It’s impossible to not think ahead to what changes we want to see on TV, the internet and in print magazines. One wish is that the media would stop focusing just on the negative aspects of what teenage girls do and stop portraying their behavior as problematic or sensationalistic. So many girls have done amazing things as this list shows, and have created change that has resulted in world-wide advances for other girls.
Think of Malala Yousafzai, 15, and how her terrible injury has resulted in significant awareness not only of the oppression girls still face in obtaining an education, but also in her determination to change this not only for herself but for her sisters. She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as well as TIME magazine‘s person of the year. Within the United States girls have been fighting back against institutionalized sexism within the media more vigorously than ever, resulting in real changes by major corporations, as well as girls who are using their knowledge and skills to contribute to science, and create other notable inventions.
A few years ago Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing.com, co-founded a list called the REAL Hot 100 that highlighted activists who were creating real difference in the world, playing on the idea of what makes a girl “hot.” In their definition being “hot” doesn’t mean physical beauty but doing work that shows character, determination, and the desire to do good, particularly for other girls and women. The list is no longer active, but some of the girls and young women chosen are highlighted here.
Shows such as MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” sensationalize teenagers who are facing huge obstacles — trying to be a good mother, often not in optimal circumstances. Statistically, the teen birthrate is at the lowest it has ever been within the United States. Yet, the media chooses to highlight the dramas and difficulties these teens face, rather than focus on positive developments that teenagers are contributing. A recent story about a “small thing” that teenage girls spontaneously did at their middle school got scant coverage, but it shows ways in which girls are actively fighting media messages about their physical bodies and they are finding other ways to support each other and to bolster their self-esteem.
The girls at District 96 Woodlawn Middle School used Post-It notes to cover a bathroom mirror with affirmations that “displayed encouraging, confidence-building ideas and suggestions for their classmates” about “their real beauty, ability, and potential” according to a Buffalo Grove Patch article. The school’s principal Greg Grana is quoted as saying, “As a principal, I have never been more proud of my students as for these self-initiated actions.”
We all know that reality-TV encourages drama and strife and feeds us a cultural diet that doesn’t reflect the reality of many people. More media attention on the positive changes girls are making for themselves and for others would rebalance the picture about girls’ potential and encourage girls to think about themselves more positively and how to build on what other girls are already doing.