As a teenager do you ever feel it’s hard to live up to other people’s standards? Or your own? Do you secretly wish a magic wand would make it easier to fit in, or instantly change something about your physical appearance or personality or skills? Do you ever think you are not good enough?

If “yes” is your answer you certainly aren’t alone. If you said “no” then you may be a confident and optimistic person with a force field of resilience. But I bet you might not be aware just how hard it’s is for the majority today’s girls to avoid pressures from the media to “be” a certain way. Consider that today’s teenagers spend 10 hours a day consuming media. Yes, that’s more time than going to school or sleeping.

And boys aren’t immune either from the media messages and cultural standards for attractiveness and success; but they have easier access to influential roles in life. Take a look at the video clip below published by, a call-to-action campaign that “gives women and girls the tools to realize their full potential”.

Twice I’ve watched the award-winning documentary, Miss Representation, produced by Jennifer Seibel Newson. The first time I viewed Miss Rep I was among a group of professional women. It was followed by a fiery group discussion. I left the prescreening profoundly discouraged to see that the world is a much harder place for girls now than it was when I was a teen. Moreover, the program illustrated just how hard women are on each other – a phenomenon that starts in the early teenage years.

I grew up when Title IX was passed (equal opportunity for boys and girls in education and sports), when Girl Scouts troops were more common than sports teams, and when the women’s movement hit a fantastic stride resulting in more women getting college degrees and entering the workforce. In my worldview, women could really do anything.

With the release of Miss Rep DVD recently, I watched it a second time with my daughters who are 12 and 14. I wanted to share it with them as a way to teach them about girls’ potential for leadership without lecturing them – and showing them just how influential the media is. I want my teen girls to have a critical eye about the both the blatant and hidden messages about gender, power and success and how to inoculate against the negativity.

In Miss Rep, there are interviews with prominent women in media, politics and education – Gina Davis, Katie Couric, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem among others. These famous women share their stories about how hard it was to get where they are today. Even with these female role models’ remarkable levels of achievement and leadership, they show how modern women face unprecedented criticism and disparagement. But it’s watching the parts with the 14- and 15-year old teen girls where the viewer viscerally feels their pain. The teen girls talk about body image and how girls cope today – such as extreme dieting, binging or cutting. One high school girl, facing the plight of discrimination in her school, laments “When will it end?” and “How do I help my younger sister not hurt herself?”

I wasn’t sure how much of the documentary my girls took in. They weren’t happy about missing some of their favorite programming on TV; and the middle age women talking to the camera was hardly exciting. But I knew Miss Rep had an effect when my younger daughter, just in the 6th grade, commented a few days later about how one tween store just sold pink and sparkly clothes. “They are telling girls that’s the only thing you should wear. How boring!?” But she’s also the girl who still feels confident in wearing a t-shirt that says: ‘’Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” Let’s hope her unbridled feelings of confidence can sustain the very powerful social pressures of 7th and 8th grades, when confidence plummets.

In contrast, my 14-year old daughter confessed to feeling stressed ”all the time.” The unbounded freedom of girlhood clearly has passed by. Maybe it’s fear of the unknown with high school approaching. Taking in parental worries about paying for college. Maybe a friend slighted her or she can’t figure out her math teacher’s expectations or wondering about a date for the 8th grade social. But whatever’s going on, it’s a lot of pressure. If there is one thing I took away from Miss Representation, is that women and girls need to help each other much more than they do, to learn and practice how to critically look at media and culture, and how to spot and overcome barriers to success. And we have to teach the boys and men in our lives to do the same.

Take the Miss Representation Pledge:

“I pledge to use my voice to spread the message of Miss Representation and challenge the media’s limiting portrayal of women and girls.”

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  4. Building Teen Confidence – Fake It ‘Til You Make It
  5. The Plight of a Skinny Girl – As Told by BodiMojo’s Founder


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