How Media Literacy Has Changed My Point of View

I have always loved reading magazines. I loved the fashion, the make-up, and laughing about sex tips with my friends.

Since I began taking this high school feminism class, however, I have begun to look at all media with a more critical eye.

A couple of days ago, I was reading an article in the new issue of Elle magazine.  I was flipping through and came upon an article about motivating yourself to lose weight.  I skimmed through and was absolutely shocked.  One tip suggested that I stand in front of the mirror, look at my body, notice what I didn’t like, think about what parts of my body made me feel bad, and envision what I wanted to change.  If this didn’t work, the magazine suggested that I “try on a pair of skinny jeans a size too small.”

Thankfully, I have never read anything like this before.  But the idea that the magazine was suggesting that girls stand in the mirror and hate what they see is about the worst thing I have ever heard.  Most teenage girls nowadays already have a warped idea of what it is to be beautiful and what it is “expected” of us to look like.

In the film Miss Representation, there is a scene when a normal, pretty girl is transformed dramatically.  Her hair and make-up get done, and pictures are taken of her under the most flattering of lighting. Even after all that, she is photo-shopped to make sure that every “flaw” is wiped away.  Her face is then posted on a massive billboard for thousands of girls to look at.  We see so many images everyday like this that give us an unrealistic and close-minded idea of what “beautiful” is.

This is one reason I love reading Ms. Magazine.  The article “Young Feminists Have Their Day,” in the 40th anniversary issue of Ms. Magazine, really struck me.  It talks about girls from Montclair High School who participated in the International Day of the Girl, just like our feminism class at our school!

The article made me feel connected to something so big and important.  I saw a young, empowered, diverse group of girls who were excited to take part in something new and exciting, that could change the future of all girls. The contrast between this article, and all articles in Ms. Magazine, which celebrate all types of women, and the article in Elle, was astounding.

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An ad showing the degradation of women.

In the film Miss Representation, they talk about how the media tries to make people feel anxious, or bad about themselves, because that sells products.  People are made to feel that they don’t live up to a certain expectation, or aren’t having the same fun experiences others are, or are not part of a small, elite group of people.

In Miss Representation, you see women and men of all races and sexual orientations, with different jobs and roles in the movement, coming together to enforce media literacy.  Media literacy means being able to look critically at the media, and not simply taking in what is shown to you and accepting it as truth.

At the back of all Ms. Magazines, there is a section called “No Comment,” a variation on media literacy.  This is a page dedicated to taking a critical look at different ads that enforce stereotypes, or the degradation of certain groups of people.  One that particularly upsets me is an HIV/AIDS ad that displays the body of a woman in only her underwear.  Like on Google maps, an arrow points to her vulva.

Beneath that it states, “Bill Johnson and 19 others were here.”   This is blatant “slut-shaming,” or seeing women as dirty or wrong simply for having a sex life.  The face of the woman is not shown, as though it is bad to be the kind of woman who enjoys having sex.  Ms. Magazine encourages people to send letters of complaint to the organizations who create these ads, and the magazines who publish them.  It is a way of seeing the sexism, racism and degradation around us, and quickly putting an end to it.

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An ad for HIV & Aids awareness.

I believe that showing documentaries like the ones I saw, pointing out the sexism in many ads, or perhaps teaching a class about media literacy, would change the way many of our children and adults look at the world.  Before watching this film, and certainly before taking this high school feminism class, I was still reading my magazines, taking in what was shown to me, and allowing my value to be based on what the media told me.  Through this class and these documentaries, I look at the world around me, and myself, in a new, more critical, and better way.

11 thoughts on “How Media Literacy Has Changed My Point of View

  1. I’m shocked that a magazine would tell girls to stand in front of a mirror and basically think about everything they hate about themselves and then make them try on clothes too small to make them feel even worse. Elle magazine is very popular with teenagers and like you said, most teenage girls are already insecure with their bodies and I think this would just make it worse. The fact that companies sell products by making the viewers of their advertisements feel worse about themselves makes me really think hard about what our society stands for.

  2. This is a wonderful post. I, like you; “loved reading magazines. I loved the fashion, the make-up, and laughing about sex tips with my friends.”
    I always new that was I was looking at wasn’t going to be good for me, but I was interested, I liked to see what was in, who was dating who, what everyone looked like… And by the end of the magazine, I was always defeated.
    I would see all the photo’s in the magazine, and I would know that I didn’t look like any of them.
    The article you mentioned in Elle magazine was absolutely awful! I know in every magazine, there is always an article about losing weight – however, in that fashion? I can’t believe they would suggest standing in the mirror and pointing out all the things they hate. Shouldn’t losing weight be done for the right reasons? Like wanting to be healthy?

    The constant sexualisation of women in the media, is the reason so many women feel the need to “dress a certain way” or “act a certain way” or to even “be a certain way”… As you said: “I was still reading my magazines, taking in what was shown to me, and allowing my value to be based on what the media told me”
    Why can’t we all just be ourselves and not worry about meeting the impossible standards of the girls they show in the magazines?

    Great job.

  3. the Hiv Aids ad is truly repulsive. and to believe that the ad is for something so serious like Hiv Aids makes me cringe. i dont understand how such a serious and drastic issue can be turned into a joke through ads like this one. this is not an ad that i believe that should ever be in mainstream media. very sad.

  4. Social media is now another way to perpetuate the beauty and only attention to those who showcase their body and not their brains. On facebook and on twitter people always put up pictures of themselves wearing little to no clothing and repeatedly share their photos all for likes. As if a like is some merit to be proud of, the more likes you have the more you feel liked. But is this really the case? Do they like you or do they like what you’re showing them?

  5. First off, I totally agree. The fact that a magazine is promoting, or inferring, eating disorders is repulsive. The idea of beauty has become this impossible goal. A girl has to live up to a picture in a magazine that isn’t even real. On top of that she is judged on her actions in her sex life. If she is frequently sexually active she is considered a slut, but then there is a total shift when i comes to men. While women are shamed men are praised. Seriously what is this? There is a double standard and its ridiculous.

    I though you really captured the intensity of this problem when you said, ” This is blatant “slut-shaming,” or seeing women as dirty or wrong simply for having a sex life.”

    Girl, we have got to stop this! We are the future and it is our responsibility to see this change for future generations.

  6. I completely understand what you mean when you talk about the way media literacy changed your lens, because I experienced the same thing. I currently have 3 years worth of Teen Vogue Magazines in my recycling bin. Maybe even more, and now when I look through magazines like these all I see is the pressure to be a certain kind of person and it maddens me that I never really saw it before. This is what is heart-wrenching about media literacy: the simple fact that most people don’t have it and probably won’t have it until they are taught about it.

    “The face of the woman is not shown, as though it is bad to be the kind of woman who enjoys having sex. Ms. Magazine encourages people to send letters of complaint to the organizations who create these ads, and the magazines who publish them.” – I think that this is really powerful because it makes me think about how it’s ok for a man to enjoy sex and fantasize about it, in fact he’s commended on it and his friends might go something like “yeah, man” or “gettin’ it in!” But on the other hand if a woman enjoys it she’s either sex-crazed or a slut. Yet the media tells women to be more provocative and sexy…but it’s slutty to enjoy sex. Hmm….gender roles; we don’t seem to have a say as women.

  7. It is pretty unbelievable that mainstream media has such strong control over the way we view beauty in women. It goes completely against the standard morals of human life, in that we are all born who we are with our own bodies. The media has one body; a skinny (but not too skinny), big boobed (but not too big) body that set in stone as the body that “attractive” girls are supposed to have. That example you use with Elle magazine is really disturbing but a great example of this principle that you have to look a certain way. Why should anyone care if someone else hates their body? Your body belongs to you and the only person that should be in charge is yourself.

  8. I went through many of the same transformations as you had: from enjoying magazines such as Teen Vogue, People, the occasional Cosmo, Elle, and even Shape, to applying a critical lens to each and every article I see. For example, although Women’s Health and Shape are suppose to be…well, about women’s health. Yet, the major components in these magazines are all about losing weight. I remember one even suggesting a fasting cleanse, although many of us already know that your body actually cleanses itself if it is well-hydrated and that you can actually lose muscle, become fatigued and lower your metabolism. It can even reduce your heart’s ability to pump enough blood and oxygen to your brain resulting in vertigo or fainting. They also tend to advertise diet pills and only base a woman’s accomplishments on the amount of weight they lost. Clearly that is NOT healthy and is obviously a sly advertising tactic to sell us this completely unrealistic image of how a woman should look like.
    I also like that you included the HIV ad in your post as well. I wanted to put it in my post as well, but I was afraid I’d be too passionate and enraged for my opinions to even be coherent. But, you did a pretty good job with analyzing how negative its significance is. What I also realized was that I woman is being slut-shamed for having multiple partners, and also being accused of having HIV in this advertisement. Yet in the Axe ad posted on Bruke’s post, you can see that a man is being praised for billions of girls chasing after him. This double-standard is present in many present-day media forms.
    I like the end of your post. You not only mentioned the affects of the way women are portrayed in the media, but you also said how this class has changed you. I feel like you extended beyond the post and did an amazing job at doing so.

  9. I always found magazines with all of those funny ads and silly stories and tips to be entertaining and kind of funny. Then you point out that these magazines are trying to tell certain girls that they are not attractive and give out tips to lower their self-esteem and force them to become skinny and “beautiful.” You point that out along with a whole bunch of stories of the effects that these ads have on young girls, all of a sudden these magazines are as funny as I thought they were. Makes me wonder if the people writing all of this garbage know what they are actually doing or maybe they do know and they just do not care.
    I love that you put forth Ms. Magazine as an example of what a magazine can look like without the sexualization of women and still be pretty good. It’s also great to read that exploring this topic has opened your eyes to seeing a hidden truth all around you.

  10. Just as you Livia, I never bothered questioning the pictures or articles of most magazines that portrayed women sexually or recommended the audience to lose weight. Nor did I questioned all the times that me and my friends laugh at sexual jokes. But ever since I took the feminism course offered at our high school, I have begun analyzing the media in a different way, By doing so, I have noticed that what most media and magazines say nowadays in not appropriate or acts like a brainwasher for audiences. Here is a Elie magazine “motivating yourself (the reader) to lose weight”.I honestly think it’s a horrible thing to motivate someone to lose weight just so they can look more beautiful. I didn’t know how to react when I read the line that your wrote “One tip suggested that I stand in front of the mirror, look at my body, notice what I didn’t like, think about what parts of my body made me feel bad, and envision what I wanted to change.” It makes me feel angry when I see dehumanizing pictures of women, such as the example you showed from Duncan Quinn. The feminist media has truly opened our eyes to examine other media through different lenses.

  11. I was absolutely shocked for quite some time by the HIV/AIDS ad. I found it disturbing and incredibly offensive, but most of all I found shocking the realization that I probably have come across it in the past and have never bothered to actually look. I also really loved how you compared the articles in Elle and Ms. because it is so important to me, to realize that unfortunately the difference is more then broad and not all people have a chance to find magazines and pieces of literature like the ones we have been exposed to in this course.

    I also really liked how you pointed out the part of the movie Miss Representation in which they take a girl and get “Her hair and make-up get done, and pictures are taken of her under the most flattering of lighting. Even after all that, she is photo-shopped to make sure that every ‘flaw’ is wiped away.” it had been a scene that had hit me too. Great writing!

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