March 29th 2014
Differences between the two genders have been discussed and studied year after year throughout our human existence. This intrigued many scholars and its interest skyrocketed during the mid 90’s and the start of the new millennium when computers, smart phones, and social media became an obsession. Whether or not these differences are biological or due to societal influence, media (specifically TV in this case) has played an extremely large role in how we behave and interact with others throughout our everyday lives. Year after year, researchers, TV critics, and the general public tuned in and spread the word of which TV programs generate the most interest and had the most views. With Netflix, HBO, Hulu, etc now allowing us to record and rewatch these series on our own time, to many, it becomes an addiction and investment. TV producers critique and analyze which shows, characters, and plots interest certain audiences and then specifically repeat these ideas or “trends” through a new creative series. Producers perhaps may start a new TV series deliberately for a different age group but simultaneously delivers the same solution to their now known “initial problem” they are told they have, and is then sent off to be aired towards their target audience on a different network.
For example, TV series like YouTube’s “The Littlest Pet Shop,” CW’s “America’s Next Top Model”, and TLC’s “What Not To Wear” are each consumed by many different age groups, yet reinforce nearly the same messages. In this article I will be distinguishing the many ways these TV series portray reoccurring messages to it’s viewers which influences and shapes women’s expectations and molds our identity in this society. I will be focusing on the fact that due to repeated television trends, TV’s influence grows both vertically and horizontally across the world by not only aiming towards different age groups with negative messages but still continues as a vicious cycle.
With the power, attachment, and great influence we give it, media has unjustly forced many expectations into our brains whether we like it or not. Ideas of body image and societal roles are skewed due to the media’s influence and to many, its messages are subconsciously absorbed, and later reenacted because it the “norm” due to its repetition. Let’s take YouTube’s series “The Littlest Pet Shop.” This animated series is targeted towards little girls around the ages anywhere between 7-14 years old and is based off of a little plastic toy line of ‘pets’. In the episode, “Bullying” the main character, Jennifer, is harassed by her “best friend,” Melissa and receives a message on the internet that explains how they cant be friends because she’s ugly, and not popular. The message includes words like “scumbag”, “piece of trash”, and “idiot.” One critic explains the show as “Two mean-girl types berate their peers, ragging on their clothing, their hobbies, and their choice of friends, and plotting mean-spirited pranks against them.” Short series on YouTube like “The Littlest Pet Shop” are hard to control kids to watch because it’s either unheard of, or is ignored by many parents and assume their kids are just watching a cartoon with headphones. But, in reality the messages that are exposed and absorbed by these little girl viewers have a greater chance of repeating such behavior and will be performed at school, on the playground, etc . The younger the audience, more naïve, innocent, and unaware these social influences negatively impact our future generations. The media misleads girls thinking that if you’re not, skinny, wealthy, have the right clothes, or have a lot of friends, well then you’re undeserving, irrelevant, and out. This mentality of being the “perfect girl” doesn’t correlate with your self worth over others, or act as a higher power, and nowadays the media is supposedly teaching and influencing girls this at the unknowing age of seven.
Going up the spectrum, Generation Y is a highly targeted audience and are induced through many misleading and exaggerated television shows which aims towards the ages of 16-late 20’s. TV shows like CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” hosted by Tyra Banks would justify her show as “broadening the definition of beauty” but according to Huffington Post research suggests that watching the show actually makes women feel worse about their bodies and more insecure. Rebecca Martin, from WetPaint blogger explains ANTM as “a constant parade of young, skinny women being told they aren’t pretty enough in photo shoots” which justifies and makes sense as to why women tend feel this way after. When the ladies don’t make the cut, they’re told their either “too forced”, “too dark”, “not trying”, or it’s the “wrong look.”
When we see these gorgeous girls on TV with their hair done, makeup done, clothes fitted, and then are rejected because they’re not good enough, how would it feel to sit on the other side of the screen? It’s not motivating, nor inspirational, it’s self-inflicting pain and sets a bad example for young women who are trying to fit in. This target audience is getting use to their maturing bodies, emotions, etc and to have a competition that is solely based on look and a photograph doesn’t reflect a woman’s success. When media influences society to abide by these excessive representations of the “perfect model” its results are solely judged and based off of one consequence, body image. In order to make it to the “Top” you have to fit “A, B and C” requirements and have an “X,Y, and Z” personality, etc. Could this potentially be a cause as to why young girls develop eating disorders and extreme insecurity issue? Our society tries to control and manipulate our minds through television and sway us into what they think is the “best” for us. Unfortunately, it tends to works for a majority of viewers because these messages are subconsciously cycled and reinforced in our head as “desirable,” retrospectively “unattainable” which is sets the bar extremely high, at the same time sets us up for failure.
Lastly, TLC’s “What Not to Wear” aims towards our generation X, who are about 35 – 50 years old. This group is an easy target because they are seen to be “out of date with style and the newest trends.” The show shrewdly connects fashion with the contestant’s real life problems. For example, perhaps the main reason as to why the individual was initially chosen to have a makeover is because their friend or co-worker wanted to help them out with their life problems as if it explains why they’re “still single” or “cant get a job” or “recently got divorced” is exclusively due to wardrobe and the way the look. Whether these instances may or may not be true, it puts the idea in women’s heads that they aren’t good enough and puts the blame of why their unsuccessful at that point in their life. It has to be because the way they dress, their color of hair, or how they do their makeup right?! The “promise” that is forced upon the individual is that they have to literally throw away their old personal wardrobe that stylist, Clinton and Kelly think is not acceptable in order for them to continue with the makeover.
Overall it’s shows like these we continue to watch because they catch our attention with the drama, the competition aspect, perhaps the feeling of “at least I'm not them” or maybe the constant obsession of how others think of us. The shows become our “guilty pleasures” which we become addicted to see what happens “next week” or watch the season on Netflix with 10 seconds to decide if to watch the next episode or not. This negative construction of women trends more and more, and continues to expand not only vertically, coming out with additional episodes and similar shows, but horizontally across the board--now creeping into and targeting our younger generations of what is accepted and expected from women specifically based on body image, which assists for their future power, success, and self-worth. We currently live in a masculine-driven society that values men over women, and television trends like these are reinforcing women stereotypes more than rejecting them. This, as well as other mediated influences and historical assumptions unjustly presumes that women are more so seen as an item, rather an intellect.
Martin, Rebecca. "Is America's Next Top Model Bad for Women's Self-Esteem?" Wet Paint. N.p., 17 Oct. 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. <http://www.wetpaint.com/americas-next-top-model/articles/is-americas-next-top-model-bad-for-womens-selfesteem->.