Why representation matters in media
I grew up watching a lot of movies and they were one of the best parts of my childhood. I loved everything about it, places, stories, songs, drama, characters. Even though they brought me immense joy they sometimes also made me feel as if I am not pretty enough or something is missing in me. You see, there were always these actresses who were fair and with a perfect figure, extremely feminine, and gracious, with straight hair, and not even single one of them wore glasses. And even if they did, they threw it out in the mid-movie and get their hair straightened because now they were pretty?! Because the male actors couldn’t look in to their beautiful eyes? Yeah, that seems really important than being able to see stuff.
Most of the people don’t understand what a big of a deal this is. There are many psychological studies available that tells us about how media has a huge role in shaping the relationship we have with our looks. Not every kid comes from a strong, loving family. They don’t always grow up being confident or with high EQ and self-esteem, especially when their body is changing rapidly at every moment, and people around them don’t shy away in pointing it out, or comparing it in ruthless ways. If you don’t have the right people/media around you it can cause some serious issues which will follow you throughout your life. And the feeling that you’re ugly is the worst possible thing that can happen to any person in their young age. Have you seen the video of a 3-year-old African-American girl who thinks she is ugly? Watching it broke my heart. Now imagine no one ever told her she is not at all ugly, how it would affect all the choices she will make in her life? I remember reading about a fashion model who came from an extremely small village. So, whenever a model is asked if she knew she was pretty all along, all of them answer the same thing- no, they thought they are too awkward and gawky, skinny. But this particular girl said yes, she always knew she was pretty. Do you know what was the difference? Her village had no media presence whatsoever. She didn’t have anyone tell her that there’s only one specific way to be beautiful.
Bollywood is more orthodox when it comes to representation. Even if any actress with their different physical traits enters the industry she pretty much changes everything about her in a few years, be it her nose, skin colour, etc. And it is done so effectively and gradually that audience doesn’t even realise anything has changed over time. Its worse for actresses than it is for actors. Anyway, things pretty much changed for me when my father introduced me to Art cinema. And suddenly I was watching these badass women, with brilliant acting skills, who did not wait for men to save them in the movies, they had their own opinions, emotions, back story, flaws, that I had never seen before in Bollywood. And the most important part was they kinda looked like me.
In 2016, Simone Biles made history in the Olympics by winning multiple medals for Gymnastics, who is only 4ft 8in tall. Witnessing this moment in history, all my limiting beliefs I had about my height were shattered. After years of torment by people around me about my skin colour, came this speech by Lupita Nyongo on Black beauty essence. An oscar winning actress facing the same struggles as me! It made me feel heard, that I belong, that its okay to be me. And I understood that there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the way I look. I understood I am just idealizing and listening to wrong people. And I believe, even though everyone likes to say that “Looks don’t matter”, but deep down we all know, that they do, even if its a tiny bit. It matters more than you can imagine for some people. They are so used to see a certain type of character in media that they feel they could never be the hero of their own story. The medias idea of beauty is so warped, that I doubt it would count even 1% of our human population. I mean who came up with this? Who decides what is worthy to be shown to a infinite range of audience? And why is it so limited? I’m glad I’m not the only one who have been asking these questions.
Fortunately, things are changing for the better. Since the past few years, there came out movies from Hollywood, like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Black Panther’ with not a single Caucasian characters! And everyone could not believe what they had seen. This was a huge turn for our white-washed pop culture, this had never happened before. Since then we have seen so many range of characters with all kind of representation in media, its incredible! Be it Miles Morales from ‘Spider-man: into the Spiderverse’, which broke all the stereotypes about who can be a spider-man, or be it Ellie Chu from the recent Netflix movie ‘The Half of It’, where the protagonist is an Asian, Bi girl, and very important- wears glasses throughout the movie. My 8-year-old self would have never thought she will see something like this onscreen, and I bet it makes her and people everywhere like her, very happy. And I know this is only a start of something great and soon no one will ever feel left out. It may not solve all our problems but it does help if you hate yourself a little less and accept the way you are a little more.
Oh, and by the way, I found some more women in pop culture that always rock glasses and make it look so cool. So I am going to stick to mine.