It doesn’t matter how much feminist literature I consume. You can’t make me give up the Bachelorette or The Little Mermaid, or Drake for that matter. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the level of gender role conforming, 1950’s-esque ignorance they all represent. It just means that media literacy is my best friend.
“is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy” –MediaLit.org
Part of media literacy is the ability to interpret and discern messages that the media feeds us.
Let’s use ‘The Bachelorette’ for example.
Jo Jo, love her, but let me explain how the message behind her casting as the new Bachelorette is harmful.
This show purports to be about finding true love. Well, hopefully we all know that true love looks nothing like this show and none of these people are capable of being themselves when so many situations are scripted but perhaps some of the more important realizations come in recognizing the following messages:
Only white, fit, straight people deserve love.
I know, what you’re thinking. There have been people of colour on this show and the contestants can’t help who they fall in love with.
You are correct, there have been people of colour on this show. Since the very first seasons of ‘The Bachelor/Bachelorette’ there have been a total of 35 people of colour and well we all know how well they’ve fared. Considering that each season has 25 contestants, the fact that over, oh lord, I don’t know like 600 seasons (it’s 32), there have been 35 people of colour in total is a gross underrepresentation of the population.
Racial minorities in America make up 40% of the population. So, by all means this show truly has a diversity problem and that’s why we need to use media literacy when consuming media that is so white centric.
People of colour are so wildly underrepresented and stereotyped in the media that white people have a difficult time identifying with their stories and struggles. They’re often written off and misunderstood.
The other day I was shopping at Sephora. Do you know how many people of color were working there? All but one employee was a woman of color. When they were helping me pick out my shade of concealer, there were about 37 shades of ‘nude’ for me to pick from. That ‘nude’ being various shades of beige. There were 2 or 3 shades of foundation for those with dark skin.
What gives white people the default on the color ‘nude’? Think about it.
Many of the skin care products available at Sephora, are meant to ‘lighten and brighten your skin’. Why on earth would a black woman want to lighten her skin?
If only thin, straight, white women deserve to be represented in the beauty industry and in the media, what does that teach young women of color? What does it say about those with fat bodies? What does it say about people of differing gender and sexual identities?
It teaches them that their stories don’t count, that they aren’t relatable enough to be represented.
It teaches them that only white, thin, straight people are relatable enough to be represented as the norm, to portray love and anyone who falls outside of this criteria is ‘othered’.
The privilege of those considered the norm goes unchecked. There’s an entitlement and privilege that we aren’t willing to acknowledge. It teaches us that we will always be more beautiful, more relatable, more deserving of attention and love. Instead of owning our privilege, we deny it in the face of great odds. In the face of our 90% white, thin, able-bodied television stars. In the face of the 37 shades of ‘nude’ foundation we get to choose from.
I’m ashamed to admit that the first time I watched ‘Girls’ I questioned why a show would choose to represent a woman’s nude body that didn’t fit into the beauty standard. I questioned why it would show a larger woman’s body and a larger woman’s sex life more than any of the other thin characters. Perhaps not in so many words. I probably said something like ‘Ew, no one wants to see that.’
I chalked it up to comedy.
Now I chalk up to me being an a-hole.
I’m gonna let you all in on a little secret that took me far too long to understand. Fat people have sex. Good sex. Great sex. As much sex as thin people.
The reason it bothers us to see people of size, people of colour, people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities portrayed as living the life of white, straight, thin people on tv is because well, we don’t see it enough. We see black women portrayed as the sassy black counterpart to her white best friend, and fat women portrayed as lonely, sad and well, boring. Because we haven’t seen diversity in the acting roles of fat bodied people, racial minorities, sexual and gender minorities, we don’t want to see it and we choose not to see it.
We don’t think the marginalized deserve to be represented. We have been the default, always, and we aren’t comfortable when we find ourselves being treated as equals with those who haven’t been considered the default.
Type in beautiful woman on google. Tell me what you see.
How many of them are non white? How many of them are people of size?
So, should we give up the harmful media we’ve chosen to watch or listen to?
Maybe. You really have to know what you can can’t handle.
I can’t follow Victoria’s Secret models on Instagram without feeling like my body is less than satisfactory and that fat bodies aren’t acceptable.
But, I’m not going to give up listening to ‘Hotline Bling’ even though the premise is that he thinks a woman is a slut until she’s sleeping with him and only him. I just need to practice media literacy to understand that Drake is a mess when it comes to misogyny.
I need media literacy to understand that ‘The Little Mermaid’ is a movie about a girl who gives up her voice (HER VOICE!) for a strange man who is searching for another woman while ‘courting’ her at the same time. You know, just in case he doesn’t find that hot mermaid who sang to him on the beach.
I will love that movie until the day I die but I have to understand that the messages are harmful.
What would a world look like where we saw an equal representation of all body types, of all sexual orientations, of all genders and gender identities, of all races? Think about how that would affect the way we relate to others? Think about how that would change our perception of those who are different than us?
What if there were as many tv shows about a disabled, gay couple as there were straight, able bodied couples? What if that show wasn’t about them being gay and disabled, but simply about their complicated love lives? What if there were as many Black or Asian ‘Bachelorettes’ as white? What if there were as many women with large bodies playing intelligent, complicated, capable, love worthy leads as there are fit men playing those roles?
Maybe you wouldn’t find it quite so hard to imagine an interracial couple on The Bachelorette. Maybe they wouldn’t find it so hard to fall in love with a person of color. Maybe you wouldn’t find it so hard to accept your body with its flaws because you would see capable, love worthy women just like you on those shows, on those magazine covers.
I’ve started a project with my Pinterest to diversify what we’re so used to seeing in the media.
Families of differing races.
Models of size and color.
It’s something I’ve been using to broaden my ideas of beauty. To change my views on what a media should and could look like.
Take a peek and let me know what you think in the comments below! I’d love to hear suggestions. I’d also love for you to send some photos over for my boards.