Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Media’s Effect on Society: From Beauty Ads to Mean Girls

By Layla Connelly

Television, movies, and magazines; are they just entertaining us? Or feeding our media addiction? Americans are addicted to the gossip and lives of celebrities. Every move they make is either recorded or documented, and we are more then caught up in this frenzy. We read and watch every moment of their lives, but is it just simply entertainment? Or is affecting young girls? Girls are becoming women and mothers younger than ever before. Thirteen year olds are giving birth, it has recently become an epidemic, and basically, babies are having babies! With sex being advertised everywhere, teens are being brainwashed and doing things they are not ready for. Between everyone on television being beautiful, skinny, and provocative, in addition to television shows based on teenagers being promiscuous without suffering consequences, such as Gossip Girl and the O.C., who is to be blamed?

The media puts extreme emphasis on weight and beauty. The desire to imitate the looks of these women can take a harsh toll on young girls self esteem. They stress themselves out about not having the ideal body, and diet until they can fit in to a double zero. They wear make-up and outfits that would generally be worn by older girls; this draws a certain attention to them -attention that girls at that age should not be getting. This makes it hard for people, especially males to determine the age of the teens. The older the girls look the more enticing they become to men which is when many problems arise.

Pressure to be in shape and to be beautiful is not only applied by males, it is also applied by other girls, such as the popular girls. Popularity is usually not based on how kind or funny a person is, but on how pretty they are, and what they wear. Girls try to imitate the fashion they see in magazines and television, once again, the media is influencing young girls, basically in every aspect of their lives. Girls can be vicious during their teen years. They can be rude, hurtful, and extremely mean towards each other. For the duration of this time period, girls find it crucial to have a clique and be in the right social circle. They will go to extremes to be popular, even to the point that they sacrifice themselves. Some girls change in to a complete different person. A perfect example of this behavior would be the movie “Mean Girls” starring teen star Lindsey Lohan. Lindsey played the role of a girl who completely changed her identity to fit in with the popular girls, and to get the cutest guy at school. Throughout the movie she, and the popular girls made several references to the pop culture world that we live in. The entire movie relates to this topic, however, in one scene, one of the popular girls’ younger sister, who cannot be older then maybe eight years old, is suggestively singing and dancing in front of the television imitating the celebrity she is watching, it shows just how young girls start.

For young girls with low self esteem, male attention is very important, and sometimes it is easier to gain then finding a clique that accepts you. At such a tender age, vulnerability is common, leaving girls to wear their emotions on their sleeves. When girls get attention from males it can make them feel better about themselves, this gives men the power. As well as being vulnerable, young girls tend to be naive because they have not had the life experiences that most have had. A young naive girl may believe everything and anything she is told by a man, in hopes of being loved or even admired. This is where manipulation can play a major role. Older boys or men can take complete advantage, and mentally or physically abuse the teens. They can convince them to have sex, even if they are not ready.

Virginity is something that was once sacred and precious, but now teens are losing their virginity younger and younger. The danger in that goes beyond just morals, but instead it can be a life altering mistake or health hazard. Pregnancy is very common in our society today, and with the young celebrity mothers, such as the sixteen-year-old mother Jamie Lynn Spears, it is only going to be more accepted. The teen birth rate has increased in twenty-six of the fifty states. However, pregnancy is not the only concern; STD’s have recently been spread like mad. Every one in four teen girls have an STD. That statistics show that seventy-five percent of teens have had sex before they turn twenty years old, and one in three get pregnant. Only fifteen percent of young females report keeping their virginity until they are twenty-one.

My reason for believing that the media has a strong impact on teens today, besides the fact that sex sells is because in society today, sex is everywhere. Whether it is a men’s magazine or a music video with video vixens half dressed, the sex appeal is there. However, sex did not always sell. In the 1950’s sex was not advertised as it is today, it was more personal and private act, and teen pregnancy was rare. It has since gone from thirteen percent in 1950 to seventy nine percent in the year 2000. Since 2000, teen pregnancy has only gotten worse.

I believe this drive to know more comes from being a teenage girl growing up in this generation. I cannot honestly say I don’t keep up with the media and the celebrities, because I do. I am no fanatic like some, but I do have an understanding of what is going on. I was also a young girl who did have very low self esteem and was insecure, so a lot of this I can relate to. I can understand the reasoning behind some girls' concerns and actions. I also have many friends who are teen mothers, and I see firsthand how hard it can be. They become a mother before then can even get into a bar. They have responsibilities I could never handle, there’s no more going out on the weekends for them, or hanging out with friends. It is all about their baby and doing what they have to for their child. Some of my friends can’t even go to school because they have no time; their lives consist of working and taking care of their baby. I do not think that is anyway for a teenager to live. Although, I respect them very much for their decision because they made a mistake and they realized that and have owned up to it. They are being responsible and mature in this situation because many girls get abortions to avoid the life changing decision; 1.29 million abortions were recorded in 2002.

I think the media should be more aware of this issue. If they do continue to advertise sex as they have been, and they will, they should make it a point to broadcast the consequences. Tyra Banks tries to help teens on her talk show by helping them gain self esteem, and letting them know the dangers of their actions, as well as how harsh and unrealistic the media can be. However, she was a runway model for years and is still a curvaceous beautiful woman who is admired. Therefore, I feel as if she constantly contradicts herself, because she is also the producer of the show “True Beauty” and “Americas Next Top Model.”  But she is the only celebrity who comes to mind when I think about who is out there to help the little girls in this country remain little girls. I think more celebrities should take some responsibility for this epidemic and try to do something about it.

Layla Connelly is a Psychology major at St. Thomas Aquinas College. She lives with her family in New York City when she is not at school and will be entering her junior year at STAC in the Fall semester of 2010.

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