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  • Writer's pictureAlysha Autumn

Recognizing White Privilege in the Media


What interested me about this topic was reflecting on the content that I consumed growing up, how it shaped the way in which I have been groomed as a white woman in society. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show Aired this year on December 2nd, and it within itself is a cultural phenomenon. As someone who had worked in the infamous lingerie store for the majority of my teenage life, I fully understand the weight and obsessions that come attached with such a public spectacle and the emphasis on the sexualization of women's bodies and the cultural ideas associated with them.

While a large portion of media produced in recent years for women and girls is meant to empower and inspire, it maintains and perpetuates beauty standards and aides in molding women into the societally expected, submissive standard. This develops a false consciousness in women when deciding on the media they consume. Being white, blonde, part of the upper middle class, I am well represented throughout all areas and faces within media; allowing me to feel deeply personal ties to media representations of people like myself. Until coming to university I did not fully understand my privilege.

From the media I began on as a child; Barbie, Disney Princesses, Hannah Montana; all of the women featured looked like me. I did not realize how fortunate I was to have role models to look up to that were parallel to me. Having such direct role models regarding to physical appearance also had a sway on how I viewed myself. A preponderance of media created for girls sexually objectifies women, introducing sexual autonomy and the act of submission at a young age.

The first instances of this that I recollect are within the Disney princess films. I looked like the princesses, but they had no autonomy, they had to be saved or use their body and outward appearance to get what they want and need. This was especially relevant to me while watching The Little Mermaid (1989), and Sleeping Beauty (1959). Mass media acts as a “big brother” watching over us, and exercising its power over our self esteem and beauty ideals.


Orr, Lisa. “‘Difference That Is Actually Sameness Mass-Reproduced’: Barbie Joins the Princess


Disney marketed 8 separate princess characters (Snow White, Jasmine, Belle, Pocahontas, Mulan, Ariel, Cinderella, and Aurora) with varying races, timelines, and even species into one marketing phenomenon packed with horizontally integrated products from clothing to food products. They make up a dominant force unlike any other examples of convergence explored before. Their storylines are adaptations of fairy tales or readapted stories and are marketed as the pinnacle of beauty and grace to children. Classical fairy tales depicted throughout Disney princess films reinforced rigid notions of heterosexuality and gender expectations. Even current princesses that attempted to take on a feminist role through athleticism are overtaken by the prevalence of being sexually objectified and the overarching desire for a male saviour. Feminist readings highlight the dark sides of the seemingly light hearted childhood tales provided by mass media produces. There is an inappropriate focus on romantic relations throughout Barbie and princess stories that prepare young girls for their inevitable insertion in to the discourse of heterosexuality. The white male saviour presents itself behind the mask of the damsel in distress/heroic prince storyline. These plotlines have an undeniable influence on young girls expectations and romantic choices. The Disney princesses’ main competitor is Mattel’s Barbie. Barbie is yet another horizontally integrated product that continues to produce media artifacts each day. Barbie has always chosen career over marriage: having over 100 different careers ranging from doctor to president, and even still holding this, Barbie has never been associated with feminism, but rather she has fallen neatly within the patriarchal realm. This is exhibited through Mattel’s marketing of Barbie, and how her sexuality and appearance are highlighted more so than her educational and professional merit. As noted in this journal, introducing ideas of sexualized body standards and beauty ideals through children's characters disrupts mental capacity of developing brains. Bratz arose as the sexier, younger, cooler, sister to Barbie. Their skin colour ranged darker than that of Barbie, and took on the stereotypes of the overly sexualized women of colour. These dolls were controversial due to their overt sexual exploitation. Our culture is defined what we engage with financially. Deciding between which of these characters to consume instills a sense of false consciousness within consumers. The early sexualizations of these characters instills notions of Westernized beauty ideals and unrealistic body expectations in young children, thus harming their self confidence and initializing body surveillance and self objectification.


Vandenbosch, Laura, and Steven Eggermont. “Understanding Sexual Objectification: A

Comprehensive Approach Toward Media Exposure and Girls' Internalization of Beauty

Ideals, Self-Objectification, and Body Surveillance.”

Understanding Sexual Objectification: a comprehensive approach toward media exposure and girls’ internalization of beauty ideals, self objectification and body surveillance explores the ways in which mass media impacts adolescent female expectations and self reflection. It does so through a series of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Mass media has been proven and criticised for sexually objectifying the female body across all facets of the media industry. Sexually objective music and primetime television, fashion magazines, and social media all show strong ties between the reinforcement and internalization of beauty standards, self-objectification. Body surveillance is the constant monitoring of the way one’s physical body appears. This is often manifested through self objectification and can lead to many detrimental emotional and mental positions in regards to one’s body. Self-objectification is a multidimensional process in the field of media studies. The mediums explored within this research include primetime television, fashion magazines, music videos, and social networking. Within primetime television, certain beauty ideals are emphasized through storylines that centralize around relationships; to look a certain way to be attractive to men. Primetime television highlights the different strategies women can use their bodies to attract men. Primetime television promotes a certain lifestyle that centralizes around women’s appearance. Music Videos reduce stories down to 3-5 minute plots or montages and put a strong visual emphasis on beauty standards. The role of the woman in most music videos (more exaggerated in Hip-Hop or Rap genres) promotes the discourse that a woman’s only tool is her body, and it should be used to seduce men. There is a visual emphasis often on sexually suggestive poses and actions. Fashion magazines objectify women and their bodies in a separate way than those examined previously. Fashion magazines exhibit and instill ideas and practices for readers to modify their appearance in order to fall within the beauty standards of those pictured within the magazines. An additional mode of persuasion used through this medium is the introduction of these beauty ideals as a way to help benefit readers within the most fundamental aspects of their lives, for example, job success, relationships, or family happiness. The final mode of sexual objectification exhibited within this research was through a very popular medium, social media. Social media is extremely personal and allows for independent authorship platforms and opportunities that had not previously been subject to self-objectification. Social media was initially for strengthening friendships and sharing information, social media is also commonly used to attract romantic partners, whether that be through direct dating apps, or indirectly through main social media outlets. The knowledge of the potential to be exposed male gaze directly encourages women to pay more attention to their presented appearance online, and thus self-objectify in order to please the male gaze. Because of this, users post photos that fall more in line with current beauty standards than those in which defy them. Through the analyzation of the sexualization of the human body through different mediums, there is a pattern found that continually emphasizes that media is a constant reinforcement of beauty ideals.


What I gained from this was the knowledge of my privilege through representation in the media and how it played a large role in shaping the way I carried myself, looked upon myself, as well as how i was perceived. Media directly and indirectly encourages girls to fit a certain mould and acts as a super peer. Women are taught to shrink themselves, put themselves through pain and emotional and mental trauma so each girl looks and acts the same- beginning from childhood. There is a constant message throughout all media outlets that shames girls for being girls, and holds boys to a separate standard. It is the notion that boys will be boys, and girls have to prepare themselves, shrink themselves, and shift to fit within a certain mould. As women we are taught to be submissive and present ourselves to the man, as a relentless servant that submits their perfectly groomed body for sex. I recognize that Barbie, Disney princesses, and other major cultural characters played a large role in how I looked upon myself, how i compare myself to them, and where my physical appearance puts me in terms of societal expectations. These stories and their ultra-sexualization were instilled within my mind starting at an age long before I could comprehend their effects. I believe that having so many positive representations of women that looked like me within the media shaped how i developed as a person and the certain privileges that went along with it. I believe that it strongly attributed to the level of confidence I hold and as well as the way people see me. I can understand that through alternative media representations of different body types, skin colour, and so on, there are different automatic associations paired with simple factors such as outward appearance. The media created for girls shapes who they grow up to be, and it has strong effects, socially, culturally, and mentally that have effects throughout lifetimes.

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