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Documentary examines how mainstream media hurts young women


Miss Representation is a new film about the rapid proliferation of media in the 21st Century and how it affects young boys and girls. The film notes that the reach of media today is unprecedented and more pervasive than ever before – and it may be presenting a very skewed portrayal of what it means to be female. Women are only 16 percent of the protagonists in movies and, Miss Representation argues, girls are encouraged by ads, TV and films to achieve an unrealistic standard of beauty at younger and younger ages. Here are some girls talking about how images are affecting them:

YOUNG WOMAN 1: We see so much in the media. There is so much negativity toward women and their weight and how they look. It's just a representation of the pressure we feel to conform to men's ideals. There's this concept of the perfect woman who looks this certain way and because women may not look that way, they're scrutinized. YOUNG WOMAN 2: I remember fifth grade, I worried about my weight and now I'm in in ninth grade and I'm still worrying about my weight. YOUNG WOMAN 3: Me being a small person, at my old school, I was told to go throw up or go eat a hamburger because people thought I was anoerexic or something. I would eat a lot so that people would think that I didn't have an eating disorder. YOUNG WOMAN 4: I straighten my hair, just so I can fit in when I have naturally curly hair. YOUNG WOMAN 5: I have close friends that, in between break periods, they will go to the bathroom and put on like ten pounds of makeup and comb their hair and do all this pampering. You're at school to learn. YOUNG WOMAN 6: When is it going to be enough, because I have a younger sister and she's cuts herself because she gets teased in school because she doesn't have a perfect body. It's like, what can I do so that my sister doesn't get hurt by the media? What's it going to take for somebody to take a stand?

The film also notes that we now have the lowest number of women representatives in Congress in 30 years.  Women make up 51 percent of the US population, but only 17 percent of Congressional Representatives.  Even women in positions of power are often judged on their looks or ridiculed for their physical appearance, rather than their achievements.

So, are we increasingly objectifying women?  Is it having an effect on political, economic and leadership equality?

Holly Kernan is the architect of the award-winning Public Interest Reporting Project. She is currently news director at KALW 91.7FM in San Francisco. In 2009 she was named Journalist of the Year by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Kernan teaches journalism at Mills College and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and has taught at Santa Rosa Junior College, Youth Radio and San Francisco State University's Lifelong Learning Institute. She lives in Oakland with her husband, Mike, daughter, Julia, and retired greyhound Benjamin Franklin.