Self-esteem is defined as confidence and satisfaction in oneself. My self-esteem barometer drops rapidly after scouring model-of-the-moment Instagrams or looking at fashion magazines, screens or films. It makes sense…”Today’s youth receive more images of unachievable beauty in one day than I saw in my entire adolescence,” echoed Caryn Franklin at a recent fashion and feminism lecture: “Young members of the audience, you will have four hours of media messaging in your day.”
Media imagery and broadcast is a powerful beast then. The many hours I spend watching reality television has a subconscious impact on me, right? Women pitted against women; thrown into a gladiator stadium, catfight here, botox there, get your hands off my man everywhere. “Reality TV is a contemporary culture backlash against women’s rights.” Roared a commentator on documentary film Miss Representation.
I found out about Miss Representation through the All Walks website. They hosted a screening at the House of Commons with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image and Central YMCA, to fire up a debate around the lack of female role models in the media.
After the trailer I was hooked. A distressed girl says to the camera, “There is no appreciation for women intellectuals, it is all about the body, not about the brain.” A featured female news anchor unknowingly backs her up with a scathing review of one of the world’s most powerful female politicians: “You all saw the famous photo from Hillary [Clinton] at the weekend, looking so haggard and looking, like, 92 years old!”
Written, directed and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who says: “I couldn’t imagine how my daughter could grow up to be emotionally healthy and fulfilled given our modern culture,” the documentary tackles the everyday effects of cultural misogyny on young women’s psyche and consciousness. It asks the question: if no matter what we do, our value still lies in our bodies, then how can we evolve and develop? The documentary is now available to view on Netflix.
With its strap line…”You can’t be what your can’t see,” we learn that men hold 97 per cent of clout in the entertainment and media industries. With a male perspective dominating our perceptions of ourselves the film rightly questions how women can progress if they are only ever portrayed as sexy girlfriends.
Women as sex objects or ornaments is a persistent motif; even women in power, such as Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice are trivialised by media judgment of their outfit choice or hairstyle. I felt anger. I felt sad. I felt like I had been lied to my whole life. I felt like I had been conditioned and undermined.
Female self-esteem is constantly taking a hammering. After watching Miss Representation, I feel it my duty as a young journalist to promote this film. Being made aware of the mechanisms at play has empowered me and I want it to empower you too. If you do anything today, log onto Netflix, and watch Miss Representation. Ask yourself this: how was your self-esteem yesterday, now, and how do you hope it will be for all of us tomorrow?
Missrepresentation is available to watch on Netflix now.
Elspeth Merry is a recent University of the Arts London Journalism graduate. She was Features Editor of her University newspaper Arts London News, and is the Features Assistant at 1883 Magazine. She has also written for the Huffington Post and spent last summer in New York writing for Zink Magazine.