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Glee Star on Cosmopolitan Cover Shot – Is Parental Guidance Required?

By Yvette Vignando – 11th February 2011

You can watch a video of me talking about this issue on The Morning Show today by clicking here.

Glee star Lea Michele appears on the cover of the March edition of US Cosmopolitan. The actress is apparently 24 years old but plays the role of a teenager in the internationally popular television series Glee.

In the news is the reaction by some Texas newsagents who have removed the magazine from display and others who have said that the cover shot is overtly sexual and inappropriate for a celebrity who plays a teenager. The implication is that Lea Michele is also something of a role model for young women who watch Glee.

Author and social commentator Melinda Tankard Reist and I spoke on The Morning Show today from the point of view of parents and what society’s responsibility might be in this instance. I suggest you view the video first and then read on.

I could write pages on this topic, including the topic of the retouching of celebrity images in women’s magazines – but I won’t, because this is a blogpost, not a conference paper. I’m also not going to expand on what Melinda Tankard Reist said – I do agree with much of her commentary; Melinda was specifically addressing issues like the objectification of women and the message to young women about how they need to behave if they are to be successful.

But I do want to briefly cover two things for parents to think about and ask you to share your point of view.

1. Research indicates that if children are exposed to overly sexualised images at a young age, there may be serious psychological impact – that impact includes negative body image, poor self esteem and increased risk of eating disorders, anxiety and depression.

The cover shot of Lea Michele from Glee on Cosmopolitan is (I think) at the mild end of the range of sexualised images we see of young women and young teenage girls in the media. I confess it did not offend me but I can understand why parents of young Glee fans would be concerned about the image.

What are your views on this topic?

2. Whatever you think about the this particular image, as parents, I think we also have a responsiblity to raise our children with the skills they need to deal with the images they see of celebrities or other role models. Sure, we can speak up against images we find offensive, and I do think editors, celebrities and policy makers have a role and a responsibility. But a very real responsibility we have is talking to our children about body image, sexuality and our own values; we also need to have conversations with them about the images they see in popular media.

It is getting harder for parents to supervise their children’s consumption of media at the same time that access to the internet and television is more widely spread. And the increase in double income families is also decreasing our opportunities for supervision and conversation.

I like this tip sheet published on the Australian Psychological Society’s website about  Helping Girls Develop a Positive Self Image as a starting point.

How do you manage this issue and what do you think?

Comments (5)

I feel really old now….

Since when is Cosmo a teen magazine? If I recall back to my day I wasn’t allowed to buy this magazine until late teens. What are the age of the Glee audience 10-14? I have 7 year old girls and from early on have taught them about advertising images and words and what they are trying to do. For us that has a been a good start because if they view images and the like as advertisiers/publishers trying to persuade them to either purchase something or persuade to a certain view they are aware. In that awareness they can then make a decision based on that. Obviously they are only 7 and thus guided by us. But you would be amazed how this awareness has allowed them not to be dazzled as much by persuasive advertising and take it for what it is. This skill will be hold them in good stead later when celebrity images such as those discussed above become more and more into their everyday frame of reference. We will always discuss all types of media and for us as parents that is our responsibility.

Glee photo shoot

Yvette, you are quite right in what you say. I think parents need to reassure our children that what we see on TV and in pictures does not truly reflect life. Children need to be accepted in all shapes and sizes and teaching that from the beginning is what i believe will assist. Of course we are always going to be faced with these images from hollywood. We cannot hide them or shelter our children. Parental guidance is recommended. It could also be good to show our kids how photoshop can manipulate photographs and change what people really look like.

Great Story

I ran this subject by our three boys

We do talk about these things in our house but I realised that we don’t talk about them as much as we should. As a parent of boys, I am in the fortunate position of having slightly less pressure on them to conform in terms of body image – we end up talking to them more about the terrible values and comments of certain radio hosts or sporting ‘heroes’.

When I started to talk about this yesterday again I realised how much more talking I need to do. Mr 9 is still too immature to really take in the whole message and commented that girls wear bikinis on the beach “so what’s the difference?”. Mr 13 was quite thoughtful about it and agreed that there is too much pressure on young women to be a certain way because of images they see in the media; he also said “but most girls won’t know that Lea Michele isn’t a teenager – they’ll just think she’s the age she is in Glee.” Mr 15 from whom I expected the most mature response made a few glib remarks and was not prepared to engage in the discussion because he “likes the photo” on the cover of Cosmopolitan.

An interesting mix of responses probably partly reflective of temperament, hormones and age but a good reminder to a mother of boys that these issues need to be spoken about in our house just as frequently.

Food for thought

Great post. It’s something I’ve started thinking about as my eldest daughter (4) has started to notice magazine covers/posters and has said things like ‘Oooh look at the pretty lady’ (very airbrushed picture of Kim Kardashian in a skimpy bikini).

I haven’t known how to approach it at this stage. I haven’t wanted to draw a lot of attention to it, but don’t want to completely ignore it at the same time.

Lots of food for thought.

Fantastic post Yvette

Yvette, I am so glad I saw you talk on TV yesterday. This has always been a subject close to my heart, even moreso now I am a parent. It’s vital we teach our children about the tricks and lies used by media to perpetuate body shape. I have three boys – all at different ages, the eldest already feels extreme pressure to have the “hottest” body. I imagine it to be even harder if you have daughters. Fantastic post.

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