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Teens vs. The Media: Teen Image and Advertising

By: Ashleigh V., SNN Senior Editor, Garden Valley Collegiate, Winkler, MB.
and Danielle McC.,Grade 11, Booth Memorial High School, St.John's, NF

This article is a collaborational effort between an experienced student journalist and one who is new to the ropes. Together these two different people combine their views and formats to present an informational piece about media; the teenage image and it's effects. We hope you enjoy it.

Teenagers have always been the forgotten group in society. We're the ones who are stuck between being "cute kids" and "responsible adults." But all that's been changing over the last twenty years or so, as the media realizes that teens are slowly getting a voice in society.

Good ol' Webster defines youth as follows: Youth (yooth): 1. the state or quality of being young, esp. of being vigorous and lively, or immature, impetuous, etc. 2. the period of life coming between childhood and maturity; adolescence 3. An early stage of growth or existence.

Along with being lively and impetuous, we teens are also rebellious. We like to be different from what our parents were and from each other. Our impetuous-rebellious nature drives advertisers nuts. How can they create an ad campaign for a group of people who change their minds on a daily basis? A group of people who strive to be different from the norm and purposely enjoy things that make our parents raise their eyebrows in disapproval.

One thing that does sell to us teens is sex. Not necessary sex, specifically, but sexual content and comedy about sex. It's true. Just flip the channel to a teenager orientated channel...say, Much Music, for example. What do you see? Perhaps a dancing condom or two people in the shower. They even use sex to sell Levi jeans! Condom commercials run rampant on these channels, which is fine...until your parents walk into the room. I don't know how your parents respond, but mine usually shake their head and mutter something about canceling cable.

Another thing that sells to teens do I put this?...coolness? about reality tv? And I don't mean Survivor, I mean commercials that make a comment on something that real teens have to deal with. Commercials that don't take themselves too seriously, like the ones of Sprite or even those cartoony Don't Drink and Drive ones. These commercials make us laugh at the same time that we are nodding our heads in agreement.

There's one more thing that seems to sell to us teens. Stupidity. Have you seen some of those stupid movies that are aimed at a teenaged audience? The sad thing is that, although they go for cheap laughs about sex (think Scary Movie), they also often make realistic comments on how a teens life is today. Screen writers love this because it guarantees a sell out at the box office.

We teens are as much a godsend to those poor advertisers as we are a curse to them. You see, once they finally figure out what we like on whatever day of the week it is, they have us in their trap. They have one of the biggest chunks of society practically throwing money at them. I'd just like to hear a thank-you every once in a while!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go see Dude, Where's My Car? at the local theater. Then I'm going to go buy a pair of those cool new pants that everyone's wearing, go sit at home and watch Dawson's Creek, and drink some Sprite!


Yep, us teenagers are pretty hard to advertise to. Since advertisers have such a hard time figuring out who we are, they also seem to have an even harder time presenting us realistically in the media. We (being Generation X; as we are referred to) are being stereotyped by their appearance, sex, and personality. Different varieties of media are meant to do different things. Some of the media's many roles are to display the truth, make consumers aware, challenge the consumer, and to entertain. Our sources of media presents an inaccurate and negative portrayal of adolescents today according to their appearance, sex, personality, age, among other things.

Just look outside for a second. Who do you see walking down the street? There's business people scurrying to and from work, dog-walkers, joggers, and teenagers. The young women you see on the street are probably wearing jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. Their hair is either just normal or up in a ponytail. Their faces are smiling and happy because they are comfortable with themselves. They look similar to the girls featured in the picture on the left. Look closely at those teenagers, and then examine the pictures on the right, taken from a teenage magazine. The girls in these pictures are dangerously thin, scantily clad, and their faces resembles that of a drug addict.

realgirls anorexic

The photo on the right was taken from and the photos on the left were taken from

They appear totally different don't they?

Media sources like magazines, advertisements, movies, and television all use actresses and models that look like the girl shown. Media is presenting a false image of teenagers to the world. It sends the message that teens must be a certain weight and height, and have certain features and clothes in order to be considered "beautiful" and "fashionable". Their definition of a beautiful girl goes way beyond Barbie. Think skinner waist, bigger chest, and taller. Then ask yourself, how often do you see a size 15 girl posing for a magazine?

When a teenage girl flips through the pages of Seventeen magazine and sees the image of a starved, beaten, gaunt model, she's going to think that's what "pretty" girls look like. If she's a bit overweight or doesn't have a clear complexion, a little voice in the back of her mind will tell her she's not good enough. And before you know it, add another statistic with all the other girls who died from anorexia suffered from depression or an inferiority complex, or committed suicide because of their desire to be "perfect", and image created by the media.

Males are affected by the physical representation of themselves in the media as well. Magazine ads like Calvin Klein featuring good looking models in their underwear, is enough to make a guy feel a little unsure of himself! They feel pressure to have rippled abs, golden skin, and arms of steel. They too, could suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders.

But the reality is that no one person actually looks like that everyday in real life! The models you see on billboards and magazines are air brushed so that every flaw, mole or pimple cannot be seen by the untrained eye. Ah, the wonders of technology these days! No matter how much you spend on beauty products and surgery, you can never be perfect. YOU decide when you're good enough, not Tommy Hilfiger. However, to someone who is deeply affected by the unattainable images in the media, this thought is of little comfort.

Not many people take notice, but young women and men's personalities are being negatively depicted and sexually stereotyped. Females are shown as an air head, bubbly, and totally dependent on males. This type of media discrimination happens all the time in movies, teenage magazines, and tv shows in particular. Soap operas for example, show teenage girls who are too wrapped up in their boyfriends to care about anything that REAL girls care about. Males are presented as big, strong, and the best at everything. Both seem to have no values, or compassion for other people. Luckily, with the recent Girl Power movement, this doesn't happen as often anymore. There are tv shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, that represents a strong positive female and male image. In magazines, instead of intellectual and thought provoking subjects, they have articles that advertise where you can buy a pair of shoes owned by famous *N SYNC member, Justin Timberlake.

The younger generation has fallen into a pop music phenomenon and media frenzy. Female icons such as Brittany Spears or Christina Aguilera serve as role models for them. The term "role model" is used very loosely. Pop stars that prance around in minimal clothing and pink streaked hair do not set a decent example for their 10 year old fans. Young girls at this tender age should be concentrating on playing and having fun, instead of idolizing their favorite Spice Girl or dreaming of having cosmetic surgery just like some popular stars. Not to mention the sexual content in dance choreography or in music videos, sends the message to young girls that it's cute to act that way. It's more unhealthy for pre-teens to be affected by media generated images, because they will grow up thinking these negative stereotypes is what's expected of them to be.

Now you may be asking yourself: why would the media convey such a negative image of adolescents and pre-adolescents if it can cause such damage? We don't actually know the answer to that one. One explanation is, the more products companies sell based on these images, the more money they make. Therefore, the more money the advertisers or sponsors make. So the cycle goes on and on, uncaring of what effects it might have on the customer.

There are even more ways teenagers are influencing and being influenced by their image in televisions, movies, and so on. Media has more side effects then most medicines! The sources of media, like medicine, are meant to protect you; do something positive for yourself. But in actuality, the medicine is not helping, but harming you. This theory proposes a question: if the media/medicine is the cause, then what is the cure? Clue me in if you find the answer..until then, I'll be searching for it myself!

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