Fabletters on Strong Female Role Models in the Media (Or Lack of)

Dear Sherina,

The media is part of our everyday lives, whether it be on television or social media. We are constantly being fed this idea of what a woman should look like and how she should act, which leaves me wondering where I’m expected to find myself among all the confusion. Finding strong female role models in the women in my family has never been challenging. My mom, my aunts and my grandmothers inspire me constantly to push myself and the limits of what I can accomplish. Finding strong female role models in the media is a completely different matter.

The media tells us to be fit – not too skinny, but not too heavy either. We should have shiny, bouncy hair as seen in shampoo commercials, flawless skin and our face should be blemish-free at all times. We must dress to impress men (and occasionally our female friends, but never ourselves). Our clothing must flatter our “womanly” bodies, but cannot be too revealing (or else you’re labeled a slut), but not too modest either (because we might get mistaken for our grandmothers).

All of these messages that we’re faced with on a daily basis leave me with questions that I fear may remain unanswered. How are young women like us supposed to form an idea as to what it means to be a woman, when the media presents womanhood as a mainly superficial quest?

These questions brought back the memory of a conversation I had with some friends in middle school. At the time we were discussing what we wanted to be when we grew up. Some of my friends had ambitions to become teachers, nurses, famous singers and so on. One friend spoke up and said “my mom told me to take care of my looks, because if I marry a rich man he can take care of me and I won’t have to work”. This statement shocked and saddened me on so many levels, 12 year old girls should know that the sky’s the limit in terms of what they can achieve. Men are nice but not necessary in the pursuit of a happy and fulfilled life.

A few days ago, I watched Emma Watson’s speech to the United Nations on achieving equal rights for girls and women all over the planet. I was inspired by her determination to help spread the message of equality while admitting that she was incredibly nervous to deliver her speech. Her ability to say, “hey! I’m a celebrity but that doesn’t mean that giving this speech doesn’t make me incredibly nervous!” stands out to me as someone who not only acknowledges her strength, but can recognize her weaknesses. This makes her someone who I would consider a strong female role model, among others.

What do you think?


Dear Ceanray,

I completely agree. I love your question “How are young women like us supposed to form an idea as to what it means to be a woman, when the media presents womanhood as a mainly superficial quest?”

As you know, I am a huge Taylor Swift fan (as evidenced by the fact that I am currently writing this while curled up in my Taylor Swift blanket, listening to her latest album 1989).

In an interview with Ellen a few years ago, Ellen was just dying to figure out who Taylor had dated. So, she put up a slideshow of men she had been linked to, gave her a bell, and told her to ring it whenever she saw someone she had dated. She was visibly uncomfortable with this, and it’s easy to see why. Plenty of other artists – for example, Tay’s friend Ed Sheeran – write and sing about romance; yet, Taylor Swift seems to be the only one ridiculed for it.

In October, Taylor made some headlines when she opened up about not wanting – or needing – a boyfriend. She said, “I just stopped dating people, because it meant a lot to me to set the record straight – that I do not need some guy around in order to get inspiration, in order to make a great record, in order to live my life, in order to feel okay about myself. I wanted to show my fans the same thing.”

Taylor Swift is a fantastic role model for young girls, and yet I feel like the media is trying to stop her from being this. It seems crazy, that they would discourage a strong female role model, but in a twisted way it kind of makes sense; their money comes from the superficial things they sell to us, the new mascara and the new shampoo that we need to purchase to make ourselves fit their idea of a women. Having a strong female role model means that girls feel more secure in who they are; and this means that they will not give in to what the media so desperately wants.

I believe there are two sides to every issue, and I think the problem here is that as teenage girls, we are only being shown one side of a role model. So, going back to your question: what can we do?

I think we have to create our own role models: you mentioned your mom, aunts, and grandmothers and they are great role models because they are not constructed by the media. They are real. I think it is incredibly important to value our own role models, and view the ones society presents to us with a critical eye (as we are doing now).

The Taylor Swift song I am currently listening to (New Romantics) has a lyric “life is just a classroom”. Life essentially is a classroom – we can learn so much. It just depends who we decide to learn from.

Let’s make the sky the limit,



2 thoughts on “Fabletters on Strong Female Role Models in the Media (Or Lack of)

  1. I really appreciated reading both discussions. keep thinking, keep writing, keep discussing, keep reading good literature to shape your thinking. I read Matthew 6 this morning in The Message version. Thought you both might like to read it in the context of your dialogue. : ) G’ma


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