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MTV's 'True Life' and teen fixation on breasts


Do you know how easy it was to find this picture for this article?!?!?!?

There are lots of breasts in my household—my three daughters and I represent the full spectrum of sizes and body types. And I have long worried about the self and body images of my girls. I know that teen girls, in general can experience a crisis in their self- images as they enter the pre-teen and teen years. My oldest daughter was very young when the seminal work of psychotherapist Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls,  introduced the phenomenon of female teen insecurity.

Her book discussed how normal, confident young girls who believed that they were beautiful, perfect and could conquer the world were suddenly turning into insecure and self-conscious teens. In Reviving Ophelia, Dr. Pipher talked about her patients who, right at the onset of adolescence, began to fail-to-thrive and make poor and dangerous decisions as a result of their feelings of inadequacy and incompetence. All of us mothers of girls were in a panic to steer our daughters clear of this tumble into teen angst and unhappiness. But what could we do?

The truth is-- girls fall victim to society’s very persistent and narrow standard of beauty because this standard is everywhere—and it is upheld, perpetuated and enforced by everyone—men and women, fathers and mothers, friend and foe alike. So when Joanna Douglas asks the question—Is MTV Teaching Young Women to be dissatisfied with Their Breast? , in her recent YaHoo! Shine article, the answer is obvious---Yes, of course. Ms Douglas asks the question as part of her discussion of MTV’s True Life series. This series has focused on the lives of young people who are dealing with a variety of life challenges. Episodes have addressed addiction, troubled relationships, gay marriage and most commonly, body image.

As Ms. Douglas points out, the show’s producers seem fixated on the breast. There have been a disproportionate number of shows about young women who are dissatisfied with the size of their bosom. In one episode, MTV True Life: I Hate My Small Breasts, we watch an 18-year-old woman’s mother harass her because she refuses to get breast implants. Her mother strongly believes that breast implants are the key to her daughter’s future success and encourages her to sign on to a site that offers free implants in exchange for online pornographic pictures. Click HERE  to see a clip of this mother-daughter exchange.

I do believe that MTV has a negative affect on the body image and the self-esteem of young girls. But this did not start with True Life. The attack on the healthy development of female self-esteem began with the music videos and other programming that MTV has featured over the years. Anyone who has seen music videos can attest to the overwhelming message of this very impactful medium. All of the women in these videos are very shapely and scantily clothed. These videos have not only defined (for more than one generation) what is beautiful and sexy, but also, unfortunately, what is desirable relationship behavior for girls. And for most parents, these standards are not in line with the values we’d like to instill in our daughters.

And MTV is not the only offender by a longshot—take a look at popular television shows like Gossip Girl or the much beloved Sex in the City. These shows affect all women with their messages about what is beautiful and sexy; what is desirable female behavior and appropriate dating habits. The messages are everywhere. They encourage us (not just teens, but all women) to pursue large breasts and sexy clothes and expensive shoes as crucial to our happiness. Worst yet, we women internalize these things as a part of what defines us and our worth. And then we pass these values onto our daughters—some mothers more consciously than others.

True Life just shows us an extreme version of a phenomenon that is pervasive…and the show reflects back just how much we’ve all bought into the objectification of our bodies and the resulting dissatisfaction with how we look.


  • Alyssa 5 years ago

    By posting this photo, you're doing the same exact thing.

  • SueU 5 years ago

    And if it was so easy to find the photo why aren't you including attribution? Do you have permission for this photo or are you not concerned about copyright laws?

  • Lisa Carey-Houston Family Examiner 5 years ago

    We have 4 girls/women in my house and I too worry about how my girls will grow up with all the interest in "beauty" and hope to just do a good job teaching them about all kinds of beauty. Great articles sharing one of the traps we parents need to look out for.

  • Gina 5 years ago

    SueU- yes, of course, I have permission to use this photo. What kind of operation do you think this is? :-)

    Alyssa- Yes, You are right. I think I am objectifying these women in furtherance of my point. A tricky balance indeed.

  • mehranbiz 3 years ago

    Girls with small waist and healthy breasts have rights to show natural innocent curves gifted them by nature

  • Anonymous 2 years ago

    WTF But The Girls Got Nice Boobs.