Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Healthy Media for Youth Act Introduced in Senate With Girl Scout Support

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced legislation that establishes a national taskforce that would develop voluntary guidelines and other measures to promote positive images of girls and women. A similar piece of legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives on March 24, 2010 by U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).

S. 3852, The Healthy Media for Youth Act, which was developed in collaboration with the Girl Scouts of the USA and the American Psychological Association, would support media literacy programs, promote research on the effects of media images, and encourage the adoption of voluntary guidelines to promote healthier media images for young people. Senator Hagan, a mother and former Girl Scout troop-leader relates:
“America’s youth are constantly influenced by what they read, see and hear... Unfortunately, the images they see often emphasize unrealistic body images and reinforce gender stereotypes. As the mother of two daughters and a former Girl Scout troop leader, I am concerned that today’s young girls judge themselves against unrealistic portrayals of women and girls in the media, and this bill is aimed at combating this trend.”
A recent survey by Girl Scouts of the USA’s Research Institute, Girls and Body Image, found that 89% of girls say the fashion industry places a lot of pressure on teenage girls to be thin. Further, only 46% think that the fashion industry does a good job of representing people of all races and ethnicities. The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Report on the Sexualization of Girls (2007) found that three of the most common mental health problems among girls—eating disorders, depression or depressed mood, and low self-esteem—are linked to the sexualization of girls and women in media. Boys are also negatively affected by the portrayal of girls because it sets up unrealistic expectations, which may impair future relationships between girls and boys.

The Healthy Media for Youth Act takes a three-pronged approach to promote healthy media messages about girls and women. First, the bill creates a competitive grant program to encourage and support media literacy programs and youth empowerment groups. The bill also facilitates research on how depictions of women and girls in the media affect youth. Finally, it establishes a National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media, which will develop voluntary standards that promote healthy, balanced, and positive images of girls and women in the media for the benefit of all youth.

This legislation has been endorsed by the Girl Scouts of the USA, the American Psychological Association, the Alliance for Women in Media, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of University Women, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Children Now, Common Sense Media, Lifetime Networks, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, Girls Inc., Jess Weiner, Global Ambassador for the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, Kappa Delta Sorority/The Confidence Coalition, National Collaboration for Youth, National Eating Disorders Association, National Council of Negro Women, National Council of Women’s Organizations, National Women’s Law Center, National Girls Collaborative Project, Eating Disorders Coalition, New Moon Girl Media, Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, Parents Television Council, Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, Women’s Media Center, and Wider Opportunities for Women.

“Girls need an advocate who will stand up for them,” said Laurie Westley, Senior Vice President of Public Policy, Advocacy and the Research Institute. “By promoting the Healthy Media for Youth Act, Girl Scouts is being a voice for girls on an issue that directly and disproportionately affects them. Girl Scouts recognizes the need to bring attention to this important issue, which affects girls’ self-esteem, body image, eating habits, and social and emotional development.”