Source:Journal of Creativity in Mental Health; 2009, Vol. 4 Issue 3, p202-216, 15p
TONYA R. HAMMER
University of Houston–Clear Lake, Houston, Texas, USA
Myths, stereotypes, and controlling images are embedded in the cultural textbook of cinema. Women are disempowered and marginalized by these images, and it is important to explore the exist- ence and prevalence of these images in order to examine their effects on women’s development. A review of the literature concerning controlling images and the media reveals the presence of stereotypes concerning everything from smoking habits to body image. From films, women are learning that they are secondary to men in the workforce and that there is nothing wrong with this perception.
KEYWORDS creativity, women, culture, controlling images, stereotypes, sexism, media, film, advertising
Myths, stereotypes, and controlling images are embedded in today’s culture (Cape, 2003). Patricia Hill Collins (2000), in her seminal work, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, explored the concept of controlling images as they have been used to “justify Black women’s oppression” (p. 69). The media and society, according to Hill Collins, have portrayed “African-American women as stereotypical mammies, matriarchs, welfare recipients, and hot mommas” (p. 69) in order to continue to dominate and subjugate Black women. Hill Collins describes the dominant culture’s use of controlling images to disempower subordinate groups. The images are “designed to make racism, sexism, poverty, and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of everyday life” (p. 69).
While Hill Collins explored the idea of controlling images as a means to explain one manner in which society continues to oppress and control
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Black women, she also explained that “controlling images of Black woman- hood also functioned to mask social relations that affected all women. According to the cult of true womanhood that accompanied the traditional family ideal, ‘true’ women possessed four cardinal virtues: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity” (2000, p. 70). These images of “true,” or White women were juxtaposed onto images of women of ethnicities other than White. Thus, controlling images of one group automatically influence all those with which they intersect in life. Walker (2005) expounded Hill Collins’s ideas by explaining that controlling images dictate how people operate and relate in the world. This subjugation process is not only a racial issue, as the mainstream patriarchal culture has used controlling images to subjugate women for decades. Women of all cultures, as well as some men, are disempowered, marginalized, and humiliated by these images.
Stereotypes, controlling images, and myths existing in all areas of society have helped to establish norms. Kilbourne (1999) specifically examined how advertising influenced the developmental process in adolescents:
Advertisers are aware of their role and do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of offering solutions. A cigarette provides a symbol of independence. A pair of designer jeans or sneakers convey status. The right perfume or beer resolves doubt about femininity or masculinity. (p. 129)
Thus, mass media teaches society what the acceptable and normal roles are for both women and men.
This literature review focuses on the use of media, more specifically film, and how the controlling images, stereotypes, and myths present in film are utilized, whether overtly or covertly, to establish and maintain power- over, stratified cultural relations and marginalized groups, particularly women. According to Walker (2005), “the history of the United States is marked by social stratification, principally, but not solely along dimensions of race-ethnicity, class, sexuality and gender” (p. 49).
However, the use of mass media in its present readily available form (e.g., DVDs, Blu-ray, downloads, pay-per-view on demand, etc.) to perpetu- ate this stratification is a relatively new development. Nancy Signorielli (1997), a professor of communication at the University of Delaware, Newark, identified six types of media primarily used by girls: television, commercials, films, music videos, magazines, and advertisements. Signorielli’s study further indicated these types of media present consistent images with regard to the roles that should be portrayed by women, which includes the idea that women should be more concerned with romance and dating, while men are more concerned with occupations. Kilbourne (2006) described mass media as a cultural textbook, and bell hooks (1997) referred
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to popular culture as the “primary pedagogical medium for learning the politics of difference.”
Society is learning what the acceptable and normal roles for both women and men are through mass media. A prime example of the use of mass media to permeate society with controlling images is found in the medium of advertising, both printed and televised. According to Reinharz and Kulick (2007):
Mainstream magazines are filled with sexual imagery of young women, usually scantily clad, thin to an unhealthy degree, and highly concerned with appearance, beauty and sexual abilities. These are the everyday images of silent women available to us for scrutiny. Movies and television portray popularized narratives of men as hypermasculine, active, heroic, violent, and often devoid of emotion other than rage or stoicism. (p. 257)
Advertising Establishes What Is Acceptable in Many Areas of Society
Kilbourne (1999) explored the impact advertising has had on society’s val- ues, relationships, and commitment to civic life. Kilbourne’s work began with a collection of advertisements she attached to her refrigerator door, all of which in some way demeaned women. As she began to collect the advertisements, she started to see patterns of objectification and subjuga- tion. Kilbourne states: “[I] saw that women’s bodies were often dismem- bered in ads—just legs or breasts or torsos were featured. I saw that women were often infantilized and that little girls were sexualized” (p. 18). Kil- bourne’s findings, in what became her lifelong study, include the position that “the self-esteem of girls plummets as they reach adolescence partly because they cannot possibly escape the message that their bodies are objects, and imperfect objects at that” (p. 27).
In contrast, “boys learn that masculinity requires a kind of ruthlessness, even brutality” (Kilbourne, 1999, p. 27). Eschholz and Bufkin (2001) present the idea that “boys may be particularly vulnerable to violent media images because film characters use violence both to solve problems and to reinforce their masculinity” (p. 656). Kilbourne’s work indicated that media played an important role in the developmental process, regardless of gen- der. Some argue that advertising and mass media have no impact on soci- ety, but Pipher, in the foreword to Kilbourne’s (1999) book, succinctly stated, “Advertising works best precisely because we don’t think it works on us” (p. 12). While advertising, both in print and on television, affects our culture, it does not end there.
The medium of film has also been found to be an effective vehicle for changing society. Feminist and activist bell hooks (1997), in her audio commentary Cultural Criticism and Transformation, refers to film, or popular culture, as the place “where the learning is.” According to Cape (2003):
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Film has been described as a “cultural reservoir” which indirectly or directly influences what we take for granted in society. It is the directors who determine the smoothness and the angle of reflection or distortion that is finally revealed on the silver screen. There is a visual and aural transmission of cultural beliefs and attitudes. (p. 164)
Images in film influence beliefs on subjects ranging from body image (Monro & Huon, 2005) to exercise behavior (Bell, Berger, Cassady, & Townsend, 2005). Furthermore, according to Brown and Singhal (1997), “The impact of popular films and television programs on individual and societal beliefs and behaviors will continue to increase as satellite technology, broadcast and cable television, and VCRs [and DVDs] diffuse rapidly in devel- oping countries” (p. 209). Popular culture, according to hooks (1997), provides a platform of interplay among all walks of life from academia to the working class. It is by understanding the power of representation and learning how to think critically about its influence on everyday life that transformation occurs.
Through film, messages of what is normal or acceptable behavior in today’s society are transmitted in the form of controlling images, stereo- types, and myths. According to Walker (2005), controlling images (a) operate in that the content is determined by the dominant group, (b) operate without the consent of the subjugated group, (c) protect the interests of the domi- nant group and exploit the subjugated group, and (d) justify or rationalize the current power structure.
Controlling images, at least in part, serve to communicate societal expectations for the role of women in relationships and in life. Along with the idea of controlling images, it is also important to understand the concept of a power-over structure. In the mainstream patriarchal structure, those in the dominant group—at times the majority but not necessarily— have been afforded the control or power in the relationships. These could be business relationships, familial relationships, or simply societal encoun- ters. In these relationships, where ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orienta- tion, and more infer power in one person or group, the stratified relationship of dominant and subordinate is established and maintained (Walker, 2005).
Controlling images, at least in part, serve to communicate societal expectations for the role of women in relationships and in life. In film, women are cast in the stereotyped roles of “love goddesses, mothers, martyrs, spinsters, broads, virgins, vamps, prudes, adventuresses, she-devils, and sex kittens” (Haskell, 1999, p. 291). According to Cape (2003), “It is not stereotypes as an aspect of human thought and representation that are wrong, but who controls them, defines them and what interests and uses they serve” (p. 166). Stereotypes are another manner in which the patriarchal structure is maintained.
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According to Levi-Strauss (1969), myths are transformations of funda- mental conflicts or contradictions that in reality cannot be resolved. For example, myths transform the ultimate conflict of good versus evil into stories in which good always wins. The entertainment industry has managed to carry this even further. According to Cape (2003), “Films often provide fanciful solutions to unsolvable dilemmas. A common example in Hollywood is the ‘love conquers all’ paradigm” (p. 166). Furthermore, as put forth by Wood (1975), the mythological function of the movies is to examine these problems without truly examining them. Myths can serve the purpose of providing us with the message of what should be, but, as indicated above, the message delivered can be unreal- istic. Myths in the movies can succeed in transcending reality but in a manner that seems grounded in reality. Films such as Pulp Fiction take a viewer to a place of mythic proportion, which is presented as “reality” (Griffin, n.d.). This is the power of myth in film: the viewer believes in the story and characters despite all evidence that they should not do so (Griffin).
As detailed by hooks (1997) in Cultural Criticism and Transformation, “representations,” or myths, stereotypes, and controlling images, when watched enough, help to facilitate the norming of what is often classified as unacceptable behavior. In her commentary, she presents the example of the images of unacceptable male violence perpetrated on women that make such behavior acceptable or possibly even expected. The images range from violent to racist to what hooks classifies as a “back lash on the feminist movement,” with an agenda of moving women “out of feminism and back into a patriarchal structure.” When viewing the representations of females in film, women and young girls see images of what is or is not acceptable for the choices they make in their lives.
According to Rapping (1999), “Hollywood manages to pay lip service to feminist themes and issues while at the same time, seriously, if subtly, undermining those themes and demeaning, in many ways, the image of the ‘new woman,’ it seems to present” (p. 296). Images on the screen are carrying out an agenda to impress certain beliefs and ideas on society, and this includes an attempt to move women away from the ideas represented in the feminist movement toward a viewpoint of submission and subordination (hooks, 1997).
Women and girls struggle with making decisions in their lives, and resonating in their subconscious are the images of Hollywood’s precon- ceived notions of femininity. Those images, seen over and over again on the big screen, have been decided upon and created by the screenwriter, the producer, the director, and the industry, not by the individuals viewing the images. The very creation of the images reflects the bias of those creating them (Cates, 1990). As stated by Reinharz and Kulick (2007), “The market and advertising for clothing, makeup, shoes, accessories, and so on through
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print and film play a significant role in their [women’s] self-creation and the choices available to them for work and leisure” (p. 262).
Mental health practitioners need to be aware of the portrayal of women in film and the subtext of those images. As hooks (1997) states, by learning to be critically vigilant about the images viewed, individuals are able to “resist certain types of colonizing images and to, at the same time, create new and exciting representations.” In understanding these representations of women in film, viewers become what hooks refers to as “enlightened witnesses.” Becoming an enlightened witness is not a “freeing from the representations, but rather, we are able to be critically vigilant about what is told to us and how we respond to what is told to us” (hooks). And as Puttnam (2005) states, “Cinema can be a powerful force in creating (or reflecting) an appetite for change. It has tremendous power to engage and inspire” (p. 78). In order to better understand the significance of this topic, it is beneficial to first review the current research.
WOMEN’S RELATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Traditional theories of development focus on individuation and autonomy, whereas recent developmental theories examine how women grow and develop in the context of relationships. In traditional theories, according to Surrey (1991), “High value is placed on autonomy, self-reliance, indepen- dence, self-actualization, following one’s own unique dream, destiny and fulfillment” (p. 52). However, rather than true growth and development occurring in isolation, particularly for women, growth and development occur in relationship. Conversely, the experience of isolation, social exclusion, and marginalization can result in negative physical and psychological outcomes (Eisenberger, Lieberman, & Williams, 2003; Genero, Miller, & Surrey, 1992; Hartling & Ly, 2000; Liang et al., 1998; Schore, 2003; Spencer, 2000; Taylor, 2002). According to scholars of the Stone Center, “The desire to connect and participate in building mutual relationships may be a primary organizing force in women’s lives” (Jordan, Banks, & Walker, 2003, p. 92). In order to fully understand the relational perspective of women’s development, it is important to review the literature in a series of concepts.
Regarding the development of self in the experience of women, Jean Baker Miller in The Development of Women’s Sense of Self (1991) examines the notion that while traditional theorists see development as a process of “separating oneself out from the matrix of others,” women, instead, grow within the context of emotional connections, not separate from them (p. 11). Miller further stresses that this growth in connection is not only applicable to women, but, in fact, despite the appearance of autonomy, men grow with the support of significant others in their lives. For women, however, this need for connection is classified as dependence in traditional theories or, in
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“extreme” cases, codependence. Freudian scholars at times argue that this dependence has resulted from a failure to move through the necessary stages of development. The individual “self” has not truly developed. Women are painted as somewhat deficient due to their need for others and for relationships.
Contrary to traditional theories of development, a relational perspective states that the importance of relationships goes beyond women simply valuing the significant others in their lives. Instead, the theory suggests that “the deepest sense of one’s being is continuously formed in connection with others and is inextricably tied to relational movement” (Miller, 1991, p. 15). In this relational movement, an idea of “self” is defined due to the foundation of self in relation to others being brought to the forefront in growth-fostering relationships in a person’s life. Furthermore, due to unhealthy relationships or a lack of growth-fostering relationships, a woman’s “self” is sometimes not fully formed or realized to its fullest potential.
Surrey (1991) juxtaposes the importance of separation from significant figures in a person’s life, as proposed by theorists such as Mahler, Erikson, and Levinson, with the idea of self-in-relation. According to Surrey, “Relationship is seen as the basic goal of development: that is, the deepening capacity for relationship and relational competence” (p. 53). She further states that components of self, such as creativity, autonomy, and assertion, actually develop within the context of relationship rather than in the separa- tion process. Surrey emphasizes that “there is no inherent need to disconnect or to sacrifice relationship for self-development” (p. 53).
Kaplan, Gleason and Klein (1991) examined the development of self in late adolescence or early adulthood. In their work, they identified late adoles- cence as a vital period in the development of self in women. Rather than examining this as a time of separation from parent(s), in particular from the mother, the researchers examined how the relationship with the mother has helped or hindered development of relational competencies in the young woman and how her current status of relational competence evolves into the development of additional relationships. Therefore, as established by Kaplan et al., “The late adolescent woman does not develop ‘out of’ the relational stage, but rather adds on lines of development that enlarge her inner sense of relational being” (p. 131). Kaplan and colleagues also addressed what occurs in the development of women in late adolescence when their inherent desire for connection is denied and pushed aside as is expected.
Although young women continue to seek relational growth, the college environment once again stresses the importance of individuation, autonomy, and competition. Therefore, the very foundation on which women base their self-esteem—their relational competence—is devalued. In order to succeed and continue to “develop” in college, women will often strive for higher valued goals of “independent endeavor and competitive achievement.” In this striving “they believe that they are
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doing what they should be doing,” but somehow find themselves feeling “worse and worse” (Kaplan et al., 1991, p. 130 ). Unfortunately, these feelings are often pathologized, and the recommendation for addressing the “feelings” results in even more isolation and hinders growth and development even further. The late adolescent woman is caught between society’s prescriptions of individuation at all costs and a yearning for connection and relationship. At all stages of women’s development, this desire for connection and growth will sometimes hinder any attempt to fully connect with others, with women finding it necessary to hide their true feelings in order to avoid conflict, especially since they have been socialized to avoid conflict at all costs. Witte and Sherman (2002) have identified this concept as “silencing the self” (p. 1075). It would naturally follow from this silencing that authenticity is absent from the relationship, and therefore, true connection is not found. Consequently, the “self” that develops out of this connection is not authentic. In women’s course of development, women are schooled in what constitutes proper behavior, which limits the expression of certain emotions and ways of being. This involves a silencing not only of the self but of the very soul. Society establishes certain expectations for women, and the resulting inauthenticity impedes women’s growth on many levels. The expectations of society are established through various means, but for the purposes of this article, three areas will be examined: the concepts of stereotypes, myths, and controlling images.
STEREOTYPES, MYTHS, AND CONTROLLING IMAGES
Crawford and Unger (2004) indicated that stereotypes “serve as messengers about the appropriate social roles and behaviors of men and women” (p. 57). In a review of the literature concerning stereotypes, Davies, Steele, and Spencer (2005) acknowledged that negative stereotypes establish what they have identified as a “stereotype threat” (p. 277). The authors further expounded on the fact that this stereotype threat is applicable to the vulner- ability of any group. Whereas men are vulnerable in emotional situations, women are vulnerable in areas where a certain ability to accomplish a task has been predetermined based on a person’s sex (p. 277). Sparks (1998), in her work Against All Odds: Resistance and Resilience in African American Welfare Mothers, examined the power of stereotypes in her review of the welfare system. She explored how stereotypes concerning African American women and welfare have actually served as justifiable reasons to deny benefits, specifically on the basis of anticipated or projected characteristics based on the ethnicity or culture of an individual. Stereotypes are not the only component of our culture that serve as a negative influence on our relational development.
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According to Walker (2005), “The great myth of our culture is that separation provides safety, and correspondingly, that relational interdepen- dence spawns weakness and vulnerability” (p. 62). Some myths are damag- ing to our individual development, our relationships, and society.
Also of importance in reviewing the societal expectations that influence our development is an examination of the concept of controlling images. Hill Collins (2000) described controlling images as being imposed by the dominant culture to disempower subordinate groups. Furthermore, according to Hill Collins, these images are “designed to make racism, sexism, poverty, and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal and inevitable parts of everyday life” (p. 69). Walker (2005) expounded Hill Collins’s ideas by explaining that controlling images dictate how people operate and relate in the world. This subjugation process is not only a racial issue; rather, the dominant male group has used controlling images to subjugate women for decades.
In addition, according to Walker (2005), these cultural agents are an active part of our “relational processes that shape human possibility” (p. 48). Walker continued to expand on the ideas of controlling images by outlining the principles by which the controlling images supposedly operate. In the simplest terms and most convenient definitions, these principles include the ideas that (a) content is determined by the majority or the group with the perceived power; (b) images operate without the consent of the ones being controlled by the images; (c) images serve the purpose of protecting the ones in power and prey on the vulnerabilities of those classified as subordinate; and (d) images “justify or rationalize existing power relations” (p. 51).
Understanding the concepts of stereotypes, myths, and controlling images and how those concepts are transmitted to society is important in grasping how societal expectations play a role in the growth and development of women. Therefore, the researcher subsequently examined the medium of film and its use in propagating the various myths, stereotypes, and control- ling images that influence choices made by women in today’s society.
CONTROLLING IMAGES, MYTHS, AND STEREOTYPES IN THE MEDIA
Puttnam (2005) stated, “Cinema can be a powerful force in creating (or reflecting) an appetite for change. It has tremendous power to engage and inspire” (p. 78). Kilbourne (2006) described mass media as a cultural text- book. Belief systems concerning everything from addiction to expectations for certain careers are being constructed based on stereotypes, controlling images, and myths found in film.
A study conducted by Gharaibeh (2005) examined the stereotypic image of psychiatrist/therapist as presented in modern American film. After
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reviewing approximately 106 films portraying 120 psychiatrists/therapists, researchers found the image presented in the media less than flattering. The therapists/psychiatrists were, more often than not, portrayed as lacking certain ethical boundaries. The overall stereotype of the therapist was one of a “middle aged male who is friendly but incompetent” (p. 318). This stereotypic image negatively impacts the belief system of those individuals who are unfamiliar with the process of therapy.
Further examination of the literature brings us to a study by Signorielli (1997), a professor of communication studies at the University of Delaware, Newark. According to this study, consistent images are portrayed through the media of television, commercials, films, music video, and magazines. The characters portrayed in these images “direct women and girls to be more concerned with romance and dating, while men are depicted as more concerned with their occupations” (p. 3). On a positive note, the study did find women frequently using intelligence, and this was often seen in the accompaniment of an assertion of independence. Furthermore, the study indicated that in movies, approximately 65% of women were focused almost solely on romantic relationships.
Steinke (1997) discussed stereotypes as they applied to the portrayal of female scientists and engineers in the media. Even in education films geared specifically toward the teaching of career choices, Steinke found over “twice as many male characters as female characters and twice as many male scientists as female scientists” (p. 144). The study further emphasized the impressionable age of young girls and how the lack of female role models is a stereotype or gender schemata reinforcement with regard to “traditional career choices” (p. 144).
Crawford & Unger (2004) examined the effects of media on the images of women in comic strips. In their study three comic strips were examined over three decades, and while the number of passive roles assumed by women decreased, women were still, more often than not, found in the passive role and quite often seen wearing an apron. Contrarily, men were always found sans apron, even Dagwood when he assisted Blondie in the catering business. The researchers went on to find that even in more modern strips that show women working outside of the home, “Career women in these comics were portrayed as critical, worried, and having stressful, sleepless nights” (p. 33).
Cape (2003) examined the prevalence of stereotypes and myths in film in relation to addiction. In reviewing approximately 57 movies depicting some form of addiction, Cape categorized the stereotypes present according to four distinct themes: the tragic hero, the rebellious free spirit, the demon- ized addict, and the comedic user. He summarized his findings with regard to stereotypes as follows:
Alcohol and tobacco use in movies tend to be normalized or totally absent—reflecting current ideologies—whereas use of other drugs is
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generally demonized. In this respect movies continue to transform com- monplace and unexceptional human activity to that of deviant behavior which supports and feeds the current political ideology of the “war on drugs.” (p. 169)
Regardless of the stereotype portrayed in the films, studies have found that the public continues to be influenced by what they are seeing, with the portrayals either affirming or helping to construct its underlying belief system.
While various studies have been conducted concerning the impact of advertising and television on the continuation of stereotypes, myths, and controlling images, a gap in the literature appears when examining the roles of women in film. These images in film and other media are involved in the choices that women and society make on a daily basis.
INFLUENCE OF MEDIA ON SOCIETY
As stated previously, Kilbourne (2006) contends that the media functions as a cultural textbook. While this belief can be substantiated in a simple review of Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory, which states that norms, attitudes, expectations, and beliefs arise from an interaction with the cultural (media) environment around us, in order to quantify a well-established theory, the researcher conducted an examination of the current literature. In examining the literature, the researcher found that this textbook was composed of images not only in advertising, which has been Kilbourne’s primary area of focus, but also in television and film.
The literature review of media’s influence begins on a positive note in the examination of a study by Flay (1987) that looked at how media can and does influence the cessation of smoking. In reviewing the impact of mass media programs and campaigns designed to stop individuals from smoking, Flay found that “mass media can be used successfully in the reduction of one of the most life-threatening behaviors” (p. 158). An additional study demonstrates the opposite effect. According to a study by Distefan, Pierce, and Gilpin (2004), a correlation exists between smoking in the movies and adolescent smoking behaviors. The study examined whether or not on-screen smoking was associated with initiation of smoking in adolescents. The study was conducted through an interview process with over 2,000 adolescents. An initial interview was conducted with over 3,000 participants, and in the follow-up interview 3 years later, 2,084 of the partic- ipants were available for the study. The participants were interviewed not only about their smoking behavior, but also about their favorite on-screen performers. The movies of these performers were then reviewed, and a correlation was discovered to exist between the initiation of smoking and
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the on-screen smoking behavior of the favorite performers. In both studies identified above, media was determined to have an influence, positive or negative, on the behaviors of the participants.
Smith, McIntosh, and Bazzini (1999) found that Hollywood had influ- enced society on the belief that “beautiful is good” (p. 77). The researchers examined the relationship between personal attractiveness and positive characteristics as portrayed in film. The study was conducted in two parts. In the first part, the review was conducted using approximately 100 films chosen from a 5-year time span, with raters evaluating the main actress in the film on the characteristics of Attractiveness, Aggressiveness, Friendli- ness, Goodness, Intelligence, Outcome, and Romantic Activity. The researchers found a bias with regard to roles in film. According to the researchers, “the results of our investigation indicate quite clearly, that Hollywood filmmakers have been portraying physically attractive individuals more favorably” (p. 75).
Although the first study clearly demonstrated the bias, the research did not yet address whether this bias influenced the viewers. Therefore, in the second part of the study, selected films in the previous study by Smith et al. (1999) were chosen with the hypothesis that “exposure to films with stereo- typical depictions of attractive people as good can subsequently influence the stereotypes of viewers” (p. 75). The second study found that participants “rated attractive people more favorably than unattractive people” (p. 77). Even more important, according to the researchers, was that results demon- strated not only that participants rated attractive people more favorably, but they also demonstrated “the influence of a situational variable—exposure to stereotyped films—on the magnitude of the tendency to favor the physically attractive” (p. 77).
In relation to the above study, numerous studies have been conducted on the influence of the media on body image in females. Monro and Huon (2005) found that “exposure to idealized images [in the media] led to increased body shame and appearance anxiety” (p. 89). Participants were exposed to images from popular magazines including, but not limited to, Cleo, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, and Who Weekly. A baseline question- naire was administered prior to the exposure to the images. Post exposure, a Visual Analog Scale was administered. According to researchers, “idealized images are an influential source of pressure to meet the thin ideal” (p. 89). Researchers also indicated that “such images are not equally detrimental to all young women” (p. 89). Monro and Huon’s study represented one aspect of the influence of media on body image.
Also of relevance in the influence of body image was a study conducted by Maltby, Giles, Barber, and McCutcheon (2005), which exam- ined the relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image. Maltby et al. examined the results of three scales administered to approximately 700 participants. Scales administered were the Celebrity
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Attitude Scale, Attention to Body Shape Scale, and Body Shape Question- naire—Revised. Researchers found a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image for female adolescents between the ages of 14 and 16 years.
This review of current literature clearly indicates that the media influences society in various facets of life ranging from smoking to body image. As Kilbourne (1999) documented, advertising through mass media has the ability to change and influence the way we think and feel, thus impacting our belief system. As women are making significant decisions in their lives, ranging from education to career selection, these images are being viewed and the women are quite possibly being influenced by those images. It is important as educators and practitioners that we are aware of these messages when working with our clients. Awareness allows us to, as hooks (1997) discussed, “resist certain types of colonizing images and to at the same time create new and exciting representations.”
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Tonya R. Hammer is Assistant Professor of Counseling in the Department of Counseling at the University of Houston–Clear Lake, Houston, Texas.