I work in the world of girls, and in that world you can’t blink without a having a conversation about “media literacy.” It’s like the South Beach Diet of the education world; it’s sexy, trendy and filled with a bunch of fluff. The reality is that media literally is a chicken/egg scenario. It’s a concept, not a committed practice because only the people who don’t need media literacy are the ones not being swayed. The girls out there who have a vague concept of airbrushing with no real background of the 400 billion dollar beauty industry praying on their greatest insecurities are the ones really suffering.
I sit in women’s empowerment conferences time and time again and while it’s easy to pedantically discuss the need to integrate “media literacy” into the public at large, I have yet to see significant progress. Having recently heard that youth consume more than 10 hours a day of media (movies, TV, radio, Internet, magazines, billboards, etc.) which comes second only to sleeping and school, I’m dumfounded that we are not integrating a powerful education emphasis on arguably one of the most influential mediums.
In fact, I recently did a workshop on media at my former middle school about the messages and motives behind the powers that be and the girls were shocked at the statistics, the behind-the-scenes airbrushing as well as the recent discovery that H&M isn’t even using real models, just slapping a model head on a mannequin. I tell the girls that it’s not their fault they feel so insecure and bad about their bodies because there is a powerhouse business trying to sell us “solutions” to problems they help create.
After the workshop one girl said, “How can it be legal what they do? I mean how is it not considered false advertising or something?” While this 12-year-old is wise beyond her years, she epitomizes what’s possible with this generation. She, like all of them, have the right to know and the right to be taught how to consciously consume media. To me, authentic empowerment is the mere recognition of choice and without proper education, these girls aren’t presented with that opportunity. They imbibe images of anorexic, submissive girls, watch objectifying television and catty, back-stabbing on the silver screen so they assume that it’s acceptable behavior. The point here is that we have failed our girls and it’s truly a travesty that we (the adults) are parading around pretending that we aren’t sending our girls out to war to be massacred without a single ounce of armor.
We aren’t teaching our girls to think for themselves and speak their truth; we are teaching them to mindlessly consume, to associate their self-worth with their physical beauty or draw their confidence from that latest trendy purchase. We aren’t preaching and celebrating uniqueness, but we are ushering them into the factory of Comatose Barbie production and we throw around words like “media literacy” as though our paltry attempts to actually protect our girls (and boys for that matter) have been anything other than hot air.
All that being said, I have witnessed firsthand just how savvy this generation is and what they are capable of doing when we challenge them to step up to the plate. When we diminish the distractions of a world telling them they are never good enough, then they have the space to think, play, create, dream, take action and contribute. We owe it to our girls to take the challenge of media education seriously and stop throwing around an impressive concept with no real legs to stand on. While the concept of educating our youth on one of the biggest shapers of their life’s paradigm is a noble notion, we need to build a practice to back that up. I look forward to joining forces with other influential media educators to ensure we actually deliver when it comes to this worthwhile concept.Images courtesy of Youthrelationships.org, Abcnews.go.com