Miss Representation Film Essays

In conjunction with the Miss Representation Film Screening and Panel Discussion, the Clayman Institute hosted an essay contest that gave Stanford students, staff, and faculty the chance to take action and promote gender equality by picking one image that contributes to the underrepresentation of women and girls in the media. Each contestant used their example to write an original 150-word essay expressing how they would challenge the media's limited portrayal of women and girls. 

The winning submissions were selected for their originality, clarity in expressing the message, vision, and awareness of issues surrounding women in the media. The judges for the contest included Founder and Creative Director of Maternal Instinct Kat Gordon, Director of the Stanford Healthy Body Image Program Megan Jones, Director of Miss Representation Jennifer Siebal Newsom, and Executive Producer of Miss Representation Regina Scully. 

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It would be nice if The Media were a villain like the ones we used to root against in Disney movies so a superhero(ine) could just lock it up. But The Media is not a villain, because it’s me, and it’s you, and it’s everyone around us. So we have to fight it from within and remember that we’re innocent and guilty because just like a single image, nothing is really evil unless you look hard enough. So take a hard look and think about how you really feel about the fact that apparently, women don’t even need a face anymore—just an airbrushed body. If we can use our faces to remind ourselves that they do, in fact, exist and don’t all look like cars, then maybe our faces can make their way into advertising or—gasp—out of magazine pages.

Amanda Rost. Stanford Undergraduate. Class of 2014.

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The image I have chosen is a piece from Shahid Afridi’s Lawn Collection, 2011. It features traditional Muslim outfits as a fashion statement. For me, I chose an image that did NOT contribute to the under-representation of women, primarily because it is too easy to find women of Islam who are portrayed as agentless, subservient, and tragic victims of patriarchy in the media. I love this picture precisely because it portrays a woman standing in a commanding pose with presence, and she is NOT wearing all black garments (google ‘Muslim Woman’ and see what I mean). She is not hypersexualized; she is not demonized; she is not weak. I interpret the woman as one who makes an active choice to be Muslim not because she is a brainwashed pawn, but because her religion empowers her. Her garments are a reflection of her religion, and her garments are beautiful.

Thanh D. Nguyen. Stanford Undergraduate. Class of 2013.

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Not all women business leaders act like Meryl Streep’s cruel character in Devil Wears Prada. But the common media portrayal of successful businesswomen as harsh and manipulative perpetuates myths that endanger women’s advances in business. Myth 1: Nice girls can’t succeed. I witnessed girls choosing not to go into business because they thought they lacked the necessary edge. Myth 2: To be taken seriously in the male-dominated office, women should act mean. I’ve seen female managers act mean because they thought it was necessary, when a more balanced approach might have worked better. Myth 3: Fellow women in the workplace are not to be trusted. I had amazing female mentors, but I also had female friends who were mistrusted and therefore mistreated by their female colleagues. So: we need successful female businesswomen with a variety of management styles in our movies, shows, and news coverage. I’m working on it.

Leslie Georgatos. Stanford Graduate School of Business. First Year.

Have you ever seen a film that from the opening credits, was gut wrenching, pulling out emotions that were unexpected yet completely natural at the same time? As I listened to the opening narration of the documentary, Miss Representation, by Jennifer Seibel, that is the feeling that I had.

Weeks ago, when the opportunity presented itself to view this film, I took it without hesitation. It was a fairly random offer through a wonderful organization, The Justice League of Reading, appearing through an email, to view a film that discussed women and girls in media. This is something that I have always taken silent issue with. I see it happen on a daily basis. I watch women degraded by our society and picked apart for the way they look, even by other women. I am always comforted, however, by news stories that I read and see that state, “it is getting better”.

Is it? I believed that it was until viewing this film. I have read stories time and time again that women are “making a comeback”.

Now, I am not so sure. In fact, I am pretty convinced that it is only getting worse.

As I began watching the film, my initial reaction was to become defensive. I thought, “These pictures that are being shown, these video clips that are being displayed, they are only so intense because I’m seeing them strung together all at once. It is not like that in real life.” But I allowed myself to remain open to the thought.  The idea that the average child spends over 10 hours a day engulfed by media, whether it is a images on an iPhone, in magazines, TV, movies, or video games, these ideas are being presented to our children 10 hours a day. 10 hours.

Suddenly, this grouping of still shots made into a movie that seemed so unreal were just the opposite. They were alarmingly real. You see, our children are being exposed to that much media in a week, easily. We are taking them to grocery stores where images of women in bathing suits posing on magazine covers are unavoidable. They are catching glimpses of the news where women are feeling the pressure of their media culture to wear low cut, skimpy outfits to get more eyes on their show. They are seeing women in politics have their looks be constantly talked about, sometimes more than their ideas in many newscasts. How can our kids grow up having a positive self esteem, thinking that pretty doesn’t equal power, knowing that doing their best to be their best is good enough if they are seeing just the opposite of that every day? Are we doomed?

As Miss Representation went on, I sat there and teared up at the statistics being shown. 65% of American women and girls report disordered eating behaviors. 25% of girls will experience teen dating violence.  Watching the correlation that has been made between the messages from the media and depression, violence, aggression, and decreased self worth was nothing short of horrifying. I thought two things: How can I change this (and is it even possible)? And I am so lucky.

In some ways, it feels as though we may be helpless, that our society is so far gone that there may not be any way to change. But that is an excuse. I am trying hard to not do excuses. So, I listened throughout the movie. I listened for cues on how I can be a part of that change. It is difficult. I plan on spreading awareness. I plan on spreading the idea of media literacy – the idea of educating our children when they are young about the messages that are given to them in the media and how they can decipher them. What a shame that it has come to this. That we need to add another piece of education to our children’s lives because there is a business (many businesses) out there that cares more about sales and numbers than the morality of doing what is right. Media outlets that are okay with their correspondents bashing other individuals, their looks and their families (especially women) to increase viewers and gain public acceptance. Isn’t this what we are constantly trying to teach our children not to do?

Our children come in contact with situations every single day of their lives where they need to decipher what messages mean. Whether it is overhearing someone on the news say that Hilary Clinton looks like Dumbo, or watching someone on the street catcall a woman, our children, no matter what age they are, have to process what that means to them. Unfortunately, we as parents are not always there to help them through that and so it is these incidents that have the possibility of leaving a negative impression on them and setting a bad example. If this were isolated and we could talk our children through the thought process every time this happened, it wouldn’t be such a huge issue, but the truth is, these are not isolated events.

I feel lucky and thankful because I have two sons that have the perfect example of how to be a man and a daughter that has a father that treats women with the utmost respect. Their father tells their mother that he loves her every day. It doesn’t matter what she looks like, she is always beautiful. They don’t hear him talk about other people in a derogatory way. They see him try his hardest to do the right thing every single day. Even when it’s hard.

For me, Miss Representation is the beginning of a re-realization of just how much our society needs to take a step back and look at how and why they do things. We need to start standing up for what we believe and stop supporting the things that we don’t believe in. We need to teach our children to do the right thing. We need to teach our girls that they are worth every single bit of power and praise that they get because they worked just as hard if not harder to get to where they are, and the way they look does not determine their worth.

More personally, take a second and think about how your own life is affected by the media, how your daughter or son’s life is. What can you do to change that? Maybe let them go to school tomorrow with two different socks on or mismatched shirt and pants, because does that really matter? Does it make them less of a person to do so? Does it matter if your child is intent on putting their own hair up? Try to praise them instead of redoing it when there is a piece that they missed. We can control our own lives. We can control what happens inside of our house. Think carefully about the TV shows you choose to support by watching, and the messages they send to your kids. Talk to your children about what they see on the TV when you do watch it.

Create an open dialogue between your children and yourself about the messages that are given to us by the media. Take ownership and take action. It may be cliche, but “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

*You can learn more about Miss Representation and see the trailer here. Check to see if there is a screening near you because this documentary is a must-see.

About Lauryn Blakesley


A woman out to explore, celebrate, and enjoy everything that my community and living locally has to offer. Blessed with three beautiful children and an incredible husband, our family embraces adventure while dreaming of what is to come. Lover of knitting, running (although mostly after little ones right now), the color orange, fun accessories, fall, tea, and a clean kitchen floor. I spend my days in awe of my family and trying to teach my three to treat others as they would want to be treated.

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