Do TV and film harm teenage body image? If you want the short answer, aka my opinion, in my personal experience it’s a resounding yes. If you’re looking for an explanation, it’s going to be a long one, so I’d grab yourself a hot drink and settle down because you’re here for the long haul. It’s something I have thought about writing a blog post about for a while now, it’s something I find myself thinking about and discussing with my friends.
As I write this, I am 19, I’m 20 in August and getting this post out while I’m still a teenager is quite important, I think. I have what you’d call a ‘babyface’ or at least a face which rarely reflects my age. I often ask people how old they think I am, simply because I am intrigued to know their answer – how do they perceive me? (This is arguably bad for mental health, I’m aware, but it’s something I’m working on.) Without makeup I barely scrape by as being 16 at times, last year someone said they thought I was 13/14 while I was playing hockey which was quite an anomaly, but I can see why. With makeup I think I am able to look 18ish, and if I’m really trying, I can look my age; any older is near on impossible. I know that I shouldn’t wish my youthful looks away, and that in 20 years I’ll be grateful, but right now I’m not, I’m really not. With all teens now skipping the bad makeup phase and having perfectly sculpted faces, with brows and liner on point, (some of whom can look early 20s while I can barely look my own age!) it’s hard to appreciate a youthful appearance.
I feel out of place in a sense. If I’m honest for the last year or so I’ve rarely worn makeup, I enjoy my sleep maybe a little too much, and often when I had put on a full face of makeup on, I ended up hating it and removing it straight away. I took the approach of that I would rather not wear any than not love how I looked. You would be right to suggest that I had/probably still have at times, body image issues, but then again do you know a teen who doesn’t, or hasn’t at some point?
Where does the lack of confidence stem from is the real question. I used to put it down to a ‘bad skin day’ or ‘the products I used don’t sit well together’ – this is complete bullshit in my opinion looking back. I’ve been beauty blogging for around 6 years now, I know how to apply makeup to a decent standard, I know how to take care of my skin and i certainly know that the products I use should sit well together because they do every other day. I’ll admit that on (rare) occasions these reasons are viable, but for the other 99/100 occurrences that’s not it.
If it’s not the reasons above, then what can it be – I asked myself as I sat watching Netflix. We immerse ourselves in make believe worlds where teenagers run away from stick monsters (yeah Riverdale, no clue what’s going on anymore,) or four teens try to keep all their secrets while a mysterious ‘A’ runs around exposing them all. Sometimes we wish it was real and that we were doing these things, living these lives. Let’s all agree that the whole case of Riverdale is beautiful, who wouldn’t want to look like Veronica or Betty? These shows create envy and jealousy: I want the wardrobe or I need that lipstick or even when people joke ‘I wish I had her face’ – but these people are playing characters. Fake teenage characters in a fake world. All these actors are beautiful and it’s easy to see why we aspire to be like the people they portray, but these people are not the age of their characters.
It seems like I’ve always been watching people play characters outside their age range. I do understand why Hollywood cast older; there are filming restrictions so it takes longer and let’s be honest having actors the actual age they’re meant to be makes story lines like teacher/pupil relationships (PLL) less easy to support. I bring that example up as there are only 3 years difference between Aria and Ezra in real life, rather than the more problematic 16 year old and twenty something year old relationship they’re trying to depict.
As I said, I get it, why they cast older actors for younger roles, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. There are shows which are slightly truer to life. I used to religiously watch Waterloo Road, a show all about a secondary school and all the misadventures the students got up to. While there are occasions of older actors playing the teenagers, largely I found myself able to relate to the characters (even if perhaps not their crazy storylines…) The older actors playing younger seemed to appear more often once the show really took off, for example Tina O’Brien played a character she was 10 years older than. However, when it first began main character Chlo Grainger was played by Katie Griffiths, who was only two years older than her character was meant to be. Admittedly, this is not perfect, but it’s better than being 24 playing a 16 year old (Troian Bellisario in PLL) or being 33 and playing a 16 year old (Ashleigh Murray as Josie in Riverdale). Fair play to these actors having such youthful looks, but do they really look like teenagers, or have the years of exposure to twenty somethings as teenagers changed our perception?
This topic of tv and film, isn’t one I’ve decided to write about on a whim, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I finally decided it deserved a post. For years I’ve been watching tv shows showing a different life to mine, one that I aspire towards in some cases. And for years I’ve found myself feeling not good enough about myself. I look too young, I hate how I dress, the list goes on. Yes, I have taken steps to change how I look, I will admit that. Since the new year (I started drafting this post late last year,) I am less susceptible to those feelings of loathing towards how I have looked, sometimes even going as far as to enjoy how I’ve looked. This is a major step for me.
How I have managed to do this isn’t by magic, sadly there is no particular step by step methodology. All I can offer you is that perhaps we need to think about the separation of make believe and reality a little more. Hollywood will never cast teenagers to play teenagers, and if they do it’ll be very rare, because you lose a certain portion of your audience and in turn your revenue.
I hoped this post would have slightly more structure, but I’m aware it was quite rambly. I just wanted to slightly try to explain my position when it comes to shows aimed at teenagers and how they can and did affect me growing up. I wouldn’t say I’m completely past the time where these unattainable standards no longer affect me, but I think I’m getting less worried about not looking the way teenagers do on camera, because it’s not real. Which sounds stupid in itself, because I know it’s not real! It’s just sometimes hard to separate yourself. I’d love to know your thoughts!