The War on Girls: Miss Representation

What I write today for the War on Girls: How Society Has Failed Us, is not a new story nor the last  I want to share.  I did photography project in 2010 entitled The Secret Lies of Men & Women, which all began with one idea.  To share the story of women who get stuck in abusive relationships and feel they have no way out. I remember trying to help a friend in that situation and it tore me apart as the person on the outside.  It did not seem to matter what I said or what I did, I felt powerless in my attempt to stop it. I remember feeling crying to the police when I called them for help and they said in situations like these they could not really do much unless she comes forward.  It was terrifying for me to hear the things she told me that were happening, and more so when she defended the man when we talked to the police. What has society done to our women that we feel we get what deserve? My friend ended up getting a happy ending, but not so many are that fortunate.  I cannot help but think that our media is only continuing this problem.  With both the way men see women and the way we see ourselves.  I entitled this entry off a film I recommend you watch about how women are portrayed in the media: Miss Representation

Last week I continued this series with a talk about how magazines had a way of impacting my view of my self and the world from the impressionable age of a young girl.  In current times the social media has an even greater impact on our youth. They can easily spend half the day consuming media.  That is not media based on facts, but a value system that is dictated by marketing and advertisers.  Just take a look at the television programme, Mad Men.  It really opened my eyes to how the world of advertising works.  There is a product and for money people will say what people want to hear in order to feel the need to have it.  Otherwise it would be bad advertising and not help the number of sales for that product. It only takes my sons a short while watching television with their grandparents to start telling me what they want and repeating the commercial word for word.  Unfortunately the media is not only telling us how we should feel about certain products.  They are conditioning our minds with how we should look at women.  This essentially is making a woman an object and what could be more dehumanizing to an individual than making them into a thing.  

I love the idea of princesses and loved feeling like one in my wedding dress at my vow renewal this year. As a British American I grew up in love with Princess Diana and as a young girl fell in love with Disney princesses.  Now that I am an adult I have been looking in retrospect on the whole princess idea.  It seems like a good thing that got off course.  When did it go from being playtime of dress up and fun and into an unattainable but must have goal for our young girls?  They are not even into double digits in age and they are being told that they are not good enough.  I am the first person to tell you I love Disney and have so many fond memories as a child and as an adult to going to the ‘happiest place on earth’ with my family.  However, I look at how the princesses are manufactured and advertised to our girls and I get tears in my eyes.  The beloved princesses I grew up with are no longer ‘good enough’ and have received makeovers that make them look even more like beautiful adults on the verge of being too sexy.  I tried finding the same thing happening for our favourite male animations and honestly they still all look the same to me.  So why should our childhood role models need to have smaller waists, bigger boobs, more contoured faces with more make up and even better hair?  

If having to be a certain standard and a certain look is not enough it is the way women and girls are portrayed that start us out on the wrong outlook on life.  If princesses taught me anything it was that my ‘true love would come’.  It is a world of waiting and being saved.  I remember being elementary school aged and making my guys friends let me be the princess and telling them to come rescue me. I grew up watching the original Star Wars with my dad.  Princess Leia might have been a strong woman with quick one liners but she was no better than the other princesses I loved.  She was a princess needed to be rescued by two strong men (and a wookie) and again when dressed up this time as a sexy slave girl. 

Which brings me to my next point that the majority of women in the media are either portrayed as princesses waiting to be saved or as sex bombs.  If you are anything else you are probably not pretty enough, not thin enough, and not young enough.  After all it is about 70% of women on television that are portrayed in their twenties and thirties.  Is that when our beauty fades and we all have an expiration date?  Where are the real women and why are they pushed out of our media?  Why do the strong ones who make it through it then have to be scrutinized and objectified by how they look. It is never about their message or what they stand for but why they do or do not look a certain way.  In the film Miss Representation they clearly show how men in the media and news are destructive to empowered women and put them down.  It is either that those who say such things are just outward mean people or that they feel threatened.  Either way it is showing young girls that if you want to be in a position of power where you can make a change, you are going to be objectified for being a girl. Why does being a girl have to be any less than being a guy and why should men dictate what it should mean to be a girl?  The percentage of women in those high up decision making processes is so small that it is no wonder we live in a world of 'teenage boys'.  A world where women can watch shows geared towards men but men would be looked down to be watching shows made for women.  What makes women second class citizens and why do we keep letting it happen?

I look at how men are portrayed in the world I lived.  I grew up in a conservative church where only men could have roles in worship.  While my British side has had queens and a female prime minister, my American side has yet to have a female president and hold less than 20% of political offices.  Men who sleep around a lot are portrayed as masculine and strong and women are portrayed as beautiful and those who sleep around a lot are sluts. It is a contradiction that has been brought up before but still happens today. It is just a part of how women are treated less fairly as men. Tell me the last time you saw men on a magazine showing how they had gained fifteen pounds and it was considered news. The only articles I could find in a quick search were those of men who had lost or gained a significant amount of weight for a movie role...for their profession.  Women can be too sexy but when is a man too sexy?  If a woman does modeling in her youth it can hinder her job prospects as an adult for being a woman and discredits everything else about her. I cannot come up with a perfect comparison for a man in the same regard.  

In the end change will only come with hard work. Despite where women are in today's world we still have a long way to go to break up the stigmas and change how society looks at women.  If not for us for the little girls growing up in today's world. 

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.” - MLK


This post is compilation of many conversations I have had over the years.   
I highly recommend you watch the trailer below for Miss Representation 
and then see the film if you have not yet.

*Main photo for this post belongs to Bonnie Rose Photography © 2007 - 2013 All Rights Reserved
**Disney photographs were found from and their article Sexy Merida Makeover


  1. Absolutely love this post. I totally agree with you.
    Women are in a much more difficult situation in lots of things. We have to watch out with the things we do, because later on it could make doing other things impossible. It's like we are all trying to live up to a standard that isn't really there, but society made up. And no one, not even the women who seem to be 'perfect' can live up to that standard. And it gets pretty frustrating. Especially when that standard is different in every country, it just gets confusing.
    But to be honest, I see myself trying to fit that standard. But why should I try to do such a thing if it doesn't even exist?! It just some stupid thing someone made up to keep women down. And it's always changing as women try to prove we are just as good as men.
    Ow... And seeing how the Disney Princesses changed... I like the old ones :( I grew up with those too, and they make way more sense in my head.

    The world has gone completely insane... But unfortunately you see it everywhere. Even in my classes, all the studies done say that women have it harder than men when it comes to finding and keeping jobs, and more.

    Women are strong and beautiful in their own way, and society and the media shouldn't make us doubt ourselves so much and keep us down.

  2. This is by far one of my favorite posts from you Bonnie! I could not have said any of these things better. These thoughts have been rolling in my head for a long time and I've discussed this topic with my mom and sister more times than I can count on one hand but have never quite managed to write out my thoughts like you have here. So organized and so well-thought-out. I totally salute you and agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Why do women have to be confined to certain standards, to men's standards in most cases? Why can't we be different and our own selves without people telling us it's wrong or not appropriate for women? And most of all, why do women themselves think that they have to be a certain way to be liked? I would have thought that society's way of thinking should be progressing but we still have all these unrealistic 'standards' so apparently not.

    My mom brought my sister and I up to think for ourselves. I'm thankful to say that we never felt the need to conform. I remember just wanting to be like my mom when I was a kid. Nowadays it seems like girls want to act and dress like Barbie dolls, princesses or whoever is 'pretty'. They want to wear pretty clothes and be thin and beautiful. When they grow up, they continue wanting to be that but to a more extreme level. Shouldn't girls be more focused on gaining knowledge and making smart decisions and achieving self-actualization? It's just sad that nowadays being 'pretty' or 'thin' or whatever gets you places and if you're the supposed opposite of that, you're not good enough.

    Women everywhere need to see themselves for who they are, not as things to be molded by society.

    And yes, abuse is a terrible, terrible thing.

    p.s: I agree with Susanne. I grew up with the 'old' Disney Princesses and they were way better.

  3. Well said! I enjoyed watching the extended trailer of Miss Representation! Glad to see someone taking a stand! And a good reminder to overly encourage my girls that they are beautiful the way they are. My 8 year old is already concerned with her weight, how she looks, what she wears and she's not even a girly girl and does not like dressing up. I think we don't realize the strong impact that media plays, even for kids! I'm so much more in love with the Disney Princesses of old!! Much more beautiful and ordinary in a good way! Thanks for sharing Bonnie!

  4. You are so right about the Disney princess thing, it is unreal how much they have airbrushed the original princesses :( there are a few inspirational princesses though, like Belle the adventurist and Esmerelda the justice seeker, Jasmine fighting to choose her own suitor, Mulan the green fighter, Tiana the business owner etc etc, but despite all of these traits, they still need a man to rescue them in some form or other! I hate the idealized notion of true love and happily ever after that just builds unreal expectations for real life too!

  5. I wish more women would stand up and demand change. We are our only advocates and we are going to have to force society to change. It's scary for me to think of bringing a little girl into a world where she's so unsafe, even from feeling like a smart, beautiful, capable little girl.

    I recently read an article on the importance of complimenting children, both male and female, on things other than appearances. As a knee jerk reaction, I know I always say to a little girl, "You look so beautiful in that dress!" when really we should be complimenting them saying "You're so smart" or "You are such a great reader"... things that give them confidence in their abilities and not in their looks which they cannot change. This being said, I do thing it's incredibly important for parents to tell their children that they think they're beautiful/handsome.

  6. You are so right about this Bonnie, particularly with Disney princesses you really hit the nail on the head! I grew up with Diana & Disney too, much of the same kind of influences and we are taught to strive for perfection that's almost impossible to achieve.
    I am the first to say I love Disney too but sometimes I question whether it's entirely suitable for children to be exposed to the women Disney portrays. Nowadays there is more variety for kids but when I was young, I lived on Disney. I think there is a lot to be said for what you define as "normal" after growing up with ideas and role models like this.

  7. I also grew up with Disney and Disney princesses, and the ones I loved the most were the ones who were going out there and kicking butt {as much as you can kick butt in a G-rated movie}. But as much as I love Disney, I hate the marketing message. The message we're sending is that, girls, you can go achieve whatever you want, and being brave and willing to stand up to the bad guy will get you being objectified and sat on a pedestal where all you do is wave. I hate what they did to Merida from Brave - she was such a great character because she was running off doing her own thing, didn't fit into the corseted dress, had hair that was going all over the place, and didn't have a prince! And now she's one of the Stepford Princesses. C'mon, a girl needs to shoot a few arrows once in a while!

  8. I find this post spot on - the dehumanising of women into 'parts' or certain 'looks' can completely skew the way women are treated and perceived. There is a movement towards change, which I think is mainly aimed at women of our generation, it is the younger women, teenagers and girls I have concerns over. I am a teacher and have always projected a strong image particularly towards the girls about liking who I am. I was so concerned at the level of change in my girls (hair, make-up, overly sexual clothing etc) that I had to talk to them about it. They even went out with boys who they were scared of so we had a chat about that too - they had a completely false sense of what to be a female entails it was very sad.
    Great post!

  9. I had not seen the new disney makeovers until now. That is just sad.

  10. You bring up a lot of good points, Bonnie. I had also noticed the change in the Disney princesses. Cinderella looks more like Barbie now than the Cinderella I remember. The saving grace for the {newer} princesses is that most of them do more than just wait around for their prince to come. The older princesses, like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty...those I saw as pretty much only occupying the "damsel in distress" role. But in some of the newer movies, take for instance Merida in Brave - now there is a princess with some moxie! I was quite impressed with that one! So while yeah, I do see the older princesses looking more sexualized and I don't like it either, I also think Disney is doing a better job putting out movies with lead females who really CAN be role models for our girls.

  11. These are such great points, I never noticed how much the disney princesses have been changed! I didn't really grow up with them though, and spent little time with TV or magazines until I was in my later teens, so I guess I missed the disney-obsession and all that, but I see it now with kids I taught :(

  12. It's always interesting watching Disney movies as an adult, it seems that the messages in most of them (mostly the older ones) are that the only thing that matters is finding prince charming, even if that means selling your soul for it. It's nice seeing a change in the newer princesses, but it's interesting how certain roles are thrown in our faces without us even realizing it. I hadn't realized that they changed their pictures. I always enjoy your articles, and this one is on point and your pictures are so powerful!


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Bonnie Rose

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