Before I began a formal investigation into girls’ views on pop culture and social media, I had a pretty good hunch of what my peers had to say on the matter. Yes, those girls on TV are too beautiful, yes, they don’t look like us, yes, we work hard on our Facebook ‘About Me’s’, yes, mainstream media is a crazy business. Upon further examination of these topics with my female counterparts, however, I was slightly taken aback at just how much we are exposed to and affected by pop culture and social media every day, and more importantly, how this industry doesn’t seem to represent who we are.
Clearly, teenage girls aren’t satisfied with America’s pop culture and social media. What is unclear to me, however, is the reason as to why we can so strongly express our annoyance and hatred for the superficial and judgmental aspects in mainstream American culture, yet still be so devotedly consumed by pop culture news and social media networks. Currently, almost 52 million women and girls in America use Facebook, outnumbering male users by nearly 13 million. What do these cultural fixations mean for girls? What does this absorption say about us and our adherences to social conventions? Certainly it deals with the human emotional design—a person’s universal desire for communication and connection is the obvious. By keeping up with popular news and trends, girls have ample material to talk about in between classes or at a coffee shop—the girls I spoke to only substantiated this. However, there is something to be said for when the things we often talk about are the things that often flatten our self-esteem.
As a teenage girl of the 21st century, it’s easy to see the pressure we girls face in following pop culture and keeping up with trends. Take Facebook: why is it that girls put so much effort in posting new profile pictures through strategically-planned photo-snapping days, or in creating clever personal statements that cannot possibly sum up their entire personas, or just in general presenting themselves the way they think ‘interesting girls’ should be perceived. Do the cultural norms of American convention drill ideas into young girls’ minds that they are constantly being looked at — being judged — and furthermore, must always present themselves in a certain way at all times?
Most people agree that girls feel an excessive amount of pressure regarding our image. This can be demonstrated by looking at plastic surgery statistics in the U.S. and its female user versus male user statistics, which reveal, in my opinion, expected results — 2,6 million women have used Botox, compared to 330,000 men. The simple fact that I expect more women to have plastic surgery to change their appearance certainly shows how American cultural standards have molded my own standards and expectations about the pressure women and girls feel to look a certain way.
We all find problems with the system, and yet still actively participate and follow it — that’s what I can’t seem to figure out. Teenage girls understand what is going on in terms of mainstream media; we know the messages broadcasted by all forms have a narrow scope of ideals concerning the standards of females. My biggest issue with this whole industry is that woven into a girl’s consumption of pop culture and social media is the underlying pressure a girl is forced to feel in order to maintain a certain girl image. I wish that pop culture had more emphasis on the actual talent or work that goes into a person’s craft and I wish that social media was more of a means of communication and connection rather than showy display cases susceptible to others’ judgments — perfectly imperfect presentation.
While I have many unanswered questions, I did hear one consistent theme from the girls I interviewed for the video component of Girls Investigate: Pop Culture Problems & Social Media Snags: it is extremely difficult to grow up in these technological times – where message is instant, news is constant, and trend is key – without having it influence your basic principles of connecting with others. But we are strong, independent-minded girls of our world and we don’t need the entertainment industry to tell us what to look like, how to act, and what to do. Each girl I interviewed strongly believed in this and I think this idea is a good place to start.
About Julia Lo
Julia Lo is a 17-year-old senior at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music, Art, and the Performing Arts where she majors in instrumental music. Julia became involved with girl empowerment issues when she started a Girls Learn International chapter at her school in the fall of 2008. Her interests include music history, haikus, and bowling; she also enjoys vacations in foreign countries, fixations over her favorite bands, and desultory strolls in art museums. Julia lives in New York City and is currently applying to universities.
You can also view our press release for the launch of this exciting project by clicking here. The WMC & GLI will release parts 2-4 of Girls Investigate: Our Views on Media in the coming months. Stay tuned!
About the Women's Media Center: The Women's Media Center (WMC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization making women visible and powerful in the media. The WMC ensures that women are represented as they are: powerful newsmakers, informed experts, and sought-after media professionals. We depend on your support. If you are already a donor, please accept our thanks. If you would like to give to our important work, please visit womensmediacenter.com.
About Girls Learn International: Girls Learn International®, Inc. (GLI) is a non-profit organization that gives American students a voice in the movement for universal girls’ education. GLI pairs American middle and high school-based Chapters with Partner Schools in countries where girls have been traditionally denied access to education. The GLI Program gives students the opportunity to explore issues affecting girls in relation to global human rights, promotes cross-cultural understanding and communication, and trains students to be leaders and advocates for positive change. www.girlslearn.org