Race in the Media

September 4, 2010
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Beauty leads to acceptance. Society sets standards people must meet to be considered attractive or desirable. America provides a very narrow body or face the younger generation feels pressured to resemble; this gives certain teens unfair barriers. In magazines especially, these images regularly confront young people today. The number of teens who belong to minority groups is rapidly rising, while the Caucasian teen population is steadily decreasing, according to Mediamark Research. Still, the diversity in models is lacking. Aren’t magazines for everyone? One always searches for oneself in a product or an idea. It is natural to search for a mirror image, for the reassurance of being “normal”. When the media fails to produce these images, teens inevitably begin to have low self-esteem.


Millions of teens read magazines, from Teen Vogue to Seventeen. About one third of those teens will be teens of minority groups (for brevity, TMG). They will all be shown glossy-haired, waif-like models with blatantly Caucasian facial features. The message is quite clear: these are the images all teens must emulate to become beautiful to the community. Despite statistic evidence of a richer, more diverse teen population, America is still rooted deeply in the all-white fantasy.


About 65% of American teens are Caucasian White, 15% African American/Black (non-Hispanic), 15% Hispanic/Latino, and 5% Asian American. 35% are not Caucasian. It is both logical and considerate for the media to take this data seriously, and use it accordingly in tools meant to advertise, or reach the public. On observing the advertisements in Seventeen magazine, all were dominated by white models. 74% of the models were Caucasian, 14% were African American, none were Asian, and 10% were of mixed race. The media’s feeble clinging to such unrealistic and exclusive images is impractical and racist. As Susan Owusu, director of the communications and Media Literacy program at Wheelock College says, “Media can powerfully shape ideas about people or groups. Media messages are too often a poor substitute for real world multicultural experience in a society still as segregated as America.” Adolescents take these ideas presented by the media and automatically begin to apply them to other young people. These ideas can develop into stereotypes, which negatively affect not only TMG but the entire teen population.
One third of American teens feel out of place, and struggle to fit in. Many teens receive messages from authority that being different is a blessing through teachers, parents, and public figures; the media shatters confidence and independence necessary for the development of this message in these teens. TMG especially struggle with such mixed messages. To move with the times is a wiser choice; if the media embraces color and diverse background, all adolescents will act accordingly, since the media is such a big influence on everyone’s lives. This process should begin before the country’s new generation is whitewashed and robbed of its individual identities.


Social acceptance is vital for every growing teen. Finding a place to belong and flourish can be hard, especially for teens that are not even close to the image of American beauty. As Owusu says, “Because mainstream media is rife with the stories and stereotypes that support racial prejudice it provides a perfect opportunity for students to examine and create messages about race.” Women and men who are considered “beautiful” or “handsome” in advertisements should represent something TMG can relate to. Their faces should reflect all races. If this country is so concerned with diversity and open-mindedness, the media should be used as an instructional tool. It should be appealing to teens, but also educational. TMG should be proud to see familiar faces in the media, and teens of the majority should realize that there is no standard to beauty, that beauty simply cannot be defined by one size fits all, because this country acknowledges it in many forms and colors. The media is one of the most successful ways to reach teens. Magazines, movies, TV all affect young people, directly or indirectly. Changing these warped images can have a great impact on the teen population with little effort. About one third of the population is part of the minority; it should not be difficult to find various models and change the color scheme in the media.

This is an age where identity or self-knowledge is crucial. When a large communication system full of “standard” ideals is presented to developing young adults, they automatically accept these ideals, and try to apply them to their daily lives. In a country that is built by hands of various colors, this dilemma that TMG face is saddening, for it should be unnecessary. Why not include almond eyes and chocolate skin? What is so alien about people of color for them to be so rarely represented? Aren’t they beautiful, too? Until the media can directly answer this question, Americans should not be content.

Images and representations are projected to communicate with the audience. If these images epitomize the ideal beauty of society, 35% of the teen population would be considered ugly. Caught in a stage of malleable identity, teenagers all search for a reality they can hold onto, preferably appreciated by everyone around them. The seemingly harmless advertisements in frequent teen resources, like magazines, can have hurtful and confusing nuances to TMG. As a melting pot of various peoples, the U.S. should not hold onto unrealistic and exclusive standards. In fifty years, the white majority is likely to become the minority, for TMG are consistently multiplying. America should be, and can be prepared, for it is full of promising youth, and not all of them are Caucasian. This country should be capable of considering every one of them as uniquely beautiful.





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