In my early high school years, I received a truly frustrating epiphany during my days as a dedicated viewer of the television program Pretty Little Liars. The series has since been dropped from my repertoire of shows after I became fed up with the producers continually stringing me along without giving me any answers; but I mean come on people, it’s being renewed for a sixth season and we still don’t know who A is! I don’t think they are ever actually going to tell. But that’s a separate issue I have; to continue, it was during the early beginnings of PLL that I reached the shocking conclusion: People in real life do not look like people in the movies or on TV.
I know, you’d think I would have come to understand that before my junior year of high school, but I didn’t. Even scarier, I realized I had been carrying this subconscious expectation that once I was “truly” grown up, I was going to look like the smoothed over faces on the screen; it was simply a matter of time before I would wake up in the morning with gorgeously tousled hair and rosy red cheeks.
Where the heck had this notion come from? I am absolutely positive that in real life I have never met someone who resembled the types of people we see in our entertainment, and equally as sure that my parents never took me aside and gave some shpeel about how one day if I waited long enough I too could be an air-brushed bone thin model. There could really only be one option for where this belief originated: the media. Lots of people all have their own special bone to pick in regards to “the media” with issues involving over-hype, political biases, or conspiracy theories, but this is my special bone: the ridiculously sexualized and over-perfected image of women that magazines, movies, and TV convey.
Let’s examine Pretty Little Liars: first of all, the actresses who are supposed to be playing high schoolers are all in their mid-to late twenties, the oldest being Troian Bellisario at 28. Why is there this necessity to have young female roles played by people decades older than them? Do you know how confusing that is for the real life young females?
Second, and this is probably my biggest annoyance, who wears high heels that often?? The girls in PLL are constantly prancing around Rosewood in them, yet I know of very few females who wear high heels for anything but fancy pants occasions. Really, the entire wardrobe department of television shows frustrates me sometimes: I distinctly remember a time during middle school where I sat in despair looking at my closet and thinking about how Miley Stewart never wears an outfit twice on the show Hannah Montana, and that I would never be that desirable due to my own pathetic lack of clothes. Consider that for a moment. I had actually at one point held the belief that being pretty and cool entailed never wearing the same outfit twice, and this ridiculous notion had come straight from television and those magazines talking about your fifty gazillion different “wardrobe essentials!”.
Once I became aware of the silly standards the media conveyed, I noticed them constantly. Female characters always with their hair down, always with tight clothes on, always with those dang high heels! Amanda Seyfried’s character in the movie In TIme spends the entire film legitimately sprinting and/or hopping off buildings in five inch heels. Look at that craziness!!
My point is this: I wish the media gave a more accurate portrayal of both real life and real women, because I think this nonexistent image they currently maintain can be damaging to girls. Our entire gender chases after a model that doesn’t actually exist. Photoshop in magazines, filters in television, edited shots in film, these tools that were meant to be productive are becoming very harmful, because even when you’ve snapped out of it and you realized you’re pursuing a phantom reality, you still experience the push to become one of those phantoms. The only difference is you’re now aware that it’s impossible.
Why do we keep pushing these standards and images when they are so clearly fake? Why can’t high school girls be played by true high school age actresses, so that the young women watching aren’t confused as to why their little 15 year old bodies look nothing like the confident vixens they see on TV? Why oh why, do female action hero characters run around in stilettos and skimpy party frocks??
I understand that Hollywood portrays the ideal; they are in the business of attracting consumers by looking pretty. But I really think there is a difference in portraying the ideal versus portraying the unreal.