Miss Representation

Courtesy missrepresentation.org

On Saturday afternoon, I participated in a screening of the documentary Miss Representation and an interactive discussion that followed held at the Nichols Library in downtown Naperville.   According to filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation “explores women’s under-representation in positions of power and influence in America and challenges the limited portrayal of women in mainstream media”.   The event was brought to Naperville from The SkinLess Project, an initiative that believes all women deserve the opportunity to be respected for their ideas and personal strengths in their communities, and co-sponsored by Women in Naperville Networking, the Naperville Moms Network, and Diane Overgard, Founder and CEO of 45 degrees.  Miss Representation originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2011 and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) aired it last October as part of it’s Documentary Club.

During the 90 minute film, the women (and a few men) in the room were shocked by some of the these sobering statistics:

  • American teenagers spend an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes a DAY consuming media – from watching television, listening to music, reading magazines, and being on the internet.
  • 78% of girls at by age 17 are unhappy with their bodies.
  • 65% of women and girls have an eating disorder.
  • U.S. women spend between $12,000 and $15,000 a year on beauty products and salon services.  That’s enough to pay for 5 years at a community college or 2 years at a state university.
  • Women comprise 17% of Congress, yet we are 51% of the population.
  • The 2010 mid-term election is the first time women did not made gains in Congress since 1979.  At this rate, women may not achieve parity for 500 years.
  • Only 34 women have served as governors, compared to 2319 men.
  • 67 countries have had a female president or prime minister.  The U.S. is not one of them.  We are 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures.  
  • More than 20% of teens have sex before the age of 14.
  • In John Boehner’s first four weeks as Speaker of the House, he was on the cover of FIVE national weekly magazines.  During Nancy Pelosi’s four years as Speaker of the House, she was on the cover of ZERO national weekly magazines.
  • Women hold only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising. 

There were moving commentaries from notable women such as Condoleezza Rice, Dianne Feinstein, Jane Fonda, Lisa Ling, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Gina Davis and Rosario Dawson discussing how the political, entertainment, and even news industry classify and objectify women, focusing on how they look versus their “inner content”.  What was most moving for me was to watch the “every day” kids talk about how they feel about themselves, how they are talked to by peers, and how their self esteem is being effected by the negative images portrayed in our society.  In addition, there was an interesting segment about how young men are supposed to be taught to respect women, but the generations of men before them haven’t laid the groundwork for that to take place.  The film indicated that most young men are taught not to express themselves in emotional positive ways, and this needs to change.  Miss Representation concluded by encouraging people shift their conscience from the bottom line to one of social responsibility.  To challenge media conglomerates to value women and hold them accountable when they don’t.  To encourage women to discover their true power and support them on their journeys.  And it reminded us that 86% of the purchasing power in the U.S. is in the pockets of women.  We should use it.

The panel (L to R –  Overgard, Sayeed, Subber)

After the film, a panel was gathered by moderator Ayesha Akhtar from TheSkinLess Project and included Diane Overgard from 45 degrees (a certified Family Life Educator), Dr. Cathy Subber from Advanced Health of Naperville / Naperville Moms Network and Dilara Sayeed, a teacher and long time educator in District 203.  Each panelist took a few minutes to share their personal stories and reactions to the film, some so powerful it brought the audience to tears.   Many topics were discussed; how the word “fat” can tear in to a child and stay with them for their lifetime, how women need to take the word “beautiful” back, and the need to raise our children to be leaders not followers.  There were several Junior High girls in attendance that shared great reminders for everyone young and old – surround yourself with good people that make you feel comfortable about who you are.  The conversation was very open from all attendees and most people felt comfortable sharing their personal stories as well as their parenting fears and their frustrations regarding they state of society and what can we do to change it.  In my opinion, I think it really comes down to finding out what bothers you, what can you do to make a difference in your lives and the lives of others and then taking action.  After all, it’s one thing to talk about what’s wrong and what you wish was different, it’s another thing to actually DO SOMETHING about it!

To learn more about Miss Representation, schedule a screening and discussion in your area, and find out how you can make a difference in your community, go to missrepresentation.org or follow them on Twitter @representpledge  You can also get more information on The SkinLesss Project from their website at skinlessproject.com, Diane Overgard and 45 degrees at 45degrees.org, and Dr. Cathy Subber at AdvancedHealthNaperville.comNapervilleMomsNetwork.com, or on Twitter @DrCathySubber or @NapervilleMoms

Photo Credit:  JustJen


  1. This is a great summary of 3 jam packed hours of thinking! Thank you for increasing awareness, Jennifer.

  2. this is the type of thing that at least for a moment makes me glad I don’t have girls. Not that boys are totally immune but I just don’t think it is so at their core. I have struggled with eating disorders at both ends of the spectrum and am fighting really hard to become healthy for the first time…ever really. To teach my boys that food isn’t a crutch or a drug or a reward! It’s hard to reteach yourself something that reaches so far into every area of our lives, but I hope I can do it…if not for myself (which SHOULD be enough) than for them

  3. This sounded awesome! Wish I could have attended!

  4. Lisa Noel, good luck with your challenge. I’m sure that it isn’t easy and it will require a strength that I’m sure you have deep inside.

    Lisa: It was an amazing movie. Check out their website to see when there is a screening close to you!

  5. Wow! That’s a lot of information! Sounds very interesting, though.

  6. This sounds like it was an intense experience. Like Lisa, it makes me feel a little relieved to have boys, but they have their own “stuff.” And, hey, I was a girl once. In mid-life it strikes me how ridiculous my friends and I were picking ourselves apart. Oh, if I could have a week back in my 18-year-old body. I wouldn’t criticize a thing. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kim – I agree! I’d love to be 18 again and in a body that I thought wasn’t “good enough” now that I’m in my 40s and have had 3 children! Isn’t perspective amazing? Thanks for your comments 🙂