It’s an argument we’ve heard before—and there are more than a few books that have tackled the subject. But what’s different from even five years ago, says Newsom, is just how prevalent such media has become. Today’s teens spend an average of 10 hours a day using media; girls ages 11 to 14 are bombarded by some 500 advertisements each day. This is a generation that’s been reared on reality TV—watching bodies transformed on Extreme Makeover; faces taken apart and pieced back together on I Want a Famous Face. They are, as Jane Fonda puts it, bombarded by “toxic, hyper-sexualized” images.
It’s always been hard to be a teen girl—but now, says Newsom, media pervades every aspect of our culture. “I worry about how much pressure my daughters feel in a society that features anorexic actresses and models and television stars,” Katie Couric says to the camera. “We get conditioned to think this is what women should look like.”
If girls weren’t confused already, plop them down in front of the tube for a few hours of the Kardashians—complete with fairy-tale weddings, 20-carat rings, facelifts, and Botox, all against a backdrop that this is a family famous for a sex tape gone viral. (No wonder the Obamas don’t let their daughters watch the show.) According to a new Girl Scouts study, reality TV shows prime young women to believe that their value is based on looks, that gossiping and competition are normal parts of a relationship, and that it’s better to be recognized for outer beauty than inner.