Reality TV & The Self-Esteem of Women

Former QVC Show Host, Patti Reilly, reflects on this exclusive clip from the set of Miss Representation…

According to the New Oxford Dictionary, the word reality is defined as: “the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them”. The real reality is this: nothing and no one is perfect. Perfection is an illusion. It is a fairytale, an image, and it is far from our American reality. Yet we’ve been trained by various media outlets, reality shows in particular, to think of resorting to extreme beauty measures as an end that justifies any means.

Reality TV shows are actually the ultimate “illusion makers”. We’re supposed to believe that these shows are indicative of real life with overriding messages that focus on illusions of perfection: she is thin, sexy, and flawless- and in reality she has been augmented, whether through risky surgical methods, airbrushing or photo shop. The media constantly reminds us that we’re not good enough, we need to be fixed, and that our value lies in our youth and beauty.

Our culture teaches women that our worth is directly related to how we look. Fostering this belief distracts women with the notion that success will elude them unless they buy into “beauty as a commodity.” When watching these shows the resounding message is that “ordinary” may as well be synonymous with “worthless”. Perpetuating this nonsense that we should all be Barbie-esque in our looks and over the top in how we behave in order to get attention has to stop. Striving for this “idealized standard of perfection” promotes surgical procedures that have risks and consequences, not just physically, but to the true foundation of who we really are. Plastic surgery is not a one-size-fits-all solution to address a physical need to be something that emotionally we may feel robbed of. Women are becoming desensitized to their emotional needs and instead use beauty as a temporary band-aid. Statistics report that depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem are at an all time high in young girls and women. We can’t ignore the source, which is a thriving beauty industry that rakes in over 500 billion dollars per year with no signs of waning even in our strained economy.

By choosing to watch reality shows that depict women in highly sexualized and demeaning ways or in manners that are truly unflattering (fighting and competing against each other) we are choosing a co-parenting medium as “entertainment education” which is clearly not in the best interest of nurturing young women. For young women the false illusion of beauty has proven to be damaging to their perception of themselves and the world they live in.

So the question we must ask ourselves is, how sure are we that this new generation of young women can distinguish fact from fiction or real life from reality? These particular shows have been masterfully orchestrated to depict a cultural norm that directly impacts women’s value to society with the promise that the thinner you are, the prettier you are, and the more outrageously you behave the more successful and happy you will be. This skewed message sidetracks women off the path of empowerment, encouraging them to invest in fixing their outer-selves. Instead of deciding on a college and course of study, more and more women are investing their thought and hard-earned money into what cup size they should be.

It’s time to have a new conversation about beauty and hold a mirror up to our culture and ourselves. With reality shows like these dominating the primetime airwaves we have to be vigilant and heighten our awareness to what exactly our children are watching. The real answer is about teaching women to tune in to their emotional health and tune out the over-sensationalized media messages. Change the channel! Remember this timeless expression: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? Be the beholder. Take your power back and protect the next generation. What message would you rather be telling yourself and your children about beauty? Choose that. Hear that. Live that.

Learn more about Patti and her work at here