Media Literacy Week: Wait, That Actress is HOW Old?

media girls logoOct. 27, 2016 On the cusp of Media Literacy Week, Oct. 31-Nov. 4, 2016 I’m turning over the mic (er, keyboard) to MediaGirls as part of our Media Literacy Week series on creating critical thinkers in and out of the classroom.

What happens when the portrayal of teens, usually played by 20-somethings, lands on real life adolescents in the form of body image angst? What media literacy tools can we use to empower girls in the ‘screenage’ years to lift and reveal the messages behind those unattainable body ideals?

How might that play out at the college level and how are media savvy thinkers using positive counter-marketing to inoculate girls in advance? Proud 2B Me for example, is spotlighting their helpful “Get Real Toolkit” for Media Literacy Week along with a host of on-campus work deconstructing body image and positively reframing the messages for a healthier worldview. Scaling further to a global lens? Check out Elena Rossini’s new documentary The on the globalization of beauty ideals, better yet, host a screening in the classroom or any youth group that happens to be “powered by girls” (though body dissatisfaction among boys is sadly on the rise too…so think about the messages being received by even the tiniest trick or treaters with buffed boy bodies built into their costumes)  

This is the second U.S. Media Literacy Week hosted by NAMLE (National Assoc of Media Literacy Educators) encompassing a wide array of ideas, lesson plans, activities, resources and tools  from over 150+ partners including Shaping Youth, eager to sharpen minds and focus critical thinking on ways to access, analyze, evaluate, communicate, and create media that matters. Here’s a lens from one of them, our friends at MEDIAGIRLS, “where girls makeover the media:”


Wait, That Actress is HOW Old?

with Kaitlyn Locke, MEDIAGIRLS

In honor of the new fall TV lineup—and Media Literacy Week—we talked with 20-something Kaitlyn Locke, editorial intern for the nonprofit MEDIAGIRLS about an issue that rarely gets mentioned but has a huge impact on girls. Most of the lead characters playing teens on girls’ favorite shows are, like Kaitlyn, actually in their twenties. Find out below why this matters so much and how you can use this info to engage in an important discussion with the girls in your life. –Michelle Cove, E.D. MEDIAGIRLS

Okay, so which actresses are we talking about?

Here are just a few: ABC Family’s hit show Pretty Little Liars, which first aired in 2010 and is now on its seventh season, featured four female leads who were supposed to be entering their junior year of high school at the show’s premiere. Two of the actresses who played these leads were 21 years old at the time, and the others were 23 and 25. Switched at Birth, also from ABC Family, has two main actresses who are supposed to be the exact same age, down to the day they were born. High-school student Mariana from The Fosters is played by a 21 year old. The characters are written as being only 15 at the show’s beginning, but one actress was 19 and the other was 25.

Why does it matter?

In casting 20-somethings as teens, there is a complete lack of regard for the fact that women’s bodies and faces change between the ages of 14 and 25. It may not be as drastic as going through puberty, but bodies do still develop and mature throughout their late teens. Girls don’t typically skip right out of puberty and into an hourglass shape without a trace of a natural leftover “baby face.” There is a transitional period between girlhood and womanhood during which braces and pimples are still evident. Hips and breasts and waists don’t always develop at the same rate, and this makes for a variety of body shapes that aren’t childish anymore, but are definitely not as full-figured as that of a 25-year-old. These unique body shapes and developmental stages are something every woman goes through, and they deserve fair representation.

Is this any worse than seeing images of girls in ads, which are fake?

In some ways, it’s worse. At least in advertisements, girls can see that the women they’re seeing aren’t real — they’re Photoshopped. There are clear “before” and “after” pictures where girls can undoubtedly see the changes that are made to a woman’s body, and they can learn about how unfair that is. The 20-something actresses in their favorite shows and movies, however, are real (minus the perfect makeup, etc.). But it’s still unfair representation. Excluding actresses who are 14 to 20 years old teaches girls that the bodies they inhabit during these years don’t fit in with what’s beautiful.

What can parents do?

Watch your girl’s favorite show with her after her homework is done this week. After it ends or during a commercial break, show her a Google profile of one of the actresses from the show and point out her age. Ask her if she realized that the actress was way older than a real-life high school student, and if she thinks it matters. Then, ask her about the young women she knows in her life who actually are in their early to mid-twenties — cousins, older sisters, family friends, or babysitters from years past. Do those women talk a little differently than she and her friends do? Do they carry themselves as if they’re older, and have their acne scars already faded? Remind her that even these women have not always looked like that — their bodies transitioned and grew as teenagers, just as hers is about to. Ask her to try to guess the ages of a few more actresses in the show, and then consult Google to see if she’s close. Is she surprised? By doing do, you will help her become more media savvy and stop judging herself against an impossible standard.

What can educators do?

Bring to class short clips from a few of the TV shows mentioned above and open a discussion. Start by asking students how old they think the lead actresses are. When you tell them the facts, ask if they are surprised. Do they see it as a problem? If you stay curious—and don’t lecture them—you’ll undoubtedly be able to engage in a thoughtful and truly relevant discussion about the unfair expectations our society puts in girls. The next part of that message, of course, is that girls and young women don’t have to buy into that message. In fact, we can all strike back. For more tips and strategies on analysis of media content, visit

Tune Into Teen Shows With a Media Literacy Lens

Amy’s Note: Join in the fun for Media Literacy Week… MEDIAGIRLS has a fun participatory “xo” activity on Twitter to “X out body shaming and objectification” and engage youth. Just pick an ad or media message that gets an X (pass) or an O (circle/hug) using the hashtag #xomg! Ongoing, don’t miss MEDIAGIRLS weekly activity for Media Monday deconstructing a video with ‘what should I ask’ and ‘what can I do about it’ solution-based approaches to empowering critical thinking.

mediagirls activity

gilmore girls on netflix digital spyI’m hoping they’ll introduce their youth advisory team to the Gilmore Girls show when it premieres for a four-show reboot on Netflix Nov. 25, 2016. Why? As youth marketing site Ypulse asks, “What old shows are young viewers binging back to life” and to me this one’s ripe for a fun fest…right up there with the teen culture hit, Friday Night Lights.

Granted, Gilmore Girls was our own household’s mother/daughter middle school years/tween scene sentimental favorite…How will they depict the characters ages and stages and life progressions? Will it live up to the hype? Will the narrative and character development shift and showcase new elements in pop culture like the social media onslaught? My daughter and I used to love slumping onto the couch trying to keep up with their fast-talking pithy banter which often ended up being a springboard to bigger conversations, special bonding time, or a ‘girl trip’ or two…

This November 25, my now college-aged 20-ish daughter and I will put that media literacy cloak to the test, given that the Gilmore Girls Thanksgiving release trailer shows “Rory and Lorelai” have barely aged even a smidge in a decade…Gulp. I can feel the body image comparison angst creeping in already. Even with tons of media literacy, I am not immune.

media girls labelRather than wince, dismiss, or eye-roll the ‘too perfect’ teen zeitgeist at any given time, we can use teen/20-something storytelling as a way to inoculate with media literacy so messages don’t seep too deep into the psyche in surround sound, but instead float on the surface to be skimmed off as a “given.”

Sometimes stars are going through this adolescent angst in real time, like Modern Family’s Ariel Winter, who ended up being a walking talking media literacy life lesson in resilience amidst body snarking, bullying, and cultural cruelty.

Thinking critically about media messages early and often can be like Harry Potter’s invisible cape shielding against the steady stream of unattainable body ideals…Plus, there’s much to be learned with analysis of teen touchpoints on hit shows like Glee where 20-somethings playing teens required a ‘suspension of disbelief’ and health literacy needs a CDC sex fact check lens to uncork important conversations about sexuality and comprehensive education.

From deciding “what’s real,” to deconstructing the framing of the safe sex PSAs on Secret Life of the American Teenager, media can be a huge opportunity to turn ‘hang time’ into chat time in a low key sounding board safe zone. Some of our most intimate conversations started with media threads…not just body image, objectification and roles/rules but all aspects of adolescent mental and physical health that can turn kids Inside Out.” Happy Media Literacy Week…Oct. 31-Nov. 4, 2016.

Don’t miss NAMLE’s kick off event 10-28 at the Digital Citizenship Summit where I’ll be live-tweeting tomorrow from Twitter HQ! Free livestream at: Be The Digital Change



  1. Everyone should stop judging themselves against impossible standards.

    They should avoid comparing themselves to others at all.

    Thank you.

  2. Priyadarshini says

    Nice article, I know she is very nice character. She has adopted a child

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