What should a powerful, successful woman look like?
Every day, the media tells us. At the store, you’ll see tabloids splashed with Christina Aguilera’s thighs, then come home to news of Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton’s pantsuits (yes, still). Regardless of whether you’re a fan of what the woman is saying or doing, the critical commentary drowns out her voice.
We’re left with a very narrow definition of beauty.
This is the focus of the new documentary “Miss Representation,” airing Thursday, October 20th at 9 p.m. on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). The film, the directorial debut of Jennifer Siebel Newsom, an actor, Stanford MBA, mother and wife of California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, suggests that girls and women will painstakingly aspire to meet these unrealistic standards, even subconsciously.
Confidence-cutting messages continue to sell, and we’re buying it.
The documentary depicts how American women are underrepresented in positions of power. Though females are roughly half of the country’s population, they comprise 17 percent of the U.S. Congress, 16 percent of the protagonists in films and 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
About half of seven-year-olds want to be president, but by the time children hit their teen years, that aspiration falls by the wayside for girls. Our appearance-focused environment may play a role in how a girl thinks about her future.
What’s happening here?
“We’ve created this culture. If it’s hurting our youth, we’ve gone too far,” Newsom tells YouBeauty. “We need to support each other, finding what beautiful inside. We need to start to value women for their contributions to women at large.“
Here are three ways we can avoid falling into the Miss Representation trap.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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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