The media is a source of news, information, opinions, and ideas. It shapes people’s opinions about a certain issue or product. The media is an excellent resource to society as it is used to permeate good values and promote good habits in most instances. Society cannot ignore the fact that it encourages a few negative habits and views. This paper is going to look at how the media covers issues of race, how the media defines beauty, and what effect it has on society as a whole. The definition of beauty has been a matter of debate with the media for a long time, drumming the notion that beauty is about being light skinned, slim, and having lovely straight hair. Many girls who do not fit this description have dealt with self-image issues. This paper is going to look at one of such cases and see how far the media has gone to move away from this type of thinking.
The piece of news is the article by Lisa Flam “When this mom couldn't find dolls that looked like her daughter, she made one” about a three-year-old girl, Sophia, who vents out on how much she hates her kinky hair, dark skin, and fuller features (Flam, 2015). She feels she does not fit the media description of beauty and wishes she could do something to have that blond hair and lighter skin. Angelica Sweeting, her mother, on hearing her daughter’s frustrations, knew she had to do something to help her daughter regain her self-esteem. She was worried about what the media had done to Sophia, and the first thing she got rid of was the Barbie doll. The Barbie doll is considered the ultimate beauty, and she has a slim waist and blonde hair. Due to protests regarding issues of self-esteem regarding young black children, a black Barbie doll was invented. While this may be a solution, the doll still has long straight hair that is not typical among black children who have kinky hair. Having learned about this, Angelica decided to search for a doll that looked like her daughter but she did not find any. Therefore, she decided to make one herself. With the help of Sophia, she managed to make the Angelica doll whose features resembled Sophia’s and her mother’s features (Flam, 2015).
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Sophia has a more positive self-image due to the reaffirmation of her looks by her parents and through playing with the doll. She stopped complaining about her looks courtesy of her parents efforts. Angelica aspires to make other dolls that truly represent the black race. She would like the dolls to represent not only princesses and fashion girls but also entrepreneurs and engineers. A survey conducted still shows that the black children still prefer the white babies (Flam, 2015). Sweeting attributes this to the availability of the black dolls on stores’ shelves and the portrayals of the beauty ideals by the media. She hopes to make the black dolls more mainstream so that the young black girls received equal representation on those shelves (Flam, 2015).
The social learning theory assumes that people get to know other people by observation, imitation, and modeling their attitudes, reactions, and behaviors (“Communication Theories”, n.d.). It argues that the media shapes the behavior of the public by portraying issues and ideas in a certain way. They model the behavior of people by covering the desired one, for example, if the TV stations show action movies and wrestling shows more, they depicts the world as a violent place (Suresh, 2003). A child watching a lot of TV will see this as the ideal and go and imitate the violent behavior. As a result, such children will grow up knowing that violence is socially acceptable and that they can solve every issue through violence.
The cultivation theory focuses on television because it assumes that TV is more influential than other forms of media (Suresh, 2003). It argues that TV does not cause or encourage any behavior but it rather shapes people’s attitudes and beliefs about society and other people. It states that TV does not invent what is not present in society but rather reinforces it. Heavy watchers of TV develop the mean world syndrome as the cultivation theory claims. It postulates that the television reflects a different view of realty than it really is and focuses more on the heavy TV viewers. The theory looks at the effect of watching television on behavior and character of human beings (“Cultivation Theory”, n.d.). TV portrays the world as a dangerous place to live in and the pictures, messages, and meanings it portrays become absorbed as the truth. Cultivation by the media establishes cultural stereotypes and hierarchies (“Cultivation Theory”, n.d.).
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The public observes what the media perpetuates as beauty. Images of women have been manipulated nowadays so much that such a vision has been made to feel less and less attainable. People learn by watching; hence, images of light-skinned, tall airbrushed women have instilled the notion that is the beauty definition. Some celebrities like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj have even gone ahead to bleach their skins in a bid to attain the perceived beauty standards. In the world where people become more and more light-skinned with each passing day and where hair becomes longer and straighter, people are likely to want to achieve that unachievable look. The famous film and television actresses are becoming taller, thinner, and more light-skinned with each passing day. Women consistently receive the message that they are not white enough, pretty enough, or thin enough. Society has absorbed this notion and it uses it as a standard of beauty. Sophia is a victim of this kind of perception. At that tender age, the media is the primary cause of the self-image issues she has. Her other young friends could also be other sources of her dissatisfaction. In the story, she retorts that she wants to have hair like the one Elsa does, which is long blonde hair. Elsa and her other friends have probably promoted the idea that long blond straight hair is better than Sophia’s kinky curly one. The friends probably played with Elsa’s hair and avoided Sophia’s hair at all costs, making her think that she was imperfect and needed to change to be considered beautiful. She felt that there was something wrong with being dark, having fuller features and kinky curly hair; and she thought that the Barbie doll was supposed to be the epitome of beauty. The glossy magazines, TV, and newspapers have also contributed much to the child’s perceptions of beauty. The social learning theory, therefore, can be used to explain Sophia’s beauty knowledge and whole society as a whole.
The cultivation theory can be used to investigate how watching TV affects human perceptions. The models mostly seen in beauty product commercials are white and with long straight hair. Celebrities also have been seen to conform; hence, the media and society have shaped Sophia’s way of looking at beauty. The numerous portrayals of light-skinned models, anchors, celebrities, and public figures have cultivated the light skin syndrome and the unattainable beauty standards. Sophia, who is exposed to the unattainable standards of beauty, vents out her frustrations since she feels she does not match those standards. Her mother does a lot to help her daughter overcome this perception. The affirmations of her and the husband as well as her making the Angelica doll for Sophia restore the child’s self-esteem. Angelica would like to think that people have come a long way, but the issue of unattainable beauty still lurks. The airbrushed commercial models, news anchors, and female celebrities who go for plastic surgeries to ‘correct’ their looks do little to help overcome the beauty stereotype.