Miss Representation
Geena Davis in Miss Representation | OWN

As someone who’s written about family entertainment for the past couple of decades, one of my pet peeves is how women are portrayed in the media. I talked a little about this in last week’s piece on Britney Spears’ new campaign to present herself before and after airbrushing (though, admittedly, the difference isn’t as dramatic as a regular person out here in Middle America who doesn’t have a trainer and nutritionist at their beck and call).

But look, how the media presents females is not only discouraging for adult women, it’s also damaging for girls who might be unaware of airbrushing, photoshopping, and all the little tricks the media uses to “fix” women in their feature stories, print ads, videos and so on.

The result? It sets girls up for lifelong issues about their body, weight and appearance. After all, how can anyone look as “good” as the fake women portrayed in the media?

Miss Representation is hoping to change that. After the documentary scored big at the Sundance Film Festival, Oprah Winfrey acquired the broadcast rights. The film premieres on OWN as part of its Documentary Club on Oct. 20, 2011 at 9/8c.

Youth, beauty and sexuality. According to the media, these are a woman’s primary value, not her brain power or leadership abilities. In the film, writer/director Jennifer Siebel Newsom interweaves stories from teenage girls with interviews from Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Lisa Ling, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Rosario Dawson, Dr. Jackson Katz, Dr. Jean Kilbourne, and Gloria Steinem.

I appreciate that all these women are involved, because they actually deal with the media’s perceptions of women on a daily basis, so they know of which they speak on a very personal level.

Watch the trailer, like Miss Representation on Facebook, and watch the documentary on Oct. 20. Many thanks to Alexandra Grabbe of Chezsven in Wellfleet for passing this video along.

UPDATE: Sandy mentioned that she wrote this piece on the subject ten years ago. My question is: Have we really come all that far in the past ten years? I appreciate that documentaries are still being made on the subject of how women are portrayed in the media, but it’s sad that they still HAVE to be made. And I know this is an issue that dates back decades.

So my question for you: Does it seem like we’re making strides? Is the media “getting” it at all?  

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.


  1. Thanks for the mention, Jane. I think we have not advanced one iota. In fact, judging from the clips in the video, the media has taken several giant steps backwards. Thank you for bringing this worthwhile documentary to the attention of your readers.

  2. I think things are getting WORSE. There are so many unrealistic portrayals of what women “should” look like and far too few realistic portrayals of the truth. No wonder there is a dramatic and steady increase in the unhappy ways young girls are feeling about their bodies and looks.

  3. While I think we’ve made progress in the sense that women like Katie Couric, Oprah, Lisa Ling, and Rachel Maddow can all have a prominent place in the media, I agree that their influence/presence can’t cancel out the general misrepresentation of women across the board. I don’t feel optimistic that huge strides will be made any time soon, but watching the growing diversity of role models getting a place in the spotlight helps a little bit.

  4. I was already aware of the sexualization of women in the media (who isn’t?), but this trailer really highlights not only how far we HAVEN’T come, but how far we’ve fallen.

    Still, as Casey mentioned, it’s heartening to see so many positive and powerful female role models as well… women who are attacking this issue head-on. I remember meeting Jennifer Pozner years ago, when I was just an intern at the Feminist Press. So good to see her — and others — still making waves!

  5. I’m totally agreed with Alexandra that the media has taken several giant steps backwards. Thank you for bringing this worthwhile documentary to the attention of your readers.

  6. this documentary seems to be very interesting, im sure im gonne give it a try, although i dont’t think that the situation were so bad. about 10years ago, i think it was the worst. nowadays are the REAL women getting fashinable and beautiful, in the movies as well. and in the fashin scene, too. i mean the oversize-models, who are real weomen and are really sexy, not like those skeletons.

  7. Nope, things are as lousy as ever, if not worse. And, unlike the 70s when I came of age, there are few countervailing feminist voices — beyond blogs like Jezebel — to remind girls that women do not have to be skinny/pretty/docile/white/married/mothers to be valuable.

    Women need to spend time in locker rooms around women of all ages and sizes to remember that our bodies are merely one part of who we are. The size and shape of our body is nothing compared to the size and condition of our hearts and minds.

    • Thanks for the note, Caitlin. You reminded me that one of the reasons I love foreign films so much is that it seems like women are portrayed far better than in American films. They seem more “real” and thoughtful than some of the media fluff we get in this country.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I was born in the late 80’s, and my generation has practically NO ONE to refer to in terms of female (real) empowerment. All of my heroines are from an other time, and unfortunately, the 70’s are.

      As I’m writing here, I can see around 3 ads showing a deformed image of women: a nude one (to sell glasses!), a meek one (dating website ad), a “blonde” (= read: stupid) one (to sell cheese).
      I live in France, and I noticed how ads went downhill when portraying women. And what’s even more perverse is how it makes you believe that their image improved when it’s totally not the case when you carefully read between the lines. *sigh*

      I really want to watch Miss Representation documentary (as well as Beyond Killing Us Softly: the Strength to Resist) but wonder if I’ll ever get to watch it from where I am….
      Thanks for the food for thought ^^

  8. Adults need to protect and educate their children and raise confident beings who won’t take this crap, not be a slave to it, and perpetuate it as we’ve been trained to – “fit in, dear…do as the nice media men tell you now…”


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