Keep It Real: Teaching Media Literacy

I’ve written a lot about photoshop and real beauty. I covered it for Gender Across Borders last year, and the article was later picked up by the Ms. Magazine Blog. I wrote about it for Care2 recently, inspired by Fair and Feminist’s “This is What a FACE Looks Like” campaign. I even initiated a No Makeup Day with my Fearless Females this winter in order to facilitate discussions about real beauty and why we feel we need makeup.

As a high school teacher, the concept of real beauty is close to my heart. Almost every day, I hear teenage girls talking about diets and idolizing pictures of women in magazines that are so clearly unreal. So when I heard about Miss Representation and SPARK Summit’s Keep It Real Challenge, I was totally on board. Yesterday was day 1, and we tweeted a challenge to magazine editors to use at least one un-photoshopped image in their magazine. Today, we’re blogging. Tomorrow, we’re posting pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #keepitrealchallenge.

I feel like, as a teacher, I have a unique ability – and responsibility – to teach media literacy to my students, especially when it comes to body image. Each February, just after the Super Bowl, I start my persuasive techniques unit, and I begin by showing them Super Bowl commercials. We pick them apart and discuss how they sell what they’re trying to sell. Then, we focus on some commercials for beauty products. The students usually start to realize that the cosmetics industry is making women feel insecure in order to sell beauty products at this part of the unit, but just to solidify the point, I show them the Dove Evolution video:

At this point, my students – male and female – are shocked when they see this video. When it ends, outraged cries of, “Is that real, Miss?” make their way across the room. Some start pulling out magazines from their book bags and pointing to pictures saying, “Is this photoshopped?” or “What about this one, Miss? There’s no way she can be that skinny.” When some of them don’t believe me, I show them the Photoshop Disasters website, and they start to realize that they have seen images like this every day of their lives, and sometimes they don’t even notice something’s wrong with them.

While I feel good about being able to teach my students about media literacy, we still have a long way to go. Most of my students will tell me that they are aware that the images they see aren’t real, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to emulate those images. 32% of teenage girls have starved themselves to lose weight. Three out of four teenage girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful after leafing through a magazine for three minutes. THREE MINUTES. If that’s the case, imagine what happens to them after watching television for half an hour, or a movie for two hours.

It isn’t enough to tell our girls that these images aren’t real. We need to teach about media literacy. We need to show them how the images they see every day are digitally manipulated. We need to teach more about health and nutrition without a focus on the number on the scale. We need to show them more images of women that have not been photoshopped. We need to find ways for them to feel good about themselves, and support and celebrate those feelings.

It’s a tough job, but, for the wellbeing of our teenage girls, we have to do it.

Photo Credit: Photoshop Disasters

One thought on “Keep It Real: Teaching Media Literacy

  1. Hi Ashley, I am a mother of a teen daughter. Her name is Veronica.She is obsessed with Fashion magazines such as Latina,Glamour,Cosmo for Latinas and Cosmo, Even calling them her Bibles. She has gotten in trouble at school because she brings them to school and reads them when she is supposed to be paying attention to her teachers. Well I Have received many phone calls from her teacher saying that she had to confiscate this trash because Veronica would not put them away when Asked to do so. Her teacher asked me what I would like done with the magazines and I Told her to Please Tear up the magazines and put them in the Trash. I Have told Veronica that I dont approve of this fashion magazines and that if this continues that I am going to do something with her magazines that she Wouldn’t like. I received yet another call from her teacher saying that she had to confiscate Veronicas newest Latina Magazine and that when Ms. Quezada tore up and threw away the Latina, Veronica called her the name that rhymes with Witch. After hearing of this I went into Veronicas Room and gathered up every last one of this fashion garbage and fed them through my shredder. Have You every had this problem with your students? I know what I did was harsh but I gave Veronica the fair warning that if this kept up I was serious about the magazines