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.
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.
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.