When I was growing up, I distinctly remember an episode of Hannah Montana that has always stuck with me. It was the one where Hannah was doing a photoshoot for a billboard and Lily had to get glasses before a big skating competition. The night before the billboard was to be showcased, Miley, Lily, and Jackson snuck onto the roof of the building to take a sneak peek. To Miley’s horror, the company had edited a massive pimple on the middle of her forehead.
Earlier in the episode, Lily had lamented the fact she was required to wear glasses saying she looked like a dork and the boy who she liked would never like her back looking that way. Miley tried to reassure her but, when it came to her own “less than perfect” image, she was mortified. Lily came forward and said that if Miley could let the whole world see her with a massive zit, then she could wear a pair of glasses. Miley however, couldn’t deal with it and ended up painting over the zit. Lily sees the covered zit, causing Miley to throw water over the billboard to remove the paint thus revealing the pimple.
Now, that was quite a ramble and mildly overdramatic but there is a point to it. People, particularly teenagers, are conditioned to identify every ‘flaw’ they have and cover it up or alter it. You’re either too fat or too skinny. Ugly and not putting effort in or too perfect that you’re fake. In the eyes of society, you will never be perfect. You can always fix something or other.
Teenagers are in an incredibly awkward time in their lives. Puberty sucks. High school sucks. Growing up and trying to work out who you are really sucks. Teenagers struggle immensely with their body image at this time. Yet these things are portrayed completely differently on television and in movies. Every other age group (children, adults, young adults) are portrayed by actors their age. Yet teenagers are more often than not played by adults on-screen.
For instance, the tv show ‘Pretty Little Liars’ was centered around a group of high school students dealing with the loss of a close friend. The actors were playing 16-18 years olds. The actors themselves were more than 10 years older than the characters they portrayed. Troian Bellisario is 33 years old. Lucy Hale is 29 years old. Yet they’re supposed to represent the average teenager? It is no wonder teenagers are so self-conscious about their bodies and who they are at this point.
The reason adult actors are cast to play teenagers is that being a teenager is seen as disgusting, undesirable, and unattractive. Voices breaking, acne, and fluctuating weight. Who wants to see such unappealing characteristics on television? We are conditioned to seeing ‘perfect’ people playing our age group and as such have become so adverse to seeing real teenagers that we have a warped sense of beauty.
As humans, we judge ourselves and others for what we look like by basing our judgments on what we absorb from television. Our body image is affected drastically by the content we are fed. Acne is seen as gross when it’s caused by chemical changes triggered by puberty. We laugh at boys when the voices break because characters on-screen don’t go through the same thing. We have been conditioned to be embarrassed by puberty, causing deeper insecurity in those experiencing it. Teenagers are already in an uncomfortable stage in life, why make it worse?
Directors, producers, and casting agents have a massive influence on the content that the public will see. If they have such an immense field of influence, why are they using it the way they are? They could do so much good in terms of representation and body image. I truly believe in having this conversation so what are your thoughts on this topic?
– Jos x