This documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Kimberlee Acquaro starts with a very personal tale by the former, at that time pregnant with a baby girl, concerned about the society her daughter was going to live in and how media consumption could have shaped her perception of herself. She continues by telling her own story, the tragic loss of an older sister, her consequent struggle “to be two daughters at once”, the unobtainable aim of perfection and developing of eating disorders, something unfortunately common among young women. Then she comes to the core of the matter: how women are represented in US media and how these distorted and over-sexualized images affect people, especially girls. And that’s when it becomes problematic.
The opening credits show us a comparison between Great American Women™ (Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc.) and half-naked celebrities acting sexy, and the whole documentary mostly is just a big stretch of this message – i.e. girls should aim at being valued for their minds and not for their looks. While this is certainly a good advice in general and it’s true that the media offer a limited range of models for young women, I found it slightly patronizing – as if girls who dress or act in a certain way are not valuable or they are just victims of the media system – and made me feel uncomfortable throughout the film, even if I agreed with most of the things were said by Siebel Newsom and the interviewees.
Slut-shaming problems aside, Miss Representation has the perk to expose through a masterful use of archive footage what we call “everyday sexism” and how women in powerful positions are diminished by a media system controlled solely by men. If only the implied faux dichotomy “Smart/sexy” weren’t so strong, it would have been a great documentary, and also a feminist one.