read it: Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 4925)

According to Women and Hollywood the Girls Scouts USA is working with US representatives Tammy Baldwin and Shelly Moore Capito to create a National Taskforce to Promote Positive Images of Girls and Women and push through the Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 4925).

Discussing the impetus behind the bill, Representative Baldwin noted:

“Children are consuming more media than ever. Unfortunately too many of the images they see often reinforce gender stereotypes, emphasize unrealistic body images or show women in passive roles. All young people would benefit from seeing healthier and more positive messages about girls and women. The Healthy Media for Youth Act is a critical step towards achieving this goal.”

According to a study conducted by Girls Scout Research Institute – “The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006)” – approximately 90% of girls feel that the fashion industry and media places pressure on teen girls to be thin. The study girls’ tumultuous relationship with fashion and media to eating disorders, dieting habits, depression, and low self-esteem. In an effort to combat these issues the Healthy Media for Youth Act proposes creating and supporting media literacy programs, furthering research on the effects of media images, and asking media and fashion industries to adopt voluntary guidelines that promote positive media images for youth.

H.R. 4925 can be read in full here. These are some of the things that struck me when I read it:

– The Act acknowledges race and class: “Girls and women of color are disproportionately absent from mainstream media. The Girl Scout Research Institute survey, Girls and Body Image (2010), found that only 32 percent of African-American girls think the fashion industry does a good job of representing people of all races and ethnicities.” Plus the Act aims to fund projects that are gender specific and focus “on a variety of populations, including racial and ethnic minorities and representatives of several socioeconomic status groups.”

– The Act addresses the need to promote various body types: “Congress supports efforts to ensure youth improve their media literacy skills and consume positive messages about girls and women in the media that promotes healthy and diverse body images, develops positive and active female role models, and portrays equal and healthy relationships between female and male characters.”

– The Act also recognizes how negative images of girls and women can affect boys: “Sexualized messages and images of girls and women also negatively impact boys. These negative effects include boys’ developing unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of girls’ and women’s physical appearance, and may impair their ability to develop healthy relationships with girls and women, according to the American Psychological Association’s report.”

The term “positive images” can be tricky – while I understand the need to combat stereotypical images of girls and women in media, I’m not exactly sure what a positive image of girlhood looks like – and I’m sure many of us could have a debate on this very topic. Does it mean girls that don’t show anger? Girls that always get along with others? Girls that are always polite and responsible? As Rachel Simmons notes on her blog and in her work, the “Curse of the Good Girl” model is just as unrealistic for girls as sexualized stereotypical images of girls on TV.

Moreover, while I’m behind the idea of promoting “diverse body types” I’m not sure how this Act and the projects it will fund are defining “healthy” body types – this can be a tricky thing to define especially when people – even people on the Obesity Taskforce – hold such negative views of obese people and even refuse to treat obese people in a respectful and humane manner (thanks to Carly at Sparkle Bliss for tweeting this story).

Unfortunately, H.R. 4925 doesn’t define these things, but it does define “sexualization” in terms of the scope and aim of the Act:

The term ‘‘sexualization’’ refers to a circumstance when—

(A) a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
(B) a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) and personal value with appearing, acting, and being sexy;
(C) a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decisionmaking; or
(D) sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

I appreciate how the term “sexualization” is defined since it still creates a space in which girls can be sexual (exhibiting sexual desire and embodying sexual agency) onscreen and in magazines. Hopefully this means that positive images will not reinforce images of girls as asexual or innocent (as in devoid of desire).

Overall, while I’m behind many things expressed in Healthy Media for Youth Act, it is important to note that while it addresses gender in relation to race and class, there is no mention of broadening representations of homosexual or queer girls. There is also no mention of combating ableism in fashion or the media. Moreover, I would argue that the Act implicitly reaffirms a gender binary – by focusing on cis-gender girls and boys, but neglecting to include trans-gender individuals and the need to represent a range of gender identities.

H.R. 4925 is a step in the right direction and I hope we work to reach – and improve upon – the goals outlined in the Act. If you want to track the progress of the Healthy Media for Youth Act, WashingtonWatch.com and OpenCongress.org are tracking it. Also the Girl Scouts Advocacy Network created a draft email that you can send to your US Representatives – urging them to support H.R. 4925

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~ by actyourage09 on April 2, 2010.

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