There is a variety of television shows that air weekly, ranging from quirky families to young millennials just trying to get by. Each show contains a different range of characters from age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and social class. I don’t know about you, but I often don’t think about how these shows help to mold my view of the world. I will say things like, “oh, media doesn’t affect me,” but then will go get ready for the day and ask myself why I don’t look like that girl from the show I just watched. Likewise, I will look around and notice that most of the women I know don’t look like the women in TV shows I watch, unless they really try to.
I have noticed that women who are portrayed in these shows tend to align with the beauty standard society holds, which is what is typically shown in magazines. So, I decided to take a look at a few of my favorite TV shows to analyze how the female characters align or don’t align with the beauty standard set by popular media such as magazines.
Women in magazines are typically white, slim, and wearing make-up.
Parks and Recreation
One of my favorite shows to watch is Parks and Recreation, which doesn’t air anymore but it would run on Thursdays at 8:30pm on NBC from 2009-2015. A viewer can now stream it from Netflix or other similar websites.
The show is about Leslie Knope, a government employee in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. The premise of the show surround the Parks and Recreation office and the employees within it. The office consists of Leslie Knope, Ann Perkins, Chris Traeger, Andy Dwyer, Ben Wyatt, April Ludgate, Ron Swanson, Tom Haverford, Jerry Gergich, and Donna Meagle. So there are ten main characters, four of which are women.
Leslie Knope is the main female character. She is blonde, slim, and very attractive. She is portrayed as hardworking, intelligent, optimistic, and funny.
Ann Perkins is another major character who is brunette, slim/average weight and attractive. She is Leslie Knope’s best friend who is a nurse and becomes active in the Parks and Recreation department because of her.
Donna Meagle works in the office as well and is portrayed as sassy, mysterious, and loves to indulge herself in pleasures like shopping. She is voluptuous and average-looking.
April Ludgate, a pessimistic and mono-toned employee, is a slim and attractive brunette.
New Girl is a sitcom that airs on Fox on Tuesdays. The show is about a group of friends who live in a loft together in Los Angeles. The main character, Jess, moves into the loft with a couple other guys and the entire series is about the odd scenarios they find themselves in.
The main characters consist of Jessica Day, Nick Miller, Winston Bishop, Schmidt, and Cece Parekh. Of the five recurring, main characters, there are two women casted.
The first, Jess, is very attractive and she is average weight. She is an elementary educator and is portrayed as bubbly, active in her community, and a very caring and loyal friend.
Next, Cece, a model in the show, is slim and extremely beautiful. She is Jess’ best friend who is protective of Jess and a faithful friend.
The Middle is a sitcom about a middle-class, American family that airs on ABC on Tuesdays. The show is about an average family living in Indiana, and it shows their day-to-day activities and thoughts. There are the parents, Frankie and Mike Heck, and their children, Axl, Sue, and Brick Heck, who are all extremely different from one another. Two of the five main characters are women – the mother and the daughter.
Frankie Heck is a plain-looking mother of average weight with brownish-red hair. She is portrayed as the narrator of the show, keeping track of her kids, working as a salesperson and seeking affection from her stoic husband.
Sue Heck, the daughter in the show, is a slim but unattractive brunette. She is portrayed as socially awkward, but optimistic and chatty.
Who gives a rip how many women are in a show? Or about their weight and physical attractiveness?
I don’t think that matters. I’m not affected by those types of things. I just watch shows for fun.
If you’re anything like me, you may have thought those. You may still believe that. It’s not easy to admit that the media we consume can genuinely shape or change the way we think about things. But being a savvy citizen in this media-filled world, it is imperative to recognize the immense effects shows can have on the way we look at and take in information in the world around us.
Why do I feel like I need to look a certain way? How do I know how I should present myself to the world? Taking a look into shows like these above, and seeing how women (or any group of people) are portrayed (and not portrayed) can help to answer those questions.
I will compare two shows in order to support my point.
Take, for example, the women in New Girl. They are both young and beautiful, wear stylish clothes, have cool jobs, and get all the guys. Because I watch this show so much, I might start to think that this is an accurate representation of the real world, when in fact it is not. I will start to compare myself to their lifestyle, but this is also another way that I understand beauty. I have to look like that if I want to be successful, I have to put on make-up and dress cute every day, I have to be skinny and well-polished if I want to fit in and be lovable.
Now let’s take a look Sue The Middle. Sue is not beautiful on America’s standards of beauty, and is the object of ridicule, yet she is lovable. She is almost funny because she is so realistic. So how do these women shape my perception of the world? In my own life, I probably know more Sue’s and Frankie’s than I know Jess’s and Cece’s. I doubt either one of them would be in a fashion magazine, so it helps me to understand that perhaps I don’t have to look beautiful. But if I’m not, will I be perceived like Sue? And if I am, they sure don’t make it look fun or easy to be Sue. So maybe I should just try to be beautiful.
I also have to notice what I don’t see in these shows. For example, Donna Meagle from Parks and Recreation is the only woman of color in all of these shows. It varies from person to person, but the demographics in TV shows are often disproportionate to the rest of the world. While they are all typically white, beautiful people in these shows, I know that this is not how the world actually looks.
I could look around and take things as they are, or I could compare my life to a television show. One that is manipulated in order to keep viewers by showing what people want to see. I could sit unsettled at my inability to achieve the beauty standard, or I could take a step back and look the ways in which people like me are portrayed in television shows, and all of the deceptions that go along with that.
It matters! It matters how television chooses to portray women, and how they choose to portray people of color and people of different sexuality. It matters how we, as consumers, perceive these, and don’t just passively accept these. We need to critically think about the information we absorb, even if it is all in good fun.