Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

Does Media Matter?

This week-end, I was at the soccer fields watching my 7-year-old play. As I watched girls of all different ages running, kicking, jumping, competing with ferocity, and cooperating with one another, I was struck by the difference between the girls that I know in real life and those that I see depicted in the media.

Susan J. Douglas talks in her book, Enlightened Sexism, about the way that media seems to have two narrow ways of depicting females. The first is the super successful, serious, professional, older female who tends to be a judge, the boss, even the president. The second is the sexy younger female. I would add a third, the girl whose greatest interests revolve around shopping, salon style make-overs, and boys.

This week in my Child Psychology class, we talked about Sociocultural Theory, and how the theorist Bronfenbrenner sees layers of a child’s world influencing her/him while the child also influences those parts of her/his life, from family to neighborhood to culture. As a little experiment, I brought several magazines marketed to teens and younger kids and had the students identify themes. We focused on those that specifically spoke to the question, “What makes you valuable.” The list that my students generated was disheartening. It included:

  • Romance/boys
  • Physical appearance (body, skin, hair, weight, make-up)
  • Material goods
  • Popularity

There was actually an article in one magazine titled, “What boys want to see you wearing at the beach.” Talk about objectification! Not, what you want to wear, what’s easy to surf or play volleyball in, but what boys want to see you in. As we sat looking at the list and the magazines, one of my female college students said, “These magazines suck.” But, I also spent some time with some college freshmen talking about media and marketing, and many of them felt that neither really had an impact on how children feel about themselves.

What I find interesting about this strange world that the media portrays is that it is not realistic. I really don’t know any females whether children, young adults or middle-aged who spend all of their time shopping, making themselves up, having plastic surgery, and worrying about who is attracted to them. So why then is media intent on portraying us in this way? And really, does it matter?

Over the next few posts, I’ll be exploring the question: Does media matter? Does it make any difference that females are often shown as sexual objects whose value comes from their appearance? I’ll share some research with you about how media impacts our views of reality and our feelings about ourselves. I’ll also share some thoughts from girls themselves about how they believe media impacts them. Let me know if you have specific questions you’d like to see addressed. Buckle up, it’s going to be an interesting ride.

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5 comments on “Does Media Matter?

  1. erin
    September 12, 2011

    I have no solid statistics I can refer to but if how my friends and colleagues talk about themselves is any indication then I’d have to say it matters. It matters a lot. No, many of the women I am surrounded by do not have plastic surgery, spend countless hours shopping or make themselves up. But they constantly hate-talk themselves “I hate my boobs/eyelids/tummy/toosh/thighs/chin/arms/weight”. Many of them have stated that if money wasn’t an issue, they’d have those things “fixed”. Where, if not from the media (in all forms), are we getting the message that we aren’t good enough? Even my supposed fitness magazine is following the trend. It no longer focuses on being in good health but rather, on how to give good head. Sadly, I think it matters a whole heck of a lot.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      September 12, 2011

      Great point, Eric. It’s easy for people to say things like, “It’s just a show/picture/ad” and not believe that those images impact us. But what your saying seems to be consistent with what I hear from girls and women, that it does matter. They talk about comparing themselves to those images, even though they know that they’re photoshopped. I’m also going to bring in some data that supports that conclusion. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Naomi
    September 13, 2011

    I look forward to reading all about it. You certainly have some intersting blog topics – all of which I enjoy

  3. Pingback: Steubenville and Sexualization | Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

  4. Pingback: Why Merida Matters: The great makeover debate | Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

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