The biggest problems with Western media


In western culture, people have cultivated an obsession with youth and beauty. On some levels, this can be viewed as a positive thing. The better you eat, exercise, or care for yourself will not only make you feel better on the inside but be more socially acceptable to others in how you look and act.

On the other hand, this obsession can be incredibly harmful to teenagers, especially when depicted in the media. One of the problems is having adults act in teenage roles on TV shows and in movies.

Seeing adults portray teenagers in the media plays a huge role in teenage insecurity. For myself, I was concerned that I didn’t look like the teenagers that I was seeing on Good Luck Charlie on the Disney Channel.

Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist, and teen and family expert says casting actors in their 20s can complicate an already challenging time for teens. She says, “It can give the message that they’re supposed to look good all the time.”

A person in their 20s is more likely to have a consistent appearance, whereas an adolescent’s may change over time. “Some days they’re thinner, they’re a little heavier, they have pimples, their hair is a little frizzy. It’s all ok,” Greenberg says. But, when teen idols on screen don’t share in that anguish, it can make the teen viewer vulnerable to feeling self-conscious and depressed about it. “That leads to all kinds of body-image and social-comparison issues,” Greenberg says. “And we know that social comparison can be a thief of joy.”

However, one of the bigger problems that play into the obsession with youth and beauty is the sexual or aesthetic attraction to minors.

This idea of sexualizing teen actors and celebrities is very common, and especially in Hollywood, not talked about very often.

One of the most prominent recent examples is the relationship between Millie Bobby Brown from the hit Netflix TV show, Stranger Things, and Drake the rapper. According to Brown in an interview with Teen Vogue, she and Drake have been texting about various topics such as boys, relationships, and mentoring. Given that Drake is 31 years old and Brown is 14, this relationship seems quite weird even if it is just a ‘friendship.’

Brown is not the only instance of Drake doing this. Drake had also done this with his ex-girlfriend, Hailey Baldwin when she was around 14. The relationship between them did not start until she was 18, however, the rapper started being ‘friends’ with her 4 years prior.

Older instances of sexualization of minors on the internet can be traced back to around 2004.  At this time, the internet was bursting with countdown clocks for entertainers’ 18th birthdays, most famously, the Olsen twins. The idea of men waiting for women to turn 18 so they can start making sexual advances is not only disgusting but shows that they were sexualizing the girls while they were still minors.

This is not just a problem for girls either; celebrities like Dylan And Cole Sprouse had countdown clocks for their 18th birthdays as well. Finn Wolfhard, the co-star to Brown in Stranger Things, has also been sexualized at a young age by adult women. 27-year-old fashion model Ali Michael posted a comment on Instagram saying, “‘Not to be weird but hit me up in a few years.”

So, the real question is: how did we let this happen?

And to be completely honest, I have no real answer, nor do I know how to combat the problem completely, but I do have a good idea.

As the country has become more sex-positive, more portrayals of students in high school and middle school have been found in the media, teaching 13-18-year-olds that loving your body and others is a good and healthy thing. Healthy examples of this are shows such as Bob’s Burgers, That 70’s Show, or Girl Meets World. Teaching students that they are their own person and their personal thoughts are not to be shamed builds confidence; however, there is a line, again, that has been crossed.

Television shows such as Sex Education and Big Mouth toy with the idea of adolescent sexuality, but this new type of media is rated TV-MA for sexually explicit content. If the content deals with students in high school and middle school, then why is the content warning saying it is only for adults?

Similarly, this can be said about musicals such as Heathers. This show depicts the lives of high school students and discusses relevant scenarios of what it looks like to be a teenager as well as explains the turmoil many teenagers go through while trying to figure out who they are. These are important issues to talk about. Figuring out who you are should be a celebrated process and not one of emotional distress, no one is denying that.

However, even though this is commonly considered an ‘art’ piece, it is very concerning that there are high school productions of these shows. With scenes showing sexually explicit content, having minors act out these scenes is not ‘art’ or helping them ‘understand sexuality.’

I understand the argument that these are things that all students go through and adults just want to reminisce, but there is a better way to do that than to watch teenagers portray these intimate moments on a stage or screen.

I also understand that parents are allowed to expose their children to whatever type of media they choose, however, it is important to think about the underlying consequences of this exposure. Without parental controls on computers, phones, televisions, or any other form of visual stimulation, children can avail themselves of a vast array of sexual content, making them not only more sexual beings at a younger age, but stunting them emotionally.

According to Sneha Bhat, a psychotherapy and counseling psychologist, “A direct exposure to sex like watching anyone involved in the activity could alter his/her perception about people involved & an indirect one through media could trouble them in different ways,” and, “exposure to sex before the body and mind are ready could generate confusion, shock, fear, panic, anxiety, guilt, misunderstanding or any other strong emotion.”

I’m not saying that we must ban all forms of media that depict these images, or completely change the way Hollywood casts their programs, rather I am saying that it is time to start thinking critically about the media we are consuming.

Corporations and media outlets don’t care about how happy a show makes you feel or how good your skin feels after using a product. They care about making money and if what makes money is playing off the insecurities of teenagers and the wants for MA content revolving around teenage life, then shouldn’t we be concerned?