“Miss Representation:” How to Overcome The Media’s Distortion of Women

Writer/Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom on how we can shape a new picture of beauty and success—which really isn’t a picture at all.

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| October 19th, 2011

1. Be conscious of media images.

If we don’t approach media with a careful eye, leafing through magazines of touched-up images may lend itself to lower body dissatisfaction and self-esteem in general. Knowing these images aren’t real may help to lessen the pressures of attaining an unachievable look.

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“Media literacy” involves understanding what went into an image and what its trying to tell us. An example: We see a head shot of a woman for a shampoo ad, and we recognize the following: 1.) Hours of professional styling made this woman’s hair shiny. 2.) Hours of professional retouching erased every flyaway (and may have made her breasts bustier). 3) That hair may be a wig (and it’s definitely extensions).

Wanting to have clean hair isn’t the issue—just know you’re more than a pretty torso and if your hair type isn’t like the model’s, it probably won’t look like that.

Newsom recommends starting with media literacy, while we work to change the actual imaging over the long hall. The website Off Our Chests just started a petition to pass a Self-Esteem Act, which would require federal legislation to have labels on ads clarifying that the models have been altered.

Newsom also suggests that we “consume good media and make conscious decisions about what we’re consuming.” By good media, she refers to programs such as the Oprah Winfrey Network, which “inspires you to be your best self, feel good as a woman and fulfill your potential.”

Women have 86 percent of the purchasing power. Using that money to consume good media may lead us in the right direction.

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2. Find a mentor; be a mentor.

Documentary interviewees Rachel Maddow and Katie Couric, among other women in the film, have been inspired by other women.

While you don’t have to be exactly like your role model, finding a mentor can spark a passion inside you. The documentary showcases a program called Minute Mentoring, where young women can get advice from professionals.

Instead of waiting for a mentorship program, start one. Get together a group of friends, offer it to girls at your age or younger,” Newsom suggests.

And when you find a mentor for yourself, “make sure they can be there for you,” Newsom says.  Come to the table with three questions you have, and three things you’d like advice on.

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3. Embrace your beauty.

Newsom believes beauty involves having a healthy mindset, giving back to the world around you and “doing the things that make people feel beautiful inside and at peace.” She talks about getting fresh air, drinking fresh water, eating balanced meals, spending time with loved ones—all the things we know help our physical and emotional health—and thus, show in our outer beauty.

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“Of course I’m not against beauty,” Newsom says.  “It’s when we spend too much time in one area, neglecting other aspects.” If you’re only focusing on your external beauty, people often exploit that and don’t recognize your other values.

You can see “Miss Representation” Thursday, October 20th at 9/8c on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Join the discussion here.

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