Don’t Let The Media Solve Your Mysteries

by Julia Bluhm, Guest Contributor on June 22, 2012

Julia Bluhm is a 14-year-old blogger who recently received widespread attention when she staged a nationwide protest against Seventeen Magazine for the images they portrayed to young girls.  Today, Bluhm shares her perspectives on the media and how it affects perceptions and perpetuates stereotypes.

As a little girl, I wore Lands’ End clothes; I played with American Girl Dolls; and swung on the swings. I lived in a two-story house on a little street, in a little town. And that was my own little world. Anything outside was kind of a mystery.

I don’t know if I’ve ever said anything mean to anyone. But what I’ve only now realized is that I was guilty of something: Judging. Like I said, I saw lot of people walking around who were mysteries to me. I knew nothing about them, and the way they dressed and looked was different and made them even more mysterious.

The only things I knew about these kinds of people who I had never talked to, were the things I learned through the media. The media unleashes thousands of stereotypes, and they become the reality for kids who don’t know any better.

That means that people with tattoos and piercings were “scary.” Girls who wore short skirts and lots of makeup were “ditsy and dumb.” Without really knowing what I was doing, I was judging people every day, and so were all of my friends.

The media also sends messages to us girls. They tell us that “skinny” is a synonym to “pretty,” and that not only forms a negative body image for girls, but it also allows people to easily judge based on body type. People get picked on all the time about their body type. Why? Because the media tells us that only one body type is good, and others aren’t as good. Photoshop doesn’t help. Check out the Seventeen magazine petition for more info on that.

I never really realized how much we used to judge people, until I got involved in SPARK, and opened my eyes. Just the other day, some girls at school were having a conversation that went something like this:

“I don’t understand why people would ever want to get a bunch of piercings. It’s kind of icky. And why do people wear shorts so short that they’re practically underwear? That’s just asking for attention from creeps.”

The whole time I was sitting there uncomfortably, surprised at how much their conversation bothered me. They looked at me, expecting me to nod and agree with them. I probably would have if I were still eleven, and didn’t know any better.

“Well, I think people should wear whatever makes them happy,” I said. “  That’s all that matters.”

I’ve started hanging out with a bunch of different types of people recently. Now I know that none of those stereotypes I once believed are actually true. Someone’s personality, or how nice or smart they are, has nothing to do with how they look. We all know that stereotypes don’t define people, but do we believe it 100% of the time? I knew it, but I still judged people. It was an unconscious thing, and I didn’t think it was really big deal. But now I know it is.

When I witness people judging, it hurts me, even if it isn’t about me at all. Judging is something that’s really easy to do. People (even really nice people who would never hurt a fly) do it all the time. The media drills certain ideas into our brains, and makes it normal to think about people in unhealthy, unpleasant ways. It’s all good and fine until you wake up one morning and somebody’s making assumptions about you.

I think I’m in the process of becoming my own person, and that process involves a lot of change. I’m starting to present myself differently, talk differently, and believe in different things. I’m becoming independent. That puts me at a really vulnerable place for judging, I think. I’m kind of mystery to myself, so of course I’ll be a mystery to other people. And when we let the media “solve” our mysteries, we run into a lot of problems.

Yes, there will always be mean people we’ll want to stay away from, and nice people who are possible friend-material. But we won’t be able to tell who’s who by looking at them, or by letting the media decide for us. Ultimately, if you don’t judge people, there will be a million more people you’ll want to talk to, and meet. And that will basically lead to having a million more friends who are all interesting in their own ways. In the end, your Facebook newsfeed will be pretty exciting.

This article originally appeared on SPARK a Movement.

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  • Latoya Livingston

    Hello readers,

    I spoke to my friend about he and his family’s experiences in Puerto Rico.  Although I wanted to include his remarks in my article, unfortunately I found them hard to tie into my theme.  Nonetheless, here is our discussion:

    “1. What are your experiences when you go to PR?
    2. What do you think is the biggest issues that the average PR has when choosing to adopt broadband (wireless and at home)?

    3. Companies say that they are less likely to buildout broadband in PR
    because so few people are adopting the technology, so it will be hard
    for them to recoup their costs… what is your response?
    4. What should the US’ response be to PR and other territories with respect to building out broadband in PR?”

    Rene Gonzalez’ answers:

    “1. Internet doesn’t seem to yet be a full-scale utility in everyone’s
    homes. Most people get Internet through their phones or in public
    places like Burger Kings or Star Bucks (both which have free wireless).
    There are not many public libraries available for people to freely come
    in and out and the Universities, while they do have libraries, have
    their Internet protected by student ID systems (one has to be a
    student). When I went to puerto Rico, I would log in mostly at Burger
    Kings.

    2. Probably the biggest issue is cost. 50% of Puerto
    Ricans live with some sort of federal assistance. The U.S. territory’s
    economy is poorer than the poorest American state (Mississippi). At
    45-60.00 a month, many Puerto Rican families simply cannot afford the
    service, with the pressures of higher food prices, higher
    electricity/water prices, higher gasoline for their cars, etc.
    Broadband is therefore a luxury, rather than a reasonably priced
    utility.

    3. If they made it more affordable, they probably
    could. They could also consider partnering up with the government to
    develop public wi-fi services which are paid for by modest hikes on
    everyone’s taxes. The people receive cheaper wi-fi and these companies
    receive profits in the form of the government contracts to build,
    maintain, and provide the wi-fi service.

    4. I think the United
    States should partner with some of the major Wi-FI companies and build
    public access areas throughout the majority of their urban and rural
    territories. In other countries, Internet use is much higher (South
    Korea, for example). There is no reason why the United States cannot
    marshal the necessary funds to build the infrastructure for accessible,
    public wi-fi internet. The private sector can profit from this
    arrangement if it works with the government.”

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/M4GMRQVYZOHXHNDUFOKFMWEYYU Sidney T

    Ms. Bulhm, as an older adult and soon to be a senior citizen, you have written a great article.  It is also very good to see young people willing to challenge the status quo and to become independent of the media’s ability to sway opinions based upon opinions that do not include relevant or pertinent facts that speak to the truth of the issue.  I am so glad to see that more young people are doing this and I am very glad to know that more and more are willing to try, though their families and communities may not inculcate and support youth in doing so. In order for change to happen, there must be some proverbial “rocking of the boat” and “demanding change through using our minds and bodies on the front lines.” Remember that change will manifest through the work that you do.  Your peers and others will also find some guidance when a person is willing to talk about why they believe as they do.  More will join the discussion and the greater truths will reveal themselves for all to see.  Keep up the great work and this makes me very excited that our youth is going to help make our world better…for the truth remains that some of your parents have definitely helped make our world worse off–not necessarily deliberately–but as we can see, our country is worse-off economically and environmentally.

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