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Arts & Entertainment, Student Life

Unrealistic Portrayal of Teens in the Media

Whenever we turn on our TVs, we are bombarded with images of perfect-looking actresses and actors. Oftentimes, this image of perfection is carried over into the hallways of shows about high school. The result? Real teenagers feel the unnecessary pressure to conform to the media’s unrealistic standards of what they need to look like.

Most teens attending high school aren’t perfect. The stress of transitioning to adulthood, combined with social pressure and schoolwork anxiety, doesn’t always make for a pretty picture. Despite this, the teens on TV seem immune to pimples, under-eye circles, or bed-head. In fact, most actors who play a teenage character are almost always older than the characters they play. That’s why high schoolers on TV look like they’re in their twenties – because they are.

When a cast is hired to play teenagers, actors are often older than the characters they are hired to portray. In this way, the character can look like a flawless twenty-something, rather than the more realistic depiction of an awkward teen. One of the most prominent offenders is the hit TV show Pretty Little Liars. The four main characters are all played by actresses older than themselves. Both Lucy Hale and Ashley Benson are 25, but play a high school character seven years younger. Shay Mitchell, 28, plays a character ten years younger, and Troian Bellisario, almost 30, plays Spencer Hastings, 18. Even secondary characters who are supposed to be the same ages as the girls are played by older actresses. 17 year old Jenna Marshall is played by Tammin Sursok, 31. Casting older actors is not exclusive to female characters, however, as overaged actors play male roles as well. The characters Noel Kahn and Caleb Rivers are both 18, but are portrayed by actors a decade their senior.

Like the teens on many other TV shows, movies, and commercials, the high school students on this show are impossibly perfect, and quite frankly, over-the-top. In addition to the skewed ages, these supposed high school girls come to school in high-fashion outfits, five inch heels, runway model hair, and no less than ten pounds of makeup. And although it is not directly implied, girls everywhere who see the show feel the subconscious, or conscious, desire to look and act just as the beautiful girls on TV do.

Unfortunately, the majority of girls can’t meet these unrealistic standards. Interestingly enough, one of the stars of the show, Ashley Benson, spoke out against the unrealistic image her and her cast mates are presented with.

Benson posted the photo above on her Instagram account, with the caption, “Saw this floating around….hope it’s not the poster. Our faces in this were from 4 years ago…..and we all look ridiculous. Way too much photo shop. We all have flaws. No one looks like this. It’s not attractive.” Since releasing this statement, Benson has received universal support for speaking out against her industry’s unrealistic standards. Coming from an actress on the show itself, such vocal criticism is instrumental in helping to bring attention to the issue.

In addition to TV shows like Pretty Little Liars, movies, magazines, and various other forms of media have conveyed the message that teenagers are supposed to look a certain way. The movement against this idea is starting to gain momentum, but as a society, we still aren’t quite where we need to be. Ending the unrealistic expectations of teens given by media outlets will help boost teenagers’ self esteem, and let them know – it’s okay to be yourself.  

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