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Changing the way young girls perceive media

Friday 5 February 2016, by SIGNIS

Boston, Brussels, January 5th, 2016 (DailyFreePress/SIGNIS). The average teenage girl consumes between eight and 10 hours of media each day, according to the Mediagirls, an organization that aims to empower girls in the Greater Boston area by educating them about their media consumption. Numerous studies have linked greater media consumption with increased body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, and girls ages five to 18 are the most likely victims.

By equipping them with the knowledge and skills to critically analyze how women are portrayed in the advertisements, television shows and music videos they see every day, this non-profit is helping girls reclaim their sense of self-worth by learning to view media in a new light.

The organization offers a 10-week program for middle school girls in the Greater Boston area. Over the course of the program, the girls participate in discussions, write essays and letters and complete art projects geared toward improving their understanding of media literacy.

Michelle Cove, founder and executive director of Mediagirls, said the idea for the program occurred to her on International Women’s Day in March 2014, as the culmination of 20 years worth of work in media and experience working with young women and girls.

The instructors, who work in groups of three, open the first workshop of the semester by addressing the image of the “perfect girl” portrayed in the media. It comes as no surprise that the girls all know exactly who she is. Right away, they can name her and rattle off a list of descriptors for her: skinny, white, blond, tanned, perfect. The list rarely varies.

Failure to live up to such narrow standards of beauty can take its toll on young girls. The Mediagirls website lists some dismaying figures that catalogue the damage: six out of 10 teenage girls drop out of activities they enjoy doing due to body insecurities. Up to 78 percent of girls are unhappy with their bodies by age 17.

More concerning is the slyness with which media messages creep into young girls’ consciousness. Even Cove’s 11-year-old daughter has started to show insecurity about the way she looks, Cove said.

In the future, Cove said she hopes to expand Mediagirls to the national level. Until then, she is working on developing a three-part pilot media literacy workshop for both girls and boys.

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