In the most searing condemnation of reality TV made within the last hour or so, the Girl Scout Research Institute took a break from experimenting with new ways to make mints even thinner to conduct a national survey on reality TV’s effects on the beliefs and attitudes of tween and teenage girls. Surprise: Reality TV shows that involve women behaving like horrid shrews toward each other in an effort to stake out a slightly higher percentage of marginalized fame are not just about empowerment.
No, they also apparently teach impressionable young women to “expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measure their worth primarily by their physical appearance,” with girls who watch reality TV shows believing by a higher percentage than their non-reality-TV-watching counterparts that “gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls” (78 percent to 54 percent), “girls often have to compete for a guy's attention” (74 percent to 63 percent), and that they’re happier when they have a boyfriend or significant other (49 percent to 28 percent). In addition, 72 percent of girls who watch a lot of reality TV also say they spend a lot of time trying to look pretty—with 38 percent saying that a girl’s overall value is based on how she looks—versus the 42 percent of non-viewers. Faced with that data, you can really only draw one conclusion: Girls who don’t watch reality TV are total uggos who will never get a boyfriend. Tell everyone!
But yes, there’s also the fact that reality TV “perpetuates a ‘mean-girl’ stereotype” and normalizes competitive behavior between women—at least, according to Institute spokesperson Andrea Bastiani Archibald, who probably doesn’t even have a boyfriend. Still, it’s not all negative: Girls who watch reality TV and absorb its lessons about how anyone can become important and famous if they can just get on camera somehow are also more likely to think they’re mature, smart, funny, seen as leaders and role models for other girls, and to believe that they can “achieve anything in life.” Which is exactly what the younger generation needs: more reinforcement that it’s special.