A new report by the Girl Scout Research Initiative entitled Real To Me: Girls And Reality TV has revealed some very interesting details about how teenage (and adolescent) girls view the people on reality television. For example, what do young girls take away from the image of women being pitted against each other on a regular basis? That they need to compete with each other, and to them, this means that they “accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measure their worth primarily by their physical appearance.” What is not clarified in this report, however, is what exactly constitutes a reality show. Are we talking about competition shows like Project Runway that showcase talent … or Jersey Shore?
The report took the form of a survey, and asked tween and teen girls, both reality show watchers and non-watchers, a variety of questions about what they saw on reality TV and how it affected them. The results were rather disheartening, with a majority of girls stating that reality TV places girls in direct competition with each other (86%) and that gossip is a normal part of a friendship between girls (78% of reality show watchers compared with 56% of non-watchers). And boys certainly also come into play: more watchers than non-watchers feel that girls need to compete with each other for male attention (74% vs. 63%) and that they feel they’d be happier if they had a boyfriend (49% vs. 28%). (There was nothing reported about girls who were interested in girls, though.)
There was no distinction made between competition shows or “real” reality shows, but the latter certainly do feature women a lot more heavily and place a very big emphasis on appearance, status, wealth, etc. Look at Bravo‘s Real Housewives franchise — these women don’t actually do anything. And they’re supposed to be “real housewives,” but they’re not exactly average, are they? They’re rich, or at least they try to convey that image (while going into deep debt and filing for bankruptcy). They also fight with each other, oftentimes for no reason, creating drama where it didn’t exist for the sake of television, usually citing the most superficial of flaws in each other while bearing their claws and teeth. But it’s not fictional, and that sends a very odd message to impressionable people: acting like this is normal. And it can get you on television.
On the other side of the reality TV coin are competition shows. These shows — the contestants of which are more gender-mixed — actually do promote talent and individuality. That is, until the individuals have to join together for a team challenge. We’re pretty sure you’ve heard the expression “I’m not here to make friends.” If you haven’t, you have not seen a reality show. Or you’re just at the gynecologist’s office. At the same time real talent — and adaptability, for that matter — is being showcased, so is the attitude of “every man or woman for his and herself,” shutting people out and tearing them down — “throwing them under the bus,” if you will — in the name of glorious reality show victory.
Do we really not want to make friends? Um, making friends really helps you network. And also, a lot less people hate each other when they’re friends. We’re just saying.
However, while reality TV seemingly makes girls more image-conscious and willing to rip each other to shreds in the name of maintaining said self-image, girls who watched the shows that were making them feel this way were also reported to say that they felt like they were more self-assured and could “achieve anything in life” (68%). They also felt like they were exposed to diversity while simultaneously seeing people to whom they could relate. Some even said they felt like they could be a leader (75% watchers vs. 63% non-watchers) or a role model for others (75% vs. 61%).
Wait a second — 75 percent of girls who watch reality shows say they could be a leader, but also “accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measure their worth primarily by their physical appearance”? What kind of leaders do they think they’re going to be, anyway? This is really interesting. Wait, did we say “interesting”? We meant “disturbing.”