Life Imitating Reality (TV)

by Olivia Saperstein

Most people who indulge in shows like The Bachelor and Jersey Shore don’t take them seriously. In fact, most people I know who watch reality TV, watch it  almost sadistically, as they are enjoying the act of hating it. New Research from the Girl Scout Institute is proving that these popular TV shows may have more of an effect than we may think.

The study took middle school and high school aged girls and asked reality tv viewers and non viewers questions about their lifestyle, behavior, and mentality. Not only did the study show that viewers put a higher value on appearance and put more time and energy into it, but also that they considered gossiping between girlfriends normal.

Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D. Developmental Psychologist of Girl Scouts USA stated, “Girls today are bombarded with media – reality TV and otherwise – that more frequently portrays girls and women in competition with one another rather than in support or collaboration.  This perpetuates a ‘mean-girl’ stereotype and normalizes this behavior among girls.” 

I think the worst part about this is the fact that a lot of these shows exploit women in a particular way. I can’t think of many reality TV shows where there aren’t two girls fighting over a guy, calling each other whores, or gossiping about a fellow cast member. Also since reality TV is mainstream, most of the women on the shows fit into traditional gender roles.

There is a plus side to all of this, though. There are some reality shows that raise awareness about important societal issues, and girls are noticing. According to the poll, 46% of girls who watched reality were more likely to aspire to leadership (opposed to 27% of non-viewers), because some of these shows give girls the feeling that they aren’t alone with their problems and that they can accomplish anything.

This past weekend I happened to watch an episode of “I Used to be Fat” (MTV) for the very first time. The show gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand the protagonist’s final victory losing weight and becoming a healthy person was inspiring, especially since the raw struggle and humanity of the character wasn’t concealed. However, the show doesn’t seem to question any of our social norms in this country, especially our dieting culture and obsession with thinness. 

Despite all of the negativity surrounding reality television, it is good to know that it is creating some value with young women. I have yet, though, to find a show that forces young women to really question society. 

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