Miss Representation: How I Look Is What Matters

Girls get the message early on that the most important thing is how they look. Too often their self-worth depends upon it.

Miss Representation premiered last week on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, seeking to combat that unfortunate reality. The film opens our eyes to all that creates the message. And offers change.

From the time they’re small, little girls are told they’re pretty – or notice that they’re not told that. They receive gifts of play makeup and vanity sets. They watch endless repeats of Disney princesses on DVD, buy beautiful princess dolls, and then graduate to Barbie or Bratz. All of whom have extensive wardrobes. It’s all about being pretty. Meanwhile, girls and women are bombarded with media images of impossibly beautiful women who are photoshopped up the wazoo, modeling what they’re supposed to look like.

Who’s popular in middle school and high school? Pretty girls. By the time they’re in college young women are under relentless pressure to be hot, as if that’s the most important thing in the world.

Media creates consciousness, but women don’t have much control over media. As Miss Representation tells us, women hold only 3% of the clout positions in publishing, advertising, telecommunications, and entertainment. And women comprise only 16% of producers, writers, directors and editors.

And so women come to see themselves through men’s eyes.

Meanwhile, media makes its money through advertising. And advertising works by making people feel bad about themselves so that they’ll buy products to “help.” But if the feminine ideal is impossible to achieve, women can buy an endless stream of products and still feel eternally insecure.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation’s writer-director, makes this observation:

When youth are engaging in cutting and other forms of self-injury, when 65% of American women have eating disorders, when depression rates have doubled in the past ten years, when plastic surgery has tripled in the past decade amongst youth in particular; when you look at that you think Something is wrong. This is not healthy.

Fashion magazines are especially harmful. Girls and women who read them have worse body images than those who don’t. But women aren’t the only ones affected. Just looking at those “perfect” models can leave men finding real women less attractive, too.

So women and men who compare women to unattainable ideals both end up dissatisfied and estranged from each other.

Too many women sit in their inadequate, one-dimensional corners opposite too many men who do the same thing.

And no one is better off.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 26, 2011, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. I believe that every young girl should be able to feel good about their body. For example, a young girl might feel proud of the shape and size of their bodies until they see “perfect” modeled girls in magazine articles. Even thought these articles may be simple advertising for some new material, the girls that they use to present are actually ” fake” bodies. Young girls see these articles and wonder why their bodies are not perfectly shaped like the models are. In another view of it women are known for looking beautiful. Their bodies have to be perfect. If their bodies look a little heavy, they must exercise. I do however think this is a stereotype about how women should look. I believe that a would should feel good about how her body looks and shouldn’t worry about what other people think. As a women, we need to be happy with ourselves, and stop allowing other people to bring us down on how we look.

  2. forgive me for saying this but men have a hard time too! i just think society expects us to be stepford barbie and stepford ken! i mean men are expected to be muscular while women are expected to be skinny and big breasted! my view: society can go stick it! it’s better to have flaws that make you who you are, than be perfect! imagine a world of physical perfection? meh, it would be full of stepford clones and too scary! no two people are alike, so why should we be expected to all be the same!!

  3. I do definitely agree with this article. Our media influences women to feel like they should be skinny and beautiful as a women on tv or in a magazine. Women become anorexic or hurt themselves for not looking like that. It is sad to see a women not be happy with themselves because of what the media tells them. Watching this film opened my eyes on knowing to be proud of what who I am no matter what my weight is or how attractive I am. I know what matters the most is someone’s personality. I wish other women can feel comfortable about themselves and not hurt themselves for being who they truly are.

  4. I remember when my little cousins started playing with Bratz dolls and being so mad because I thought they wore too much make up and didn’t wear appropriate clothing. However, I didn’t stop and think about what I used to play with. I guess thinking about it now, my Barbies were the “Bratz” of my time. Barbie had pretty short skirts and did appear to wear make up. I remember one Barbie in particular that had more make up on then the normal Barbie. She was a holiday Barbie and therefore had to dress up for the occassion. So in addition to her make up, she also wore a red velvet top and a poofy skirt with a red bow in the back. Well when you un-do the bow, the layers of tool for a skirt come off and Barbie is left in a leotard and heels. I guess thinking about that, my cousins playing with Bratz dolls isn’t so bad…

  5. I agree with this article but would like to add that this image of being perfect also happens to men. For example whenever we see tv or read magazines there is always men who would be considered good looking. Tall white men with colored eyes with not one inch of fat on them is it not justified to say that men get this pressure to? for example the same way the prettiest girls are the most popular in school, the hottest guys are the most popular in school. I can prove this with a personal story of how i used to weigh 185 pounds and was about 5″1′ it was my freshman year in high school and to be quiet honest the whole year not a single girl talked to me and as for guys i only had a couple of friends. Things changed the next year though when i had gone on a diet and grew to 5″7′, went down to 121 pounds, took my braces off, and had a muscular body. That year i had girls actually approach me for the first time and i made a lot of friends that were guys. I point out now that i had not changed at all personally i was still the shy guy who spent most days in the library so its inevitable that the reason i got so much attention was because of the way i looked. So with that i conclude that us guys have the same problem because if we don’t look somewhere close to the guys on the magazines and tv were not seen as important.

  6. Very nice article! I agree with all the points that you made. The images that the media presents to us distort our perceptions of the body and set a standard so high that many people are disordered from trying to obtain an unrealistic figure. The lack of confidence in contemporary American women is clear. It becomes even clearer when we see that women are now, more than at any other time in history, looking for cosmetic surgery to enhance their appearance and improve their self-esteem. I know very few girls/women that are happy with how they look. For the most part, whenever I talk to teenage girls, I find that they are in no way satisfied with their body. Many women spend a lot money and time trying to enhance their looks. Most of my friends have had breast augmentation, and they still think that they might get it redone at some point so it will look ‘perfect’. I believe that there is no such a thing as a perfect body. We are all different, and we should accept it and be proud of being who we are. Let’s just stop trying to be perfect!

  7. I totally agree with the author of this article that in a way the media sets a ground for some men and women to achieve unattainable goals int their lives by wanting to copy or look like what is being praised. I would not necessarily agree that ideal beauty ideas are implanted in little girls because of the ways they are treated because I believe that little girls should be pampered and that men are physically stronger than women. Since the history of creation men have always been depicted as such. In the common household for example, men mostly do the plumbing or hard works. Many years ago, women stayed home ,while the men were the bread winners. Also I am a christian ,and according to christian doctrine, the man has to toil in order to provide for his family although is not exactly what is practiced nowadays in our society. I believe i’ts high time people stop copying the beauty that is propelled on TV ,for everyone is beautiful in their own way. In the West, a beautiful woman is viewed by most as skinny, tall, etc, but in Africa in countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast for example it’s the opposite, for, a beautiful woman is considerably chubby and well rounded with curbs. It should be noted that the influence of the west is beginning to take a toll in these countries,as some youths are beginging to copy and believe that, beauty is being skinny and tall just as it is defined by Holy wood.

  8. I think its absolutely devastating so see pictures like the one above. i sat and stared at these women and thought how strange they actually look. They have extremely long legs, ridiculously skinny torso’s, prefectly rounded breasts and butts, and they al look like they are ready to have sex with the next guy that walks by! No person really looks like this, you would just about have to starve yourself and still get plastic surgery. its so horrible that young girls, even older women, are being bombarded with these unrealistic ideas day and night! i asked my 12 year old sister what she feels self concious about. she said that she thought she had a fat stomach and she doesnt like her hair because is very kinky, curly, and that sometimes kids at school make fun of her. my question is WHY do middle school kids even care about such things that they must bully others! i do understand that this bullying and self-consciousness is rooted from media and advertising. they want to get girls at a very young and impressionable age so they have “customers for life!” its ruining out society. Even for myself, sometimes when i feel like im not smart enough or dont meet standards at work or school, i take the concentration of those things and go shopping to and do my hair and makeup to make myself feel pretty, then im happy again. this is what our society teaches, be beautiful and you will be happy! such a lie!

  9. Taylor Groseclose

    I believe that our society’s emphasis on a woman’s looks come from the lack of respect given to her thoughts. If women were valued for their opinions, ideas, creativity and intelligence then there wouldn’t be such a one-dimensional focus on beauty. I myself feel a great deal of pressure to be pretty. I fear that if I am not that I won’t fit in and won’t live a happy life. Growing up with such a strong focus on beauty makes it difficult to put this concept aside and focus on personality. I believe most men really do want to be with a woman with an in-depth personality and character; just good looks can’t satisfy them for long. A woman’s personality and mind need to be valued, and women need to recognize that they have a greater value than just their looks.

  10. In a world where perfection is everything, it is not surprising that this world wants all the women to look hot. I agree to the fact that the media has taken the ideal woman to extremes and have left women insecure and men hopeless. I was raised to look pretty and play with dolls that looked pretty, so how are women suppose to feel when they open a magazine with some gorgeous woman who just looks absolutely stunning? How are men going to feel when they can’t find that woman in the magazine that left him breathless? Yeah both of them are gonna feel hopeless and lost. The media is a big factor to this problem, and Oprah is trying a new twist of things and trying to get women to love themselves in their own bodies.

  11. I agree with this article. From early childhood to adulthood, females are usually exposed to things that make them “girly”. Parents may decorate the nursery pink and buy pink clothes. People believe that pink is a girly color. As they get older, they begin to watch princess movies and play with dolls, then they see the media where beautiful, flawless women are displayed for advertisement and acting in movies. At some point in almost every girls life, they might desire to be a model because they see how great all these women look and they want to be just like them. A lot of suicides in teens today are caused by bullying because they are just not pretty and popular. I never had any problems in school with this type of situation, but every now and then, I do envy the beautiful women in Broadway and in movies. However, at the end of the day, I accept myself for who I am and that everyone is beautiful in their own way. That’s how I get through the day and every female should be told that they are beautiful. Women shouldn’t try so hard to be perfect because there is someone out there who will love them for being who they are.

  12. People are interpreting the views really wrong. The advertisements are suppose to motivate women to buy there products. Not to make them have eating disorder and being self conscious. Most advertisements aren’t real women, more like photoshopped. Women think they dont meet the expectations of what men really want. Yes men do look hot model who are really hot with really sexy body and size zero, but what is the actual possibility of seeing a model like that on the street. Really rare. So girls can really be just over exaggerating. Looking pretty isnt all, but its a start. Some women i look at may look ugly to me but to my friend she might look cute. everyone has different taste. Women are try to please everyone around them which becomes really stressful and makes women feel depressed. Yes over weight women due get less attention that skinny women though that is their fault for turning to food and not the gym. I believe that guys cant get fat but women can. All in all, girls and women are interpreting the images in a wrong way. the main point of ads is to sell. and whats no better than sex in ads.because sex sells best. Companies want people to buy their product. they want people to interpret the image into having self motivation and confidence if purchasing their product, the more you spend the more confident you will get. that is what the images are trying to interpret. Women are interpreting it in a whole different directions.

  13. This article is so true. The media has a big influence on how a younger girl or girl of any age feels. When i was growing up i felt like i didnt fit it. I wasnt skinny and i wasnt aloud to wear any make up. I also didnt have a older sister to look up to. I always felt like i needed to be perfect in order to be accepted. I grew up and started highshool and still felt like there was something wrong with me. I would watch tv and would see that they would only put skinny pretty girls on tv. I started to feel like i needed to be super skinny for me to have a boyfriend. I would go days without eating and felt like no one liked me. I felt as if their was something wrong with me. The media has a big influence on how a person thinks and sees things. The first boyfriend i ever had wasnt so bad. He would make me feel better but then again he left me for a girl that was skinnier and i thought was prettier than me. This made my self esteem drop a lot more. As i grew up i would meet guys and always doubted how they felt for me. I wouldnt never think that someone would ever love me for me. I always felt as if I had to change who I was and what I wore in order to be accepted. Now that i am older i see everything clearer. I realized that a lot of people felt like this as they were growing up. Something really has to change. This is one of the maid reasons why we all grow up thinking that we have to change who we are in order to feel perfect.

  14. Before back in the days inner beauty matter the most and natural beauty also, but now media Internet, magazines have taken over what was valued before. I totally agree with this article the media is making us women believe that that’s the way we are suppose to look and saying we can look like those models and women are very easily influence and start buying products or even making it possible to be able to look like the women on the magazines, but no one is perfect all the pictures are photo shopped and it makes it seemed like the models are perfect and young girls and even women feel unsecure about themselves and believe there are not good enough and even men start to live in a fantasy that they want to find a women with the perfect body and beautiful as shown on media and magazines.

  15. Miss Representation: How I Look Is What Matters

    Natural beauty means nothing nowadays. I look at my grandmother’s old classic picture and I admire how they were content of having no makeup, no high technology to change anything on their face or body. Exercising, eating healthy is the natural way to keep up a good figure. But now what is even more popular are surgeons on the business performing plastic surgery for women. Media, advertising, cover magazines does damaging for women’s confidence and outlook on how to try to be beautiful in the eyes of the public. And there is no way of even stopping this because this trend gotten so huge, people selling beauty products, breast augmentation, nose lift, butt work is what most women are doing now if one cannot afford, at least one wishes to have.
    A lot of teenagers that are not so fortunate in schools do not get the attention most, pretty girls, cheerleaders have. Being beautiful now is a lot of pressure; you need the money to keep up with the flow. From head to toe, from getting your hair done, eye brows, facials and nails done. Buying clothes where you can fit in with the trend at school. Your looks matters, a sad reality to it is that people can judge you in a matter of seconds by just simply looking at you, you don’t have to talk or move a finger and they already have an opinion about you.

  16. I really agree with the point this article makes about women being pressured to look the ideal woman of today’s society. Many girls look at them selves in the mirror every day and think and point and pick and poke at all the flaws they see that the cover girl doesn’t have. Do they know why that cover girl doesn’t have them? Because she’s fake! There is alot of photoshoping and make up involved in a magazine and it is amazing how much pressure women can put on themselves to look that. This video is a great example of what happens http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U.

    As you can see the girl who sat down did not look very much like the girl on the bilboard. Not only that, she was already pretty. A girl can put on some make up to cover up some blemishes or dark circles w.e but that is all part of human nature. Its natural. Women shouldnt feel the need to pound on the make up, the products, the expensive treatments to look like a fantasy that doesn’t exist.

  17. It is true that some girls might feel like they are not good enough or worth anything if they are ugly because social convention is thought that women who are ugly are not desirable. Lowered self esteem, eating disorders, striving to buy whatever celebrities, models or magazines are advertising (Examples are “celebrity inspired outfits” or “Kim Kardashian uses this lipgloss so I bought it too”). The determination to morph into someone we are not. Covering ourselves in expensive makeup. Women constantly compare themselves not only to magazine models but also women they see in their everyday lives. We envy anyone who we think it prettier than us and try to fix whatever is wrong with our looks to make ourself seem more pretty. Even though there may be extensive photoshop, hours of working out, etc. who doesn’t want to look like a Victoria’s Secret model? What woman doesn’t want to be tall, curvy in the right places, skinny, and pretty? It’s ironic that America has the highest rate of obesity yet our perception of beauty is to be skinny while a country like China’s perception of beauty is a more curvy, voluptuous girl when their population is mostly skinny. It is definitely hard to feel good and be happy with one’s looks when there are gorgeous models all around us.

  18. This is such a great post! It is all about looking good nowadays and I will not deny that I have been sucked into it. In high school, I was a national rower and hence, became very tanned and muscular. In order not to be too muscular or “manly”, I started dieting, eating a meal a day and doing cardio workouts every single day. I used to run two hours every day after school just in the hope that I would shake off my muscles. After that, I would head off to my rowing training and would be so exhausted. How well did that work out for me! I barely qualified for nationals and only made it to the second cut. I even lagged thirty seconds behind my personal best timing. That made me feel worse then not looking my best- not performing my best.

    The media has certainly sensationalized everything about looking good. Everyday, we see these perfect images on the television, magazines, newspapers, hear about these people on the radio, how lap bands and what nots have helped them achieve perfection in their body fat ratios. Well, to that, I can only say that media works! Even if we continue telling people that all these images of perfection are not real, little girls all around the world will still starve themselves silly. They will continue stuffing socks into their training bras and will keep it up to the latest clothing trend. What has to happen is for celebrities and the media alike to take a stand against such perfection. When these “social role models” are able to break out from this stereotype of perfection, only then, will we be able to accept that skinny is not the answer.

    What we have to understand ultimately is that not only does one have to look good, but one has to feel good about themselves. We have become so judgmental in society that we often cannot look past a person’s looks and body size. If they do not fit within our parameters of perfection, we simply cease to talk to them. Who I truly admire are those who break out from these stereotypes and yet are confident and feel good of themselves. They are the ones that are truly perfect!

  19. Like Nava, I cringe when I see photos like this, with young, already beautiful women trying to look even more beautiful and seductive, in the eyes of both women and men. In actuality, such a small percentage of the population looks like these women do, and are built like this. All of this aside, peddling and promoting physical beauty as something that young women should look up to and strive for is not right, and is ridiculous. Growing up is difficult enough, even under the best of circumstances, and growing up with this sort of pressure is absolutely not right.

    In my experience, while I was growing up, I absolutely felt the pressure to ‘be hot,’ as the article mentioned- a pressure which was ingrained in my head by these type of images and by the media every day. Every time I got dressed, every time I went out, every time I went clothes shopping, ‘looking hot’ was always at the forefront of my mind, pressuring me to make decisions based upon these falsities. The pressure was very real, and always there. Even today, I struggle with it, although I am now older.

    With the media’s ‘help,’ and by the promotion and distribution of images like this, we women still have a tough time of it, even in this age of ‘equality.’ What will make a difference and get us out of this rut that we are in once and for all is not giving in to all of the pressures and hype which surround us everywhere, as we ignore the negative oppression upon us by dressing how we want- satisfied in our own beauty and skin. We have no one to please but ourselves. I feel sorry for women like Demi Moore, who feel the need to starve themselves painfully thin in efforts to keep their cheating dirt bag husbands in their beds. What would work better for her and raise her self-esteem is to eat healthy and look the best that she can while ignoring the cheating *&^tard entirely.

    Elaine Balliet.

  20. Looking at the photo made me cringe. What I see is here mostly despair, an attempt to be the prettiest/skinniest/curviest. Beautiful is no longer good enough, as there’s the urging desire to become the best, strive for perfection, for the superficial ideal self as portrayed by social norms.

    It’s astonishing how women keep falling into these same pits over and over again, aiming to please men, who hardly make an effort to conform to any such appearance “norms”. And this is all for the benefit of big-named cosmetics and advertisement companies. Pushing the Barbie look through every media possible causes many women (mostly in their youth) to put emphasis on looks, many times on account of inner development, sometimes at the cost of lying on the plastic surgeon’s table. As you stated, it also primes men to believe that this is the way a woman look and behave (pouty lips and empty gaze included). Even more disturbing is the phenomena of bright women who hide their intelligence lest it deters men. I loved this joke/article about the :Male Answer Syndrome” (http://www.winnski.com/bs/male-syndrome.html among many other sites) that points out that “…Many women actively encourage male answering behavior. There is in the female correlative condition known as the Say What? Complex. Women who behind closed doors expound eloquently on particle physics may be found, in male company, gaping at the news that the earth is round”.

    Quite depressing to think that although we’re well into the 21st, we are still stuck in the Dark Ages of equality.

  21. This is the best blog I have seen yet. There is so much pressure on women from society to look like a supermodel, to be tall skinny and tan and have a pretty face and women fall for it. They think, “Oh, that is what I am supposed to look like,” and run off and get plastic surgery, buy expensive beauty products and weight loss supplements to get to where society tells them to be. And the effect on men is dramatic as well, men are bombarded with images of women in sexy outfits (if they are wearing anything) with voluptuous bodies and it imbeds the idea into their head that is what the perfect girl looks like and, “If only I could get a woman like that.” It has a detrimental and disappointing effect on their lives.

  22. I totally agree with this article. I think that the media and magazines do influence women and little girls to become the ” it girl ” or what the media thinks that women should look like. I watch a show called ” Intervention ” and there are some episodes that show women that are bullimic or anorexic beaucse they feel that they are too fat or arent pretty enoguh. What they dont know is that they are making themselves look worse and their just hurthing themselves.

    MTV also has aot of shows aimed at overwight people or people with eating disorders and kind of makes fun of them in a way because their choosing trainers and other people that look completly opposite of them and making them look the way they do. Magazines can hurt a girls self esteem too. Dont get me wrong i read them alot, mainly for the fashion sense but i do read them The dating tips in there are always aiming at what the girl does wrong and what she needs to do the catch the guys attention. there aren’t very many magazines that have dating tips for guys. There are workout caleneders in threre and even day to day on how to dress for what day and what time of day. But if you just stick to being your self you can feel beautiful just the way you are and only want to change because you want to.

  23. Elizabeth Hall Magill

    I was so happy to discover this film, and the movement around it! American girls and women are being delivered a one-two punch—place your self-worth in your beauty, and then discover that you’ve put all your eggs in the wrong basket: http://elizabethhallmagill.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/american-girls-and-the-one-two-punch/

    • Wrong basket, indeed. Most girls live their lives feeling inadequate because they’ve put all their eggs in a basket that makes them feel unworthy. And for those think they measure up, the feeling is fleeting as they age-out.

      Nice blog piece, btw.

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