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Women in the media: give the stereotypes a makeover

Women in the media: give the stereotypes a makeover

Worried that unrealistic beauty standards are all your child sees on their screens? Our fun activity plan will let you both give the stereotypes a makeover.

Young people are under ever-increasing pressure to look ‘perfect’. It’s enough to make any mom anxious. “I find it worrying that there is little diversity in the culture aimed at tweens and teens,” says Gill, mom to Kirsty, 13, and Natalie, 11. “I’m crying out for some better role models for my daughters, because there comes a time when a teenager takes more notice of what they see on the TV and online.”

That’s why we’ve put together an action checklist to help you challenge the stereotypes.

The evidence on media stereotypes 

“One of the major underlying causes for increasing low self-esteem among young people is that they do not see their uniqueness reflected back at them within the media environment that surrounds them,” says leading UK psychotherapist Dr. Susie Orbach🔗. “They see so many perfected images of girls and women that this idea of how they need to be seeps into them, leading them to feel their own loveliness is inadequate.”

Studies such as “Body Image: An Introduction to Advertising and Body Image” show that looking at magazines for just 60 minutes lowers self-esteem in over 80% of girls. So, it isn’t surprising that 6 out of 10 teenage girls think they’d be happier if they had a different body shape. We need to teach young people to be more media-savvy. This starts with helping them understand that these images aren’t real and teaching them to love what makes them unique – instead of an idealized version of beauty. 

Women and the media: the figures don’t add up

It might shock you that males outnumber females 3-to-1 in family movies. And when it comes to body image, the figures don’t add up either. Females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a tiny waistline, and women are almost four times as likely as men to be shown through a sexualised lens.

And what about those ‘shocking – celebrities without makeup!’ articles in gossip magazines? While they might insist they run them to make us non-celebrities feel better about ourselves, it’s quite the opposite. In a survey by Girlguiding (PDF) (8.3MB)🔗, 71% of girls and young women aged 11-21 feel that newspapers, magazines and influencers on social media need to do more to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes.

By helping young people to realize that what they see online is often filtered, edited or a highlights reel of someone else's life, you’ll help them develop their critical thinking and avoid potentially damaging comparisons. As they learn more about what’s real and what’s not on social media, they’ll also feel more confident expressing and enjoying their own unique beauty. 

We’re on a mission to build confidence in young people. Try our action checklist and encourage a young person in your life to think about stereotypes and unrealistic beauty ideals online. 

  • 1

    Start a conversation

    Next time you watch a film or TV show together, talk to them about the female characters. How many were there? What jobs did they have, and what was their part in the storyline? All too often they will be one-dimensional – hardly representative of the diverse lives women lead today. Even when they play a lawyer, doctor, or engineer, they typically fit a visual stereotype, suggesting that looks are a crucial part of female achievement.

  • 2

    Look for inspiration

    Ask them why they think the media chooses such limiting roles for women and how it makes them feel. Can they think of any movies or books where the heroine is more inspiring?

  • 3

    Imagine something better

    If your child were to have a starring role in a film, what would they like their character to be famous for?

  • 4

    Rewrite the rules for magazines

    Look through magazines together and rip out images of women in ads, fashion shoots, and features. Then play a game of  ‘spot the difference’ – list all the similarities you notice, and circle anything that represents a more real or diverse image of women.

  • 5

    Celebrate uniqueness

    What makes us unique is what makes us beautiful – so talk about it, and how few people in real life match up to the media’s vision of beauty.

  • 6

    Separate fact from fiction

    Discuss the clothes and styles you see in magazines. Explain that these looks have been carefully picked by stylists. What else has been done to enhance the model’s appearance, and how realistic are these features?

  • 7

    Start a makeover with a difference

    Try “restyling” a magazine page together to reflect the real people your child knows, and explore what they would prefer to see. Write your own captions, draw different items of clothing, and unique features.

  • 8

    Don’t forget social media

    With the rise of digital distortion and filters on social media. it’s easier than ever to alter our appearance and mimic unrealistic beauty ideals. This can make it hard for young people to know what’s real and what’s not. Join our #NoDigitalDistortion movement and take the pledge to build confidence in young people.

    To protect privacy, we’ve changed the names of people whose stories we tell on these pages, but the stories are genuine.

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