girls still feel tension between their intellectual ability and their appearance.
“There is no appreciation for women intellectuals. It’s all about the body, not about the brain,” says Ariella, a high school student. “When is it going to be enough?” asks Maria, another high school student featured in the documentary.
Miss Representation shows how young women feel the constant pressures of the media: the sexualization of women in advertisements, the obsession over weight, the negative effects of social media. All play a key role in distorting the self-image of young women. But positive media can act as a mentor to clear up the fog.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the director of the film, has done a fabulous job creating awareness through cinematography. She imagines a world when her daughter can be confident with her own image, but also recognizes that we have a long way to go. The film features prominent women such as Rachel Maddow, Condoleezza Rice, and Jane Fonda, speaking about their experiences with media distortion through supposedly benign weight jokes, “bitch” jokes, and negative stereotyping. It’s time women ask themselves, When is it going to be enough?
Miss Representation has started many (positive) media campaigns to help raise awareness about this topic. “The Representation Project” on YouTube has videos about the media’s effect on young women. The videos are simple and appropriate for girls of all ages. The film’s website has several ways young women can get involved in the body-positive movement. It also features “media positive” advertisements for girls to watch and compare with mainstream ads—I call this media positive mentoring. If we show young women that their worth is not about their waistline or their appearance, a generation of women intellectuals can be nurtured. It’s time that young woman became just as “obsessed” about being a senator as they are about makeup products.
Everyone can be a media-positive mentor for the young women in our lives by asking girls questions about issues that really matter, by showing them that not all girls are judged by their appearance, by teaching them about successful women past and present, and by showing them how to break down barriers and stereotypes. One of the mentors from the Minute Mentoring program summed up their message simply: “To thy own self be true.”
Visit the Miss Representation web site and click on the link “Take Action” to find more ways to get involved.
[box]About the Author
Marissa Ranahan is a student and staff writer for OMSF.[/box]