The under-representation of powerful women in the media

“Miss Representation” was released in January 2011, and was recently screened at Ryerson this past November.

[I] have two names. The first is the one on my birth certificate and the second is Natalie. This is what people call me when they forget my real name.

What’s sad is that I secretly enjoy this. Natalie Portman was someone I looked up to throughout high school. And it’s because of this that I don’t correct people when they give me this accidental identity.

It’s because of Natalie that I so desperately wanted to write everything that I am about to say. She is the reason I recently watched a documentary called “Miss Representation” – an American documentary that explores the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence portrayed by the media, its consequences, and how it could be changed.

I was alone when I saw this film. Even in the Thomas Lounge, completely crowded with mostly women excited to see “Miss Representation,” I felt alone. When I waited for the film to begin, I was imagining all the reasons that brought people to the on-campus screening. I imagined if any of these people felt poorly represented by the media. I imagined if they felt represented at all. That’s when the film started.

Natalie Portman by Susana Baez Gomez.

I had goose bumps throughout watching the film. There was this unsettling feeling in my stomach when I realized that this film wasn’t just about women in advertisements. It was about beautiful housewives followed in reality shows and female news anchors. It was a portrayal of women in power reduced to a pair of nice legs or breast implants. But more than anything it was about girls in elementary school who focus more on their appearance than their grades. When we put all of these women together, it’s hard to ignore the fact that we all share similarities with them. We’ve all been greatly misrepresented.

I felt sick by the end of the documentary. Even though the film ended on a positive note, it was enough to make a person feel hopeless. It’s the same kind of hopelessness we felt a few days ago watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. It’s that pain people get in their stomachs from not eating. It’s the realization that most of our money is spent on products that promise all things beautiful.

It’s the heartbreak of realizing that you will never be like Natalie Portman.

Even though the film focused on American media, it’s evident that these messages we’ve been given are universal. The film criticizes media and how easily they’ve defined what it means to be the perfect woman. But even more than this, the film articulates how hard it is to grow up in a world infatuated with this ideal person who simply does not exist – because she is not just one woman, but five who have been photo shopped together to create the perfect human being. This woman is white, impossibly slender, young, and unbelievably happy.

This woman is what we’ve all come to accept as beautiful, when really she represents one of the ugliest and most complex industries that we will have to face for the rest of our lives.

But this is something we will only have to face if we allow it. We spend an unbearable amount of time trying look like others. Imagine if we spent that same amount of time complimenting each other. Imagine if we spent that time complimenting ourselves. What we say and do can have a profound affect on people. And in some ways, a few kind words can mean the absolute world to somebody who could otherwise be struggling with an eating disorder. A few kind words can slowly fulfill the promises of all things beautiful that the media have given us.

I remember looking through a magazine when I was nine-years-old only to stop at a photo of someone I thought was beautiful. I told my mother that when I grew up, I wanted to be just like her.

I would in fact grow up, only to realize that this person has taught me the importance of a humanitarian heart. She taught me the impact of kindness. She showed me that our potential to be beautiful starts with something that’s entirely internal.

That photo was of Natalie Portman.

Nadya Domingo, Journalism ’15