“78 percent of girls say they hate their bodies by the time they are 15 years old. 65 percent have an eating disorder. 17 percent cut themselves, and the number of cosmetic surgeries quadrupled on women from 1997 and 2007 and have increased sixfold since. Women are 56 percent of the population, yet only 17 percent of Congress, 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEO’s, hold only 3 percent of clout positions in media (and in a staggering statistic, only 1 women is on the board of Fox News out of 15), and are 7 percent of directors and 13 percent of the film writers.”
These jaw-dropping statistics are all quoted in Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary, Miss Representation. This documentary is a response to those who believe that women have shattered the “glass ceiling,” that women now all have basically the same rights as men, and that feminism is no longer needed.
Newsom’s idea for creating the documentary came when she was pregnant with her first daughter. Having suffered from sexual assault and surviving an eating disorder when she was a teen, Newsom wondered if her unborn daughter would ever be able to grow up in a world where she would be able to be loved and accepted as she was. “Low self-esteem, eating disorders, the media we consume, and ultimately, fewer women aspiring toward leadership,” are all areas in which Newsom says that women are suffering from being treated with second class status.
The documentary explores different aspects of society where women are omitted, or severely under-represented. Condoleeza Rice and Nancy Pelosi make powerful arguments for women in politics. Katie Couric talks about her difficulties as the first female TV network news anchor, and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow discusses the hate mail she receives because of her gender and sexuality.
While the misrepresentation of women in the media is nothing new, what has changed in the past decade is the extreme amount of consumerist material that Americans are bombarded with every day. Girls from ages 11-14 are presented with about 500 advertisements daily. Teen girl are especially vulnerable to airbrushed photo spreads in popular magazines, the popularization of fad dieting, and advertisements pushing them to be thinner, beautiful and more perfect so that they will be accepted. In turn, men are taught to think that all women are objects, to be treated with less respect than they deserve, and that there is a certain ideal that all women have to maintain in order to be beautiful.
Katie Couric sums it up perfectly. “I worry about how much pressure my daughters feel in a society that features anorexic actresses and models and television stars,” she says in the documentary. “We get conditioned to think this is what women should look like.”
However, the documentary ends by offering positive solutions. So much of the negativity that the media gears toward women is internalized, and we need to be conscious of the media’s influence in our lives, and make sure to internalize positive images instead. We need to vote female politicians into office. We need to use our consumer dollars to support body-positive images. But most of all, we need to support one another, woman to woman, in our fight for real equality in all aspects of life.