Representation Matters

Lauren Antoniolli, Courier Staff

Over the past few years, there have been many changes in the casting of modeling, acting and other forms of media representation for women. The casting of women of varying body shapes and appearances particularly has proved controversial throughout society, but these changes are a step in the right direction for a better world.

I really started thinking about the importance of this representation when my family members began marathoning the popular American television show America’s Next Top Model, which ran for 24 seasons from 2003 until 2018. In watching the early seasons of this television show, which aired in 2003 and 2004, a majority of the women shared very similar body shapes. All of the women were very tall, and many of these women were significantly underweight and suffering from eating disorders. While none of the women in the show were overweight, they were often shamed by the judges for “overeating.” The judges were extremely critical of every element of the women’s bodies, including their size, skin, hair and facial features. As I was watching, I thought to myself, “What message did this send to young girls?”

I will not speak critically of the early seasons of the show America’s Next Top Model, because, quite honestly, it was really interesting to watch. The issues I noticed were not produced by the television show, but rather were long standing issues in the modeling industry that were finally presented into the public light. Intentional or not, the show brought the challenges faced by those in the modeling industry into a national spotlight, which may have brought more attention to the positive changes that took place in the modeling industry over the course of the years that the show aired.

Like with all change, there will always be pushback, and the changes that have taken place in the media over the past two decades, and will hopefully continue to take place over the next several years, are no exception. However, it is incredibly important for people to adapt to these changes, because the power behind them extends far beyond just the industry itself. The growing acceptance of women of different appearances in media not only opens up modeling and acting opportunities for talented and capable women, but it also makes a world of difference for young girls that are exposed to media every single day.

I am not saying that women who fit the traditional mold of what models typically looked like should not continue to have opportunities. Each model, actress and media representative has unique qualities that they bring to the table. However, by opening up those same doors for people of varying appearances and backgrounds as well, the message will be sent to young girls that everyone’s unique appearances should be celebrated. By breaking traditional stereotypes of how society perceives beauty, the media can demonstrate to other industries that women do not have to fit a certain mold to achieve success or become a role model. The barriers that have been broken thus far through the media are a step in the right direction, and continuing to grow representation and inclusivity will lead to more widespread acceptance, inspiration and confidence for women everywhere.