Why is media representation important?

We live in a digital age. Every other conversation we have revolves around what we’ve seen on TV, what we’ve read, who tweeted what. Now more than ever we get to “know” so many people without actually meeting them. We see famous, beautiful people all around us. We see what the world considers perfect, important, normal. And this affects our everyday life greatly.

First time I tasted the effect of this was when I was 5 years old. I wasn’t perfect – I was a chubby child and I did get mentally bullied for that. In kindergarten. No one ever hit me for the way I looked but they laughed at me and called me names. Nobody would talk to me because I was fat. I didn’t look like the other children and I had to be punished for that.

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Most of us have at one point experienced a similar thing: someone told us they wouldn’t be our friend because we were ginger, we wore glasses or we dressed like a boy. If we don’t look and behave like everyone else, if we’re out of the norm in any way – we don’t belong. We’re weird. We’re wrong. At least that’s how most of us feel… and I blame the media.

We look at posters and magazine covers and billboards every day. We see people on TV, in the cinema; we even see them on the packaging of our toilet paper. And they all look the same: white, skinny, straight and happy. And what is a person supposed to do if they are only 2 out of these 4 words? Or maybe someone is none of them. Does it make them wrong? No, it doesn’t. It just makes them stand out and be “weird”. Because if you don’t see enough fat Asian unhappy girls who like other girls, then someone who fits this description is not normal.

What we consider normal is what we see around us on everyday basis. And let’s be honest here: the protagonist of your average film is very likely to be white, skinny and straight. I just don’t think this is right.

As a not-straight and not-skinny person I have to admit: I have many complexes about myself and my self-confidence is very low. It has been this way ever since I can remember. When I was around 13 years old, I fancied a girl: and I fancied her a lot. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t admit that to anyone. Not even to myself. I’d say that I liked the girl because she looked like a boy and it confused me. Because I liked boys, I really did. So it had nothing to do with her being a girl, I liked her despite her gender. At least this is what I’ve been saying to myself until the age of 18.

Before that I’ve only ever seen one lesbian on TV ever (Emily from Pretty Little Liars if anyone is interested). I was circa 15 and I remember feeling strangely about her character: I was invested in her relationships but I dreaded that someone would ever compare me to her (not on the basis of being a lesbian; even if someone would say I dress like her or smile like her – I would be offended). Then, when I was 18, I was watching this TV series called The 100. Long story short, there is a bisexual female character and seeing her falling in love with a girl made me connect to her so much that I had to think about what it meant. And I realized I was bi. It took me more than a year to be actually fine with saying that, to be proud of who I am. But that is another story.

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I’m proud to be bisexual.

My point here is that God knows what would’ve happened if I wasn’t watching The 100. If Shane Dawson hadn’t put up a video of him coming out as a bisexual. Maybe I would still be in the closet – not only hidden from the world but also from myself. I needed to see an image of myself. I needed to see a part of my personality reflected in the media to finally let go of my fears and get comfortable in my own skin. I still have a long way to go but since the media representation is slowly getting better and better, I think it might get easier. Hopefully we will get to see even more variety than we currently have available.

Veronika x

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