Representation In Media
Updated: May 22
~By Kris Kaliyani~
Everyone has idols they want to be like, but for that relationship with media to be healthy in any way, our idols have to be a bit like us too. As a kid, my favourite thing to do after watching a movie was to pretend I was whoever I admired most in it - usually the main character. In all honesty, I was a pretty damn good Iron Man for a ten year old with an acorn collection instead of billions of dollars and a cardboard box instead of a suit. At the end of the day, I knew I didn’t have cool powers or armour that could punch through walls. Most kids recognize to some extent, the only thing that makes them like their heroes is how they act.
There are many positive aspects to this. Let’s take the two things most marketed to men and women, sports and dramas. The men who watched Hockey or Baseball, the two most popular Canadian sports, learned to be strong, to work as a team, to find perseverance through hours and hours of practice. The women who grew up on Mean Girls or Victorious learned the importance of friendships and the talent of building an image. This is why girls are often seen as more mature.
However, there were faults to these idols nobody talked about. Men that grew up on sports also learned that strength and the ability to dominate was all they had to offer. They were taught it was their responsibility to ‘save’ women and they had to ‘protect’ them. Men can have physical strength and perseverance without being abusive or being unable to take no for an answer.
Women learned from idols marketed to them their looks defined their worth, and their happiness depended on a man wanting them. Girls can take power in their femininity without being an object for men and dressing just for them rather than for men.
These stereotypes were enforced not only by streamlined media like sports and dramas, but media marketed to everyone, like superhero movies that showed men as strong heroes and women as oversexaulized trophies to protect and win.
There is nothing wrong with masculinity or femininity, but there is toxicity prevalent in both that is not addressed by the idols marketed towards us. For the immasuline men or the masculine women, they were pressured to compromise their own passions and identity to fit standards they found no comfort in because they were taught to believe strength and happiness only exist in one way for both men and women..
We are marketed idols who present one way of strength. One way of happiness. One way of love. Gender roles aside, race plays a huge role in people's confidence. When the only people shown as beautiful are white, and with white features, those who are not white feel lesser. When the only people shown as happy are hetero normative, those who are LGBTQ feel lesser. When the only people shown as desirable are able bodied, those who are disabled feel lesser. Shouldn’t everyone know that happiness and love is attainable for them?
Here lies the importance of representation of media. At the end of the day, we all want to be like our idols. But our idols need to be like us too. We need to learn as a collective that there is no one right way to exist, that there is beauty and strength to be found in our differences. Instead of approaching life the same way, with every man trying to be big and strong and every girl being dainty and small, let’s diversify. While leaving room for all those who are content with the standards set by modern media, lets tell the stories that haven’t been told yet too. Let’s let there be different standards. Hell, what is a standard if not a fancy word for a limit? Isn’t art supposed to be limitless?
I’ll give you an example of what diversity in media should look like. ‘Get Out’ was the first major horror movie led by a completely black cast. The title was a joke towards a cliche in many white led horror movies, the ghosts or monster would make it obvious that the family should get out of the haunted residence, but they don’t. Get Out broke many of the common tropes of a horror movie while simultaneously bringing an interesting movie that not only served as amazing entertainment, but for the first ever time showed love to a racialized audience.
Switching things up, let’s take a look at the music industry. Prince was a rock performer who broke gender stereotypes by wearing very feminine makeup and dresses. He was still cool as hell, selling over 150 million records worldwide. Prince did not follow the stereotypical male standards of what cool was, but instead used what defined him, his femininity and creativity to come together and make him the legend he was. Oh, yeah, and he was black. Despite being the race who invented the genre, they’ve rarely been allowed to be represented as equal to white rock stars.
To those who argue and say ‘representation is ruining media,’ I sympathize, I do. Representation for the sake of representation sucks. But representation for the sake of art is and always has been a truly beautiful thing. If we can set aside our prejudice’s and our ‘one right way’ mindset, we will have more Prince’s, more movies like Get Out. And there will be more kids who aren’t ashamed of themselves due to standards set by the idols marketed to them, the idols they want to be like. Because the idols they want to be like will be more like them.