Correcting media portayals of women

Hope Walls is organizing a screening of the documentary film Miss Representation.

Edmonton—A Faculty of Engineering staff member is staging a screening of a documentary film exploring the way women are portrayed in the media, its impact on society and what can be done to counter it.

Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, opened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and has been receiving critical acclaim ever since. Hope Walls, an administrative assistant in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is organizing a screening of the film and a panel discussion at the Princess Theatre Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. Profits from the event will go to the Little Warriors child sexual abuse education and prevention programs.

Walls has been personally impacted by the way women are portrayed in the media. As a teen, she developed an eating disorder trying to meet the unrealistic body images that abound in advertising and in the media.

Today, as a photographer and co-owner of a photography studio, she has seen the way adults carry those early impressions with them.

“I’ve lost customers because I won’t Photoshop their pictures to make them look skinnier or to give them bigger breasts,” said Walls. “I’ll take out a pimple or a mosquito bite, and I’ll use Photoshop to play with colours and contrast—but when I take your photo your wrinkles are not going to disappear. I’m a photographer, not a plastic surgeon.”

When you consider the fact that there are more televisions than people in Canada, you begin to get an indication of how pervasive and persistent exposure to stereotypes can be, says Walls, adding that she is organizing the film’s screening in order to raise awareness of the impact that portrayals of women in the media, advertising and pop culture have, and to let people know there is something that can be done about the way women are depicted.

Walls cites the example of popular children’s cartoon character Dora the Explorer. Parents protested loudly when the cartoon’s producers announced they were going to update the Dora’s image to a skinny, more made-up ‘tween’.

“Moms protested it,” said Walls. “They just said ‘No—I don’t want that for my daughter’ and the producers have held off for the past two years.”

If adults were to inform advertisers and TV and film producers that they are offended by what they’re seeing, perhaps those stereotypical images and portrayals would wane, says Walls.

Panelists confirmed for the screening include environmental engineering professor Ania Ulrich, a mentor and role model for women in engineering, science and technology; best-selling author Kelly Falardeau, Amy Kaler from the U of A Department of Sociology and Linda Duncan, Edmonton Strathcona Member of Parliament,

Tickets for Miss Representation are available at the screening’s facebook page (search Miss Representation-Edmonton on facebook) or by e-mailing thephotographerstudio.ca@gmail.com .