Ashley Judd Slaps Media in the Face for Speculation Over Her ‘Puffy’ Appearance
THIS EDITORIAL first appeared at The Daily Beast at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html
Ashley Judd’s ‘puffy’ appearance sparked a viral media frenzy. But, the actress writes, the conversation is really a misogynistic assault on all women.
The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.
As an actor and woman who, at times, avails herself of the media, I am painfully aware of the conversation about women’s bodies, and it frequently migrates to my own body. I know this, even though my personal practice is to ignore what is written about me. I do not, for example, read interviews I do with news outlets. I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.
However, the recent speculation and accusations in March feel different, and my colleagues and friends encouraged me to know what was being said. Consequently, I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.
A brief analysis demonstrates that the following “conclusions” were all made on the exact same day, March 20, about the exact same woman (me), looking the exact same way, based on the exact same television appearance. The following examples are real, and come from a variety of (so-called!) legitimate news outlets (such as HuffPo, MSNBC, etc.), tabloid press, and social media:
One: When I am sick for more than a month and on medication (multiple rounds of steroids), the accusation is that because my face looks puffy, I have “clearly had work done,” with otherwise credible reporters with great bravo “identifying” precisely the procedures I allegedly have had done.
Two: When my skin is nearly flawless, and at age 43, I do not yet have visible wrinkles that can be seen on television, I have had “work done,” with media outlets bolstered by consulting with plastic surgeons I have never met who “conclude” what procedures I have “clearly” had. (Notice that this is a “back-handed compliment,” too—I look so good! It simply cannot possibly be real!)
Three: When my 2012 face looks different than it did when I filmed Double Jeopardy in 1998, I am accused of having “messed up” my face (polite language here, the F word is being used more often), with a passionate lament that “Ashley has lost her familiar beauty audiences loved her for.”
Four: When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)
Ashley Judd on her new show “Missing”
Five: In perhaps the coup de grace, when I am acting in a dramatic scene in Missing—the plot stating I am emotionally distressed and have been awake and on the run for days—viewers remarks ranged from “What the f–k did she do to her face?” to cautionary gloating, “Ladies, look at the work!” Footage from “Missing” obviously dates prior to March, and the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.
That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.
A case in point is that this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women; a sad and disturbing fact. (That they are professional friends of mine, and know my character and values, is an additional betrayal.)
That the conversation about my face was initially promulgated largely by women is a sad and disturbing fact.
News outlets with whom I do serious work, such as publishing op-eds about preventing HIV, empowering poor youth worldwide, and conflict mineral mining in Democratic Republic of Congo, all ran this “story” without checking with my office first for verification, or offering me the dignity of the opportunity to comment. It’s an indictment of them that they would even consider the content printable, and that they, too, without using time-honored journalistic standards, would perpetuate with un-edifying delight such blatantly gendered, ageist, and mean-spirited content.
Ashley Judd responds to her critics on ‘Nightly News.’
I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?
I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).
If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation.
- Ashley Judd is a prolific actress, who will next be seen in ABC’s new midseason show, Missing. Judd most recently appeared in Dolphin Tale alongside Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson.
- Judd is also on the board of directors for PSI (Population Services International), which she joined in 2004 after serving as Global Ambassador for PSI’s HIV education and prevention program, YouthAIDS since 2002. Judd has visited PSI programs in Thailand, Cambodia, Madagascar, Kenya, South Africa, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, India, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In her work, she witnesses the lives of the exploited and poor to help educated the world about the reality of global poverty and bring solutions to the devastating effects of social injustice and gender inequality.
- Judd was the subject of three award-winning documentaries aired in more than 150 countries worldwide on VH1, The Discovery Channel and The National Geographic Channel. In her role as PSI board member, Judd has graced the covers of countless magazines and been the subject of newspaper and television interviews bringing vital awareness to issues closest to her heart, gender inequality and poverty alleviation.
- Judd has visited legislators on Capitol Hill, addressed the General Assembly of the UN on the scourge human trafficking, spoke at the National Press Club, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the protection of vulnerable women from violence, sexual abuse and HIV and, most recently served as an expert panelist at Clinton Global Initiative to discuss the issue of safe water and the empowerment of girls in the developing world.
- Recently, Judd has come on board as a spokesperson for organizations Defenders for Wildlife and The Sierra Club providing her time and voice to advocate against practices of aerial wolf hunting (Defenders for Wildlife) and mountaintop removal coal mining (The Sierra Club).
- She resides in Tennessee and Scotland with her husband, the international racing star Dario Franchitti. They have 8 beloved pets and enjoy a quiet, rural life.
How to report suicidal content/threats on Facebook
by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention February 15, 2011 at 11:16am ·
Facebook Help: How do I help someone who has posted suicidal content on the site?
If you have encountered a direct threat of suicide on Facebook, please immediately contact law enforcement.
You can submit reports of suicidal content to Facebook by clicking:
For reports in the United States, we also recommend that you contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24/7 hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). If possible, please encourage the user who posted the content to contact the Lifeline as well. You can view a list of suicide prevention hotlines in other countries by visiting http://www.befrienders.org and choosing from the dropdown menu at the top of the page.
We encourage you to learn about how to identify and respond to warning signs of suicidal behavior online at the following address: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/WhatifSomeoneIKnowNeedsHelp.aspx
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
- Lifeline wants people to report to Facebook first, as Facebook has the ability to provide identifying information and the process is faster if they can report all info to the Lifeline at that time.
- Facebook works with the Lifeline once the content is reported.
- (If it is international, then Facebook works with the appropriate international organization.)
- Facebook receives the notification, then provides the Lifeline with all information about the user. Unfortunately, Lifeline cannot comment on the process from Facebook’s end but believes that given Facebook’s sensitivity to suicide risk and knowing that their safety team works on the weekends, the Lifeline believes that the process is pretty quick and that it is the most efficient and quickest method for a user to receive help.
Many teens enjoy keeping in touch with their friends on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but there are both risks and benefits to the use of these sites. Overuse/Misuse of social media has been linked to mental health issues including depression and eating disorders.
Now, a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics describes a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression,” in which children and teenagers spend an inordinate amount of time on social networking sites, then develop symptoms of depression.
Facebook depression is UNCOMMON–most children benefit from the use of facebook because they are able to maintain ties with friends and feel a connection with their community, according to Scott Campbell, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan.
Heavy use of Facebook can have serious consequences, so it’s important that parents are aware of their children’s media use, as well as remaining aware of their social lives away from the computer.
Dr. Michael Brody, Chair of the Media Committee for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and who was involved with the American Academy of Pediatrics report, notes that relationships with peers become critical during adolescence, and that Facebook facilitates social engagement with friends. “Kids become are very competitive, and kids want to be chosen,” said Dr. Brody. Since facebook allows adolescents to see the number of friends their peers have, some youth may perceive that they are not as popular if they have fewer facebook “friends”. They may also perceive by reading the status updates of their facebook “friends” that they are not having as much fun as their peers. “I think the idea of envy and jealousy becomes very magnified through this medium,” says Brody.
Dr. Brody points out that causation is not suggested by the study. The evidence does not suggest that Facebook leads to depression. It could be that certain adolescents who are already depressed are prone to spending too much time online, Brody said.
The study is consistent with previous findings of internet use–that depression and loneliness are associated with extremely heavy users of the internet–and also linked with a much lower rate of OFFLINE social connections.
Humans are social creatures, and studies have continued to demonstrate that having a healthy “social rhythm” is protective against mood disorders. It is important to engage with other people in real, offline, socially interactive ways.
Dr. Brody advises that parents encourage their children to engage in a variety of activities, and this can facilitate a healthy social rhythm:
I think kids who have a balanced life, who do schoolwork, who do after-school activities, who are in teams, who are in clubs, who do community service have a much lesser chance of becoming depressed
Read the original article by Rachael Rettner, here: http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/facebook-depression-rare-but-serious-side-effect-of-social-networking–1318/
March 1, 2011
The recent suicide of a student in suburban Washington, D.C., after being suspended from school has sparked a fierce debate on disciplinary policies.
Angry parents say “zero tolerance” rules are too harsh on kids. And a recent report by a Philadelphia youth advocacy group says “zero tolerance” policies are particularly harmful to minority students.
But administrators and teachers argue that strict rules are necessary to keep students safe.
In Tell Me More’s weekly parenting conversation, host Michel Martin discusses the issue with regular moms contributor Dani Tucker, Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak and Wisconsin child psychiatrist Dr. Jenna Saul.
In contrast to years past, pop stars like Justin Bieber are far more in touch with their fans thanks to Facebook and Twitter. In social media, obsessive followers can cultivate a false, and often dangerous, sense of intimacy that has led to incidents of erratic behavior, like this week’s cyber death threats aimed at Bieber’s girlfriend. This is an issue that is serious, and should be taken seriously.
”Where are the parents? Who is trying to g
Parents must help their children use technology and media responsibly. Parents must remind children taht it is important to be kind and civil to other people–even if they are dating the teen idol the teen is in love with. Bieber is rumored to be dating Selena Gomez, and recent photos of the two of them together resulted in death threats sent to Gomez by Bieber fans on Twitter.
The parents of the teen stars must also step up here; they need to balance the promotion and publicity of their children with the need for their children to have some privacy about their personal lives. While it is fun for Bieber’s fans to receive ”tweets” from him, it can be difficult for a 10 year old to realize that the updates probably come from a PR team, and are not a personal, intimate communication between Bieber and the fan. These “tweets” can produce a sense of intimacy and involvement in Bieber’s private life–such that they feel entitled to feel slighted by Gomez’ more special relationship.
The parents of these adoring fans that need to take notice. We need to guide our children in the appropriate use of media. We need to guide our children in how they communicate with others. we need to guide our children in relating to others in a way that is polite, appropriate, and even empathic–and not threatening.
Celebrity obsession has been treated in children before; in fact, Dr. Ravitz had a patient who was obsessed with Bam Margera, famous skateboarder and ‘Jackass’ personality. After addressing the issue, it was clear the reason for the obsession was rooted in self-esteem issues and family relations
Caregivers of youth who are really struggling in their relationships with teen idols must be alert to obsessions that go beyond healthy. It is developmentally normal to look for people outside of our family to idolize–to look to for values, and for how to dress, what to like. This is a part of separating from our parents, and trying to develop autonomy as individuals. But if a youth is struggling wtih feeling excluded, is struggling socially with peers, or is struggling with self-esteem, the normal interests in teen idols can become more intensely obsessive, and there may be underlying issues to address for the child that warrant mental health intervention.
Social media has only begun to dictate the way people communicate with each other. Although the issue is something to take notice of, the ugly language and death threats online shouldn’t be confused with the norm.
Alan Ravitz, MD, MS Senior Director of Forensic Psychiatry; Senior Pediatric Psychopharmacologist
Child Mind Institute
Parents of tweenage girls, Twitterers, trend-watchers—and the rest of the world, probably—know all about Justin Bieber, the 16-year-old pop sensation who appears to have sprung fully-formed from the Canadian heartland to take America by storm. And those with more than a passing interest and access to the Internet likely know that the teen star has been linked to the latest in a string of young women, the singer Selena Gomez, who is 18. Recently, the Web was aflutter over pictures of the two on a Caribbean vacation, apparently locking lips. Innocent fun, right? Free of consequences? Not when the “Beliebers” get you in their sights.
In fact, the combination of “Bieber fever” and Twitter has turned lethal—at least verbally, as some fans have actually issued death threats targeted at Gomez. And while the anonymity of the Internet cloaks the age of these posters, they are likely young girls and adolescents. Take your pick of shocking posts:
- “@selenagomez I’ll kiII you I swear on GOD!!!!”
- “@selenagomez stay away from Justin ped0phile, retard wait i’m gonna kiII ya in the night underneath your smelly bed”
- “@selenagomez whore cancer whore..like i’mm kiII myself cuz i saw you and Justin kissing well thankyou Selena thankyou now i’m kiIILing myself”
Death threats? Slurs? Suicidal language? Why would our children type these things? Sadly, it’s another side-effect of the culture of the Web: Just like teens bully their peers even more viciously online than in real life because the consequences aren’t immediately apparent, children and adolescents in the virtual world are quicker and more outrageous in their anger or despair when faced with a setback. The stream-of-consciousness spewing of raw feeling has, unfortunately, become accepted as a form of authenticity. As if the immediacy of the emotion somehow excuses the virulence of what’s being expressed.
Which leads to a another disturbing question: How did our kids get so deeply invested in Justin Bieber’s love life? Don’t they know he doesn’t sing just for them?
Girls today can get incredibly wrapped up in relationships that in reality are nothing but fiction. This is nothing new, of course—mention Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, David Cassidy, Michael Jackson, New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys, and any number of women of every age will recall a youthful infatuation bordering on obsession. And yet today it is different—young fans have a much stronger illusion of access to their idols, who communicate “directly” to them on their smartphones and iPads via social media. A youngster could be forgiven for thinking that Justin Bieber is, in this virtual universe, reciprocating her affections.
This is just what Bieber’s media machine is after. An astute reader of the Huffington Post points out that in some countries in Asia, like South Korea, male pop stars are forbidden from having public romantic relationships to preserve the fiction for their young female fans—and thus pad the bottom line. This fiction can be dangerous—sure enough, at a Bieber concert in Australia last year a number of young fans were crushed in the rush to be near the stage and their virtual beau in the flesh. But the more pervasive danger is emotional—as evidenced by the virulent outpouring following the Gomez flap. And it’s especially worrying because these obsessions are less and less visible to parents.
The days of posters, magazines, and massive CD collections are gone, all disappeared inside the computer, or even the device in a kid’s pocket. Endless calls that used to tie up the phone are now silent text messages. And with this increased access—that Bieber has to his fans, that they have to him, that our children have to the wider community on the Web—the harmless, if hysterical, crushes of the past now spur open talk of murder and suicide. Another HuffPo commenter makes light of the phenomenon—in the ’80s and early ’90s, she writes, “we didn’t have ‘THE INTERNET,’ we had AOL! It was way too slow for us to be totally outraged on the Internet.” This joke contains a fairly substantial kernel of truth: The Web is not just a forum, a new method of communication; it amplifies raw emotions, passing rages, and their consequences.
Bieber’s mother is reportedly upset with him about the pictures. We don’t need to be angry with our kids, but we need to teach them that the rules they know to follow don’t magically disappear when they’re in front of a keyboard and a screen. We understand that these Beliebers on Twitter probably don’t truly feel murderous or suicidal; they’re indulging in adolescent exaggeration, and if we heard them say it we would probably hear it that way. But these kinds of remarks read very differently in print—you just can’t tell online. And remember that when 18-year-old Tyler Clementi killed himself last year, following a heartless prank, he left this message on Facebook: “jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
Knowing the difference between real pain and teen exaggeration is key to monitoring our kids’ emotional lives in this digital age, and the only way to do that is to know your child. Be tuned in to her moods; talk to her about her music and her crushes. You want to understand how powerful her interest is, gauge how emotionally involved she is, and know when she’s suffering—even if the object of her affections is someone she’s never met. It’s not easy; not a lot of parenting in the 2.0 world is. But this is her life. You want to be there for her, even if it seems too silly to be serious. A broken heart is a broken heart, even on the Web.
THE FOLLOWING Comes from CAMPAIGN FOR A COMMERCIAL_FREE CHILDHOOD:
McDonald’s Happy Meal’s latest toy giveaway for preschool boys features eight Marvel comic action figures. One, The Human Torch, is a man engulfed in flames. Another, The Thing, menacingly roars “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!” at the press of a button.
Tell McDonald’s its toys are pressing your buttons: “No time is clobberin’ time for preschoolers.”
It’s bad enough that McDonald’s relentlessly uses junk toys to sell children on junk food. It’s awful that this giveaway continues the troubling trend of fast food restaurants promoting toys linked to violent PG-13 movies. And it’s terrible that McDonald’s, the leading distributor of toys in the United States, relentlessly perpetuates the worst gendered stereotypes with its Happy Meal giveaways. During the current promotion boys get violent action figures with their burgers and fries, while girls are offered cutesy animals that, bizarrely, come with handbags.
But now, for preschool boys, a so-called happy meal at McDonald’s features the horrifying spectacle of a man on fire and a menacing figure that explicitly spurs them to violence.
The fast food giant claims that “getting a toy is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald’s.”
If clobberin’ time is McDonald’s idea of family fun, it’s time to steer clear of the Golden Arches.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood Reclaiming Childhood from Corporate Marketers
- 40% of 3-month-old babies are regular viewers of screen media
- Preschoolers spend an average of 32 hours a week outside of classrooms engaged with screens?
- 36% of center-based child-care programs include TV, for an average of 1.2 hours a day
- 70% of home-based child-care programs include TV for an average of 3.4 hours per day?
- Excessive screen time for children is linked to negative outcomes such as childhood obesity and poor school performance?
This week, we have an important opportunity to help reverse these troubling trends.
- The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is updating its position statement on Technology and Young Children for the first time in 14 years and has issued a call for public comments.
- Because NAEYC is the nation’s premier professional organization for early childhood educators, the statement will have a profound effect on young children’s media use both in and out of classrooms.
Today, CCFC sent a letter signed by 70 leading early childhood educators, pediatricians, and child development experts urging NAEYC to join the American Academy of Pediatrics and the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity in taking a strong stand for limiting screen time in the lives of young children.
- The letter includes a list of research-based recommendations CCFC hopes the NAEYC will adopt, including that young children have little or no exposure to screen technologies in child-care, preschool or kindergarten settings.
- You can read the CCFC letter here.
- To submit your own thoughts or support CCFC’s recommendations, please visit http://www.naeyc.org/positionstatements/tech.
- Be sure to indicate if you’re a NAEYC member, an early childhood educator, or a parent of a young child. And feel free to use CCFC’s core recommendations as a basis for your comment.
CCFC urges NAEYC to:
Recommend that children have little or no exposure to screen technology in child-care, preschool, and kindergarten settings.
Expand the focus of its position statement to include children younger than 3 and recommend that child-care settings for infants and toddlers be completely screen free.
Endorse the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity of no screen time for children under the age of 2 and limited screen time for older children.
Review the research on children and technology with a critical eye, asking who funded it and whether any reported gains can also be achieved through hands-on experiences proven to be beneficial to children, without the potentially negative consequences associated with screen media.
We realize the comment process is a little more work than signing your name to a pre-written letter, but we hope you’ll take the time. Reducing young children’s screen time is an important step toward a commercial-free childhood.
 Zimmerman, F., Christakis, D. & Meltzoff, A. (2007). Television and DVD/video viewing in children younger than 2 years. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 161(5), 473-479.
 The Nielsen Company (2009). TV viewing among kids at an eight-year high. Retrieved July 19, 2010 fromhttp://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/media_entertainment/tv-viewing-among-kids-at-an-eight-year-high/
 Christakis, D. (2009). Preschool-aged children’s television viewing in child care settings. Pediatrics, 124(6), 1627-1632.
 Jordan, A., Kramer-Golinkoff, E., & Strasburger V. (2008). Do the media cause obesity and eating disorders?Adolescent Medicine State of the Art Review, 19(3), 431- 449.
 Sharif, I. & Sargent, J. D. (1996). Association between television, movie, and video game exposure and school performance. Pediatrics, 118(4), 1061-1070.
 Shin, N. (2004). Exploring pathways from television to academic achievement in school age childen. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 165(4), 367-382.
May 29, 2010
‘Kate Plus 8′ – Kids on reality TV facing more scrutiny
For the past three years, viewers have watched the Gosselin children grow up on “John & Kate Plus 8″ on the Maryland-based cable channel TLC. Cameras rolled as they went on vacation, as they ripped opened Christmas presents and even as they got ready for bed.
But as the children return to television next week in a new series “Kate Plus 8,” the use of kids like the Gosselins in reality TV shows is coming under greater scrutiny from lawmakers and mental health experts. Psychiatrists and child advocates say the shows can invade a child’s privacy and confuse a child’s sense of identity.
Reflecting that concern, a state lawmaker plans to introduce a bill this week to strengthen child labor laws in Pennsylvania, where “Kate Plus Eight” is filmed.
“Kids in these kinds of shows are not having a childhood, and you don’t have to be a scientist to know what’s going to happen to some of them as they get older,” says Dr. Michael Brody, a Silver Spring psychiatrist and chairman of the Television and Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “It can be a real dissater for them.”
Pennsylvania state Rep. Thomas Murt, the Republican sponsor of the bill, says he got involved in the issue after seeing a documentary on former child stars. In April after receiving complaints from constituents about the filming of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” Murt held hearings on Pennsylvania’s child labor laws to gauge how well they protect young performers.
“The hearing revealed some very, very serious concerns about this issue,” Murt says. “We discovered there were really no on-set advocates for child entertainers in Pennsylvania. The code as it stands doesn’t require that. Another thing the hearing revealed is that one of the reality programs had actually filmed children being toilet trained. … This was alarming, and something we thought should absolutely be prohibited.”
Beyond issues of privacy and boundaries, reality TV is seen as being potentially dangerous to young child performers because of the very way it manipulates their own realities.
“Just doing retakes, where they stage a scene and then reshoot it again because something went wrong, really screws up a kid’s sense of reality,” Brody says.
Murt says members of his committee were told of a staged scene in which the Gosselin children were told it was Christmas so that the producers could get film of “the children coming downstairs in their pajamas, opening presents” and looking excited.
“They had been told that it was Christmas, and they were filmed opening their presents — being excited, of course, as any innocent child would be,” he says. “And then they were told later on, well, no, it’s not really Christmas.
“You can’t behave normally with cameras and sound systems all around you,” says Paul Peterson, who played Donna Reed’s son in the popular 1960s family comedy “The Donna Reed Show” on ABC. Peterson now runs the California-based foundation A Minor Consideration, founded to provide support for current and former child performers.
“Cameras alter behavior. Just think back to what you felt like when your dad pulled out the Super 8 [home movie camera]. … Or imagine being an adolescent and just trying to fit in and then being confronted with an image of your potty training. You don’t control those images.”
Peterson says for him, the “core issue is consent.” As he sees it, “Children do not have the power to disobey — nor do they understand the full consequences of their participation.
In some cases, the consequences can shape the rest of their lives, as the obituary of child sitcom star Gary Coleman, who died Friday at 42, served to remind readers this weekend. Coleman said he tried to take his life twice with an overdose of sleeping pills.
TLC, the cable channel most heavily involved in showing reality TV programs featuring children, declined to be interviewed. But in an interview last year, TLC president Eileen O’Neill stressed the “opportunities” that being in the show offered the Gosselins — chances to travel and experience new adventures.
Annabelle McDonald, executive producer of WeTV’s “Raising Sextuplets,” says the most important factor for her is that Bryan and Jenny Masche, parents of the six children in the show, are in control.
“I am always checking in with them asking if everything is going OK,” McDonald says. “They have to be comfortable with everything — comfortable with us being there, comfortable with the people on the set.”
McDonald says she and the crew try to be “supersensitive to the needs of the kids,” shooting only one five-day week out of a month.
“We pace it so we’re not there all the time,” she says. “When we are there, it is their routine, and we’re just following it. … We try not to disrupt their routine. When it’s nap time, it’s nap time.
According to McDonald, the parents “see the show as a way to document their childhood — they love that it’s being documented.”
Child psychiatrist Dr. Jenna Saul-Kuntz says that any examination of childhood and the potential effects of media documentation of it should start with the Dionne quintuplets, five identical girls born in rural Canada in 1934.
“We have to take a look at what happened to those quintuplets, because I think it more accurately reflects what’s going on with these reality TV shows than what would be reflected even by child stars [in scripted series],” Saul-Kuntz says. “I say that because I think acting in a fake setting as a child star on TV is different from being in a reality TV setting where the cameras are always running [in the real setting of their lives].
Shortly after their birth in the pre-TV era, the Dionne girls were put on public display at a nursery, were photographed endlessly and became the models for best-selling dolls. Ultimately, they came to believe that the experience ruined their lives.
“Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products,” the three surviving Dionne sisters wrote in an open letter published in 1997 in Time magazine. “We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience.”
Murt believes we can learn from such examples, and can do better by the kids of reality TV.
“Reality TV is not 100 percent reality, let’s face it,” he says. “The producers know what kind of show they want to film, and they create it. And you know what? That’s not against the law. But my concern as a policy-maker is to make sure that the kids who participate are protected. … If we can get that, it’s a start.”
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