When media speculated about her “puffy” face, Ashley Judd wrote a piece on media misogyny for the Daily Beast. It turns out that Judd was on steroids to combat a sinus infection and flu – she had not gone under the knife. Judd denounced our patriarchal media system as one that conspires against women by placing “the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women.” According to Judd, this type of hate against women “is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it.”
Many women are oblivious to the impact that media has on our lives. Marketers spend billions of dollars per year to set a largely unachievable standard of beauty so that they can sell us more products as we strive to achieve the ever-elusive perfect body. This deception creates feelings of inadequacy in women, especially children and young adults who are in the midst of cognitive development.
For women and girls of color the impact is even greater, as racial markers, such as dark skin and kinky hair, are rejected by the influential media. Women with these physical traits are seemingly unworthy of media attention. Indeed, women of color are largely invisible in media, and the darker one is the less likely she is to see people like her on TV. This is true even on Spanish-language television, which is dominated by light-skinned Latinos. Even more revolting is the common marketing practice of digitally lightening the skin color and photo-shopping curves out of advertisements. No wonder young women of color are facing an epidemic of low self-esteem!
When Latinas do appear in media, they are regularly typecast in stereotypical roles. For example, Lupe Ontiveros, the iconic U.S. Latina actress, estimates that she has played a maid between 150 and 300 times on screen. “Minority Women, Media, and Body Image” (PDF), a report out of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, found that:
“Similar to the effects on African-Americans, the media has perpetuated stereotypes about Latin-Americans, those of which differ from the typical non-Hispanic woman. These images are shown on television, which is heavily consumed by Latin-American women. Latin-American women on average watch four more hours of television daily than women in other ethnic groups. Due to this increase in exposure, Latin-American women are more susceptible to negative images, making comparisons to the media ideal more detrimental. As a result, Latin-Americans have a heavy loyalty to the health and beauty industry. The support that they give to this industry may be associated with the dissatisfaction felt when media ideals are used for comparison.”
Media misogyny not only impacts our self-esteem but also how others perceive us. As many people in the U.S. come into contact with Latinas and other people of color exclusively through media, the importance of fair and accurate media coverage is even greater. For some, the media is the only way that they learn about people who are different than themselves, which encourages behaviors and attitudes towards these “others” without ever really knowing any of them.
According to a 2007 Free Press report titled “Out of The Picture: Minority & Female TV Station Ownership in the United States” (PDF), while women comprise 51 percent of the U.S. population, they only own 6 percent of all stations. Racial or ethnic minorities (both men and women) own just 7.7 percent of all full-power commercial broadcast radio stations, though they account for 33 percent of the U.S. population. That lack of representation in ownership and other top-tier positions is one of the main reasons that women and minorities are not represented – or misrepresented – in the media.
So ladies, regardless of our skin color, we have some work to do. Let’s get together and disrupt the status quo! Let’s hold media accountable! Oftentimes, by unconsciously segregating we lose the power of our collective voice. Let’s organize town halls in New York and Los Angeles and invite the top media executives to discuss our issues! Let’s find women of influence to back this project – first lady Michelle Obama would be a great start! Let’s figure out how we can create our own media – ownership is essential. Women like Oprah and Arianna Huffington understand the necessity of ownership, but we need more women to get into the game. By owning and running our own media, we can create a pipeline of women media executives and decision makers that can set a new standard. At a micro-level, at home and in our schools, let’s start talking to young women about the negative effect that media can have on our lives. Like the friend that we know is not good for us, let’s stop consuming media that doesn’t portray us fairly and accurately! Let’s move on this, ladies, to create a healthier body image and fairer treatment for all the women of tomorrow!
Inez González is Executive Vice President of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), a non-partisan, non-profit media advocacy and civil rights organization dedicated to advancing American Latino employment and programming equity throughout the entertainment industry and to advocating for telecommunications policies that benefit Latinos and other people of color.