Good girls going bad

Perfection according to popular television shows is being pretty in the outside and nasty on the inside

February 28, 2008
Canoe.ca
By Tanya Enberg

Nellie Oleson was somewhat of an original bad girl.

Certainly her perfectly set blond ringlets told the story of a different time, but the conniving, sharp-tongued brat on the family-friendly show Little House on the Prairie nailed the mean-girl template long before the feature flick Mean Girls ever came along.

However the dark-spirited star of this popular '70s show would be seen as a lightweight by today's standards.

In many ways, TV shows continue to rehash the same old catfight story -- good girl versus bad girl -- with the only differences being that the theme has become much more prevalent, and now, quite often, it's the nastiest girl who wins.

But what 's the prize?

According to Lisa Naylor, a Winnipeg-based self-esteem expert and teen counsellor for the past 16 years, it's a battle for male attention, a central theme driven further by shows such as The Bachelor in which dozens of women compete for the attention of one man.

"For young girls, it 's about fitting in," explains Naylor.

"But the competition for the older ones however is about getting the prize -- the man."

Way back on the prairie, viewers would've been rooting for Laura when Nellie attempted to steal a boy's affections away from her.

If viewed today, I wonder if we'd instead be cheering on the villain.

Recently I sat down to take in some TV.

No, I didn't sink so low as to tune into the American teen drama Gossip Girl, but I did catch an episode of The Bad Girls Club -- yet another reality TV offering -- which features a group of catty girls (who are pretty on the outside but horrifyingly ugly on the inside) living together and scrapping with one another.

It 's shocking how low we've sunk.

Later on I sat down to the new ABC series Cashmere Mafia, one of the latest smallscreen attempts to fill the Sex and the City void among female viewers.

The show isn't entirely bad, but beyond the glossiness of power and the wealth to afford exterior luxuries such as pricey purses, high-end heels and dining at fabulous restaurants (while somehow remaining stick-thin) the drama, like so many being marketed to females, is lacking depth.

Sure, it may be considered nothing more than a guilty pleasure, but the message being impressed upon us is, screw the inside, it's what's outside that counts.

In the televised world, females are vicious competitors, sly boyfriend stealers, lacking even the most basic of human emotions, and are far too busy sharpening those prettily painted claws for worrying over things such as internal development.

In one episode, fittingly called Yours, Mine and Hers, Mia Mason (Lucy Lui) plays hardball with her ex-boy-friend 's new flame.

By the show 's end,Lui has wiggled her way back in and is seen swapping spit with her former beau, ultimately winning this round in the cat-fight ring. Meow ...

"Girls are tuly forming identities out of this information," says Naylor, who's involved with Dove's international Campaign for Real Beauty.

"I hear in my office all the time how much girls don't trust other girls and I really find that truly heartbreaking."

Naylor urges females to focus on experiencing new things, challenging themselves, and finding ways to improve self-esteem beyond appearances. She stresses parents also need to participate by placing less emphasis on physical attributes and more on their child's hopes, dreams and accomplishments.

"Girls are really affected by what they see," says Naylor.

"In the shows being marketed to teens today, people bond over hurting each other... Girls are given the idea that this is how it's supposed to be-- and it instructs them on this from a really young age.

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The stats

- 57% of females believe beauty has become narrowly defined in today's world.

- 76% wish beauty portrayed in the media went beyond just physical attractiveness.

- More than two thirds of women say the media and advertising set unrealistic standards of beauty.

- 75% said like to see more diversity portrayed when it comes to age, shape and size.

Source:The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty