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Changing The Teen Image
By: Danielle McC., Grade 11, Booth Memorial High School, St.John's, NF

The youth of this generation have to deal with many things ----depression, conflicts, school, work, and other stressors. Most of these things they don't have control over in their daily lives. There isn't much a person can do to change questions on an exam or their tasks at work. Teenagers just accept these obstacles as facts of life, and move on.

But there is one thing that adolescents do have control over. It's something that greatly affects teens. That is our image in the media.

Generation X (as we are referred to) are being stereotyped. Media sources such as music, television, movies, magazines, present an inaccurate and negative portrayal of adolescents today according to their appearance, sex, personality and 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 teen magazine. The girls in these pictures are dangerously thin.

realgirls anorexic

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

Media sources such as magazines, advertisements, movies, and television all use actresses and models that look like the girl shown.

But hey, wait a minute. That isn't real life. Media is presenting a false image of teenagers to the world. It sends the message that teens must be a certain weight and height, 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?

The "perfect" image created by the media does not stop at females. There are also males in the media world they all look like super hunks, with their ripped abs with arms of steel complimenting their muscular bodies. This affects the self esteem of males that are less than muscular.

Not many people take notice, but the personalities of young women and men 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. 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.

This is a theory that has to be corrected. If teens don't like the way the media is portraying them, and want to appear as intellectual and down to earth, then speak out!

Finding a solution to this problem
You may be thinking right now, "so what can I do about all this? I'm just the victim, advertisers won't listen if they're making money off me". There are many ways adolescents can revolt against these media images, and actually cause a change.

Because of action taken by people, a series of Calvin Klein ads were pulled. There were complaints that the ads sexualized children. Joe Camel, ex spokes-animal for Camel Cigarettes no longer appears in promotions because the cartoon camel was blamed for targeting teens. Because of an e-mailing campaign organized by a group of parents, t-shirts with Budweiser's signature phrase "Whassup!" on them, were pulled from the sales racks of JC Penney. Parents were afraid these t-shirts would encourage young adults to drink beer.

Discuss the Issue in the School System
Teachers can incorporate media awareness activities into their lesson plans. For example, the following is an activity taken from the Media Awareness Network website, a site devoted to educating consumers, especially young Canadians, of their rights, and encouraging consumers to enforce these rights.

In this lesson plan, students are asked to take out a sheet of blank paper. On that sheet, they are instructed to divide their paper into four sections. In the first section, the teacher asks them to draw or name a brand item that they would like to own. In the second section, they list some positive things that people might think of them if they owned or wore that brand item. In the third section, they list a few negative things people might assume of them if they owned or wore the brand item. In the last section, answer why people would think those things in sections two and three. Then the teacher can organize a class or group discussion on the activity and their responses.

Student Involvement
Students can also create posters to raise awareness of this false image, and encourage others to take action. You could try e-mailing campaigns, boycotting products that use an unrealistic version of teens in their advertising, putting up spoof advertisements in the halls of school, making a Media Awareness web site of their own for a class project, holding a No Logo Day or Buy Nothing Day at your school(whoever wears the least amount of brand name clothing or doesn't buy any brand name products would win), or stick with the traditional and efficient method of writing letters to major companies complaining about their commercials or marketing techniques.

If you choose to write letters, remember to remain calm, stick to one point per sentence, keep it short, and leave out any profanity! Sending in complaints via e-mail, snail mail, or fax is a great way to correct flaws in advertising, add facts, disagree or agree with a particular opinion, inform companies that you refuse to purchase a product unless they change their marketing methods, or to compliment a writer or advertiser.

If anyone should care about teenage representation in the media, it's teens. So let's do something to change it. If we don't, the media will continue to harm our peers,lowering their self esteem, forcing them to diet extensively, become anorexic up or have cosmetic surgery in order to fit the 'Ideal Image'. This pressure to fit in to the perfect image can sometimes even cause young people to kill themselves.

If we all put forth a little effort, the media will realize how wonderfully diverse and flawed we are.

Information for this article was obtained from the following web sites.

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