Women's Studies,  Writings

Gender + Media: 3 Essays

Barbie was my favorite toy growing up so I feel like I’m a really good counter to the author. Susan Gilman, in her essay Klaus Barbie, makes it clear that she hates the iconic doll and everything she stands for. Gilman says Barbie is “clumsy, stupid, overly obvious.” A lot of the reason the author claims to dislike the world of Barbie is that it, according to her, “was meant for vapid girls in the suburbs.” It’s not a stretch to blame Barbie for perpetrating the basic tall, tan, and blonde standard of beauty for women in our society.

Personally, I think Barbie is a lot of what helped fuel my imagination growing up. I played with Barbies non-stop as a child, making pretend films, music videos, and even series of soap operas. I can’t stress enough how much I loved to play with Barbies. For me, these beautiful dolls were only real to me the way celebrities were. I kept a kind of distance from the way the Barbies lived and how I did.  I wasn’t expecting a dream house or my Barbie’s yellow Volkswagon bug.

The author’s claims about how Barbie shaped her childhood is completely true, it just wasn’t my personal experience. Today’s young girls have some less-than-perfect role models too. Although Matel has done nearly everything in their power to be a more progressive Barbie, changing the style and branding of the famous doll, there are still expectations for these young girls. You can’t escape beautiful women on TV, in movies, magazines, advertisements, etc. It’s impossible not to compare yourself to women you see on the red carpet. Making these comparisons, like the author had when she was eight, make lasting impacts on the mind of a young girl.

In so many ways I see society progressing for women and I’m hopeful for young girls and their futures, however, the cost of beauty is still too high. Young women like Kylie Jenner, who is recently 19, are showing girls that the way to success is through false lashes, false nails, false skin tones, false hair, and who knows what else. She slaps her face and name on a make-up brand and suddenly the only way to have the perfect lips is to shell out the money. We’ve come so far in how women are treated in society, but the pressure to be beautiful is still inescapable for girls.


According to Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, beauty is currency in our society. “Like any economy, it is determined best by politics, and in the modern age in the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact.” Like we’ve talked about in previous lessons, sexism is all about power, and according to our society, the most powerful thing a woman can be is beautiful. The myth that a beautiful woman can breeze through the world unchallenged is seen all over our movies and real life. It’s a terrible truth that keeps women from developing into thoughtful adults.

Now the author admits that beauty is always changing in terms of what’s popular and I agree, but I think the pressure to be beautiful is always a part of a woman’s life. Because of that, I think this article is absolutely still relevant to our society. Like the author says, “the beauty myth is always actually prescribing behavior and not appearance.” The want to be beautiful dictates how we act, dress, shop, and identify ourselves. Being a woman means getting waxed and plucked as much as it means acting sweet and thoughtless. The image of a beautiful women isn’t just appearance.

In today’s society, this article could strongly align with the idea of selfie culture for women. Online self-portraits are all about being perceived as beautiful. The internet allows for these online images to become an entire persona. Instagram has foster celebrities based on their selfies and online life. These surreal women on Instagram also perpetrate the beauty myth by providing a standard of the perfect women for modern women to pine after. We suddenly think maybe we need a picture of ourselves with stylish sunglasses, Starbucks, and perfectly manicured nails. These images are placed in our feeds and we are reminded of how messy, imperfect, and non-manicured our own life is.

The beauty myth is present in our current society because it’s been a part of women’s history forever. I think beauty will always mean power in our society so our best hope is to create a more inclusive view of beauty. Showing women of all shapes and sizes the reality of life as a woman could change the way beauty is defined. We can change the beauty standard if normal, healthy women are visible and that will mean no more Photoshop-ing the world to be prettier.


Young girls and boys don’t know how to act until they’re shown and media is the number one source of information in our society. Children are taught how to behavior through observing those who are similar and imitating their actions. The messages shuffled out by mass media shape our society and our expectations. Movies, TV, magazines, and advertisements are just some of the ways we show young girls and boys how to behave like women and men.

By pre-determining behavior based on gender, we miss out on the opportunity for change. In the trailer for Miss Representation, the documentary about women’s portrayal in media, they say that an equal number of young girls and boys want to be president, but the gender gap is created as time goes on. The film would suggest this is because there’s little female representation in politics. When I was in first grade we were told to choose what we wanted to be when we grew up for a project. I told my teacher, after a lot of thought, I wanted to be president. She told me that since Alex, a boy in my class, had already chosen president I had to choose something else. I remember thinking how cool it would’ve been to create a project with a girl president, but I didn’t get the chance.

This is how dangerous the media’s influence can be, children imitate what they see and if they only image of women is sexed up and stupid, how can we raise women to be president? The media is controlling how we see ourselves. The biggest blame for objectifying women can be placed on advertising. Don Draper would tell you that sex sells, and it’s true. Sexy women are used to sell cars, cheeseburgers, perfume, shoes, jeans, and really anything else you can think of. Marketers want to play on a consumer’s insecurity to look or feel a certain way, causing them to buy something to fill a void. It’s a cruel truth about the way our capitalistic society works. I unfortunately have first-hand experience from many, many marketing classes. It’s disgusting that companies are willing to sacrifice the image of women in our society all in an effort to sell something. Personally, that seems like a lot of risk to our future just for money.