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Dating young?

*I would like to start off with a disclaimer. This post is in no way, shape, or form attempting to make a negative comment or judgment on people who choose to date often/ have sexual encounters often/ etc. This post is, however, attempting to comment on the social constructs which often control the way that people, women in specific, think about themselves, their worth, and dating, from the influences of media. Additionally, this post is attempting to comment on the way that media has begun to influence girls at an increasingly young age.

As a woman, when you turn on the television, go down the magazine aisle at your local drug store, listen to the radio on your way to work, or even simply walk past a billboard, it seems as if the world is trying to tell you something about the way that you should act, and what your value in our world is. We see this in the Carl’s Jr. commercials that show women they are only valued as sex objects, in magazines with “How to get that summer bod” plastered on the same cover as “Learning to love yourself” (you can imagine the confusion), and in various other outlets that tell you you’re just not quite good enough, special enough, or beautiful enough to be valued.

One thing, specifically, that I caught on to from a very young age was dating and romance. As far back as I can remember I have been surrounded by the idea of dating. It started when I watched my first (and favorite) Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. This and subsequent Disney movies confirmed for me the idea that romantic relationships are extremely important in a girl’s life. Shortly following these movies, I became exposed the world of J-14, Seventeen, and Cosmo girl. In this world, every month you could find a new way to woo a boy, a new tip to make boys “like you more”, and a new celebrity hunk to obsess over. Growing up in this sea of relationship madness I found myself searching for love and affection in every crack and crevice I could find while subsequently becoming increasingly unhappy with myself.

In multiple studies it has been found that the media and its representation of women has a deep impact on the way that young girls act and feel. In one specific study it was found that magazines (among other media outlets) can have detrimental effects on the development of young girls. According to Redcross (2012), this damage is attributed mainly to the “stereotypical images, ideas, and subject matter” (pg.12), found in these magazines. This study found, through fMRI scans, that young girls’ emotion centers (limbic systems) develop earlier than their analytic center (prefrontal cortex). It’s supported that, because of this, magazines “focus on content that adolescents find stimulating without providing guidance on how to manage the emotions triggered by the reading material” (Redcross 2012 pg.13). This resulted in young girls becoming extremely preoccupied with the ideas presented in the magazines (dating, love, sex, etc) without really understanding the concepts. From this,we can find girls at increasingly young ages being influenced by these magazines to take measures to become more desirable/ beautiful/ sexy/ and more. in order to attain a boy. This can have major consequences on self-esteem, body image, behavior, etc. in girls. Particularly, I feel that this can make girls become aware at a young age that they must be sexual beings and physically/ sexually pleasing to men in order to be “normal” and accepted.

I say all of this because I lived through it. Growing up, I remember always getting very excited when the main character of my favorite shows had a love interest. Then, throughout high school, I dated often because it made me feel “normal”, I felt that I wasn’t complete without a partner, and I felt happier with myself when I was with someone. I see now that the reason I often found myself in relationships was because of the way the media glorified and continuously presented romance and love, and made me think it was something I needed, even as young as 12 years old.

Now, let’s imagine that the media changed over night. No more skewed images of women plastered everywhere, but rather well-rounded, well- written women who represent a variety of stories. We’d have less women and young girls suffering from low self-esteem, body image issues, and self- worth. It sounds pretty awesome, right? Unfortunately, this can’t just happen at the snap of my or any other person’s fingers. This will take an entire revamping of the media industry and the specific guidelines (if you will) about what a woman is and is not. In order for this to happen, everyone needs to take an active part. So, what are you going to do about it?

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