Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores the portrayal of women in the media in her 2011 film “Miss Representation.” The film begins by providing her biography in which she confesses to a two year battle with anorexia and alludes to sexual abuse. She blames both on her battles with self esteem and her pursuit of perfection. This is a battle many women can relate to. She then more generally explores how images of women in the media, even the most powerful women in our country are sexualized and criticized based mostly on their appearance.
This film claims that these images are damaging to women and girls, and to boys and men because they provide an impossible standard for which men judge women in addition to how women judge themselves. That judgment is important because as Siebel Newsom points out in the film, women are losing ground in this country when it comes to positions of power. And as one very wise young woman points out, there is no place in this country for intellectual women.
However, there are intellectual women in this country for these young women to look up to, and many of them appear in this film: Condoleeza Rice, Katie Couric, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Rachel Maddow, Lisa Ling, and Geena Davis, to name only a few. Their poignant comments are juxtaposed with how many of them have been portrayed in the media. These portrayals include headlines calling political leaders ditzes, commentary questioning who may have had face lifts and boob jobs, and questions about who may or may not be attractive enough to have their own television show. There is also a barrage of statistics that are worth noting, yet none of them are sourced. Sourcing the statistics would have given the film a bit more power, and the audience some resources to explore further.
In addition to the public figures most Americans will recognize, some prominent female academics appear in the film outlining the essential issue: Advertisers in the U. S. spend more each year than the gross domestic product of 80% of the countries of the world convincing women they are inadequate, which in turn encourages women to spend more each year on face creams and spray tans than they do on their own education. Women are not only seen and valued as objects by others, but by themselves. This self objectification leads to depression, eating disorders, low self confidence, lower ambition and lower political efficacy. Political efficacy is the idea that your own voice matters and that you can bring about social change. Ultimately this leads to fewer women seeking public office, or even voting. Seibel Newsom weaves together the statements of Dr. Gigi Durham, Dr. Jean Kilbourne, and Dr. Caroline Heldman to make this argument, and it is simply powerful.
Seibel Newsom also shows us that these are not just theories by interviewing young women clearly affected by these issues, and some attempting to overcome the world the media has created for them. They are inspiring.
Unfortunately for all of us, documentary film shown at film festivals and the Oprah Winfrey Network seems to be the only place left in the media for Siebel Newsom and her thoroughly researched, well thought out and calmly delivered argument. Perhaps her message would reach more of an audience if she went on one of the 24 hour news cycle television programs and screamed: “Every time Kim Kardashian’s behind is flashed across the television one less woman votes!”
Run Time 85 minutes. Not Rated