Media & the Toll it Takes on Youth

January 20, 2011
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Whether we realize it or not, mainstream media plays a major role in how we view ourselves.
The  way we perceive things through specific forms of medium such as television can in fact alter our views on self image. This is especially true of teenagers and adolescents, perhaps the most impressionable age bracket.
Most teenage males dream of being physically fit and pretty good looking in order to attract females in the same way that most girls desires to posess the qualities and physical attributes that will make people see them as being beautiful.
The problem that television introduces is a glorified pedestal upon which the pretentious standards of what society holds as beauty is placed. Adolescent viewers hold these standards in some kind of dogmatic reverence and are misguided into believing these to be the only true governing characteristics of beauty.
These are stereotypes that seem to rule the way teens today view themselves. Author and personal weight loss trainer, James Rouse argues "teens have a picture in their minds of what the perfect body is and they try to measure up to that image." Day after day they are bombarded by people and things telling them what they should and should not look like. This places certain expectations and pressures on youth to look a certain way. Kristen Harrison, assistant professor of communication at the University of Michigan states that "children's interpersonal attraction to television characters appears to play an important role in the outcomes of television exposure vis-a-vis fat stereotyping and body shape standards". Meaning that if you are not as skinny as a super model or you do not have ripped abs and arms, society deems you as being excluded from the elite cadre it considers to be beautiful.
Television programs that are created to appeal to teenage audiences too often subject viewers to these false expectations by producing archetypal characters that conform to a stock or stereotypical personality such as the aforementioned. According to A recent study conducted by an intelligence group at global consumer OTX, over fifty-one percent of surveyed teens cited tv shows as an influence on how they viewed themselves.
For as long as I can remember, television has always portrayed characters in the show in a predictable cast. There is a jock or athletic type, a nerd, a pretty boy, a cheer leader, and an array of other characters  that conform to the standards that society holds.
The show Saved By The Bell is a fairly well known teen sitcom that aired from the late eighties up until the early nineties. It did a particularly good job of casting a group of characters that fit a mold.
The show starred a fairly good looking young male named Mark-Paul Gosselaar who played the role of Zack Morris, an all around popular high school kid who had a way with the young ladies and seemed to be a magnet for trouble. The sitcom followed Zack and his friends through their four years at Bayside High and the experiences they endured.
Zack befriends a pretty boy jock named AC Slater who has a gentle side and also becomes quite popular with the females. Also accompanying him is Samuel "Screech" Powers, a meager, awkward looking nerd who's not exactly as suave and debonair as he and Slater but has a way of making people laugh and had been good friends with Zack for years.
These three young men also are good friends with an interesting trio of girls. There is Kelly Kapowski, a cheerleader and main point of Zack's obsession. She is friends with Lisa Turtle and Jessie Spano, a fashionista that loves to  gossip and a die hard feminist straight A student. Together they compose the group of six main characters that the show follows.
Although all of these individuals have their issues, none of them have any issue with self image. In fact they are all fairly good looking people and each possess charming traits. Not only does this insinuate that there are no bad looking teens within their social circle, but if you pay attention to the show, there really aren't any bad looking people at Bayside high.
The only character that seems aware of the issue of self image is Jessie. She takes feminism  to a whole new level and with good reason because according to author and motivational speaker, Robin Gerber, the media targets females more often than males. Gerber quotes activist Jean Kilbourne in her argument that "women are sold to the diet industry by the magazines we read and the television programs we watch, almost all of which make us feel anxious about our weight." This is particularly disturbing because it gives females a view of unattainable beauty.
In addition Harrison argues, "television viewing in general imposes an increased tendency among boys to negatively stereotype unattractive girls" which then creates egotism in males.
As Rouse states "during adolescence their (teen's) bodies are going through hormonal changes which they have no control over." This is exactly the point, teens have little to no control over how they may look. There are some steps that can be taken such as regular exercise regimen and a balanced diet, but television takes it too far.
In conclusion, parents need to make an effort to reassure their children that the images portrayed on television are simply opinionated visions of inauthentic beauty. Teens need a positive outlook on natural and reasonably attainable self image. Society can not continue to allow television to dictate the lives of the youth making them miserable and misled. Instead they must be able to see and appreciate the beauty in all things--including themselves.





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