Stereotypes and body image – what is a teenager to do? |

Stereotypes and body image – what is a teenager to do?

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado
Andrea Quijada explains to Basalt Middle School students how to read media messages during an assembly Tuesday morning. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN Parents worried about their teenagers’ efforts to figure out gender stereotyping and how to have a positive body image might want to check out a talk Thursday at Aspen Middle School.The talk will be one of a series with Andrea Quijada, director of educational programs for the New Mexico Media Literacy Project in Albuquerque, N.M., who has lectured at a wide range of schools, nonprofit organizations and institutions around the U.S. and abroad.Quijada already has appeared at Basalt and Aspen middle schools under the sponsorship of the Aspen Youth Center’s Education Series, and she will speak at assemblies for Aspen’s seventh- and eighth-grade classes Thursday morning. She will present a “parent keynote” talk from 6-7:15 p.m. at Aspen Middle School. Tickets are $15 per person.

On Tuesday, Quijada asked Basalt Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders their reaction to a number of video clips of national product advertisements aimed at teens, as well as their assessments of what the ads were trying to accomplish.Citing an ad for Skippy Snack Bars, which consist of peanut butter, chocolate, caramel and other sweet ingredients, she noted that the message refers to “snack bars” instead of “candy bars,” and suggested that the ad really was aimed at gaining parental acceptance for the treats.”Was this an accident?” she asked the students, who responded with an enthusiastic chorus of “No.””No,” she agreed. “You know they did it on purpose,” to sell kids and parents alike on the idea that the treats were not junk food but were “healthier for you.”

She also showed an infamous photo of a huge shark leaping out of the water to attack a helicopter and a man dangling on a rope ladder below. The photo’s creators tried to pass it off as the “National Geographic Photo of the Year,” before the magazine debunked it as a hoax; it stands as an example of the need for skepticism.”That,” she concluded, “is what media literacy is” – developing the ability to take a critical look at the images and messages beamed into homes on television and the Internet, and packed into newspapers, magazines – even movies – to determine the true goal of the marketing efforts behind those images and words.She cited the Hershey chocolate company and the L’Oreal skin treatment makers, among others, for using “exaggeration or hyperbole” to hawk their wares. Many ad campaigns, she said, attempt to persuade gullible viewers to buy products that offer a seemingly miraculous “simple solution” to any number of problems.Quijada also criticized popular entertainment venues for underrepresenting persons of color in dramas and comedy shows, noting estimates that 70 percent of prime-time television actors are white. “Some cultures don’t get to see themselves represented,” she said. “Do you think that’s right?”

Again and again, the students responded to her queries with enthusiasm, rejecting cultural stereotypes and prejudice as her presentation depicted.”There are people making decisions about what we’re going to see … who they’re going to show,” she said. And even when some such group is represented as anything other than maids or criminals, the goal is suspect.”When we see the stereotypes being broken, it’s usually to sell something,” she said, citing ads that feature minorities only as an way to get people in a given ethnic group to buy a product. She urged the students to examine ads and shows carefully.

Thursday’s parent presentation, Quijada said after the Basalt assembly, would deal more with the issues of gender stereotyping and body image among both boys and girls.While she does not expect to get into details about extreme cases involving or anorexia, she will offer suggestions for parents to consider in their conduct and that of their teenagers.”We aren’t saying that all media are bad,” Quijada stressed. “It’s also paying attention to what takes place in the home,” such as adults obsessing about weight and other aspects of their appearance. Such behaviors, she said, should not be paraded in front of children, or the children might begin to replicate them.John Colson’s e-mail address is