That sends a dangerous message to girls, especially minority teens with few adult role models and even fewer positive images on TV.
Not surprisingly, high school girl fights are all the rage. There must be thousands of videos on YouTube of teen girls duking it out, many posted for viewing pleasure by the very girls involved. Not only that, a 2011 Girl Scout Research Institute survey found that ’tween and teen reality-show viewers expect bullying in their own lives, think gossiping is part of what they do, believe they have to compete against one another to get a guy’s attention, and measure themselves primarily by how good they look in the mirror.
It’s almost as though shows like Basketball Wives, Love & Hip Hop, Bad Girls Club, Mob Wives, and The Real Housewives of (fill in the blank) exist not to empower girls, but to divide and conquer.
"I’ve had girls tell me their goal was to be a reality-show star," says Cheryl Ann Wadlington of Evoluer Image consultants in Philadelphia and author of The DivaGirl’s Guide to Style and Self-Respect. "The message is, they can get instant fame by getting on TV and disgracing themselves. ... Kim Kardashian proves that a young girl can do a sex tape and become a multimillionaire."
Wadlington adds that for many girls who live in struggling neighborhoods, women who behave badly are a familiar image. Reality shows simply perpetuate bad behavior, albeit a glammed-up, glossy version of it. "They don’t know what real greatness looks like," she says.
Thankfully, some local advocates have made it their mission to show girls just how great young women can be.
Real-life role models
Lacey C. Clark, founder of Sister Sanctuary, a company that helps develop teen girls and young women, recently hosted "Phenomenally U: Three Candid Conversations About Sex, Self-Respect, and Success in the Reality TV Era," a daylong summit at the Free Library. The goal, says Clark, was to enlighten girls and their mothers about negative images on TV and provide real-life models of success.
"The stereotypes that are being reinforced by reality TV are being seen by everybody," Clark says. "Smart young women are coming out of college with no conflict-resolution skills, and corporations aren’t dealing with it."
Users of social media, always in front of the curve, have started a slow but steady movement to denounce these kinds of shows. An online petition drive drew more than 30,000 supporters to boycott Ev and Ocho, a planned Basketball Wives spin-off. Even socially conscious teens, like Philadelphia student entrepreneur Tweety Elitou, took to Facebook and Twitter to complain.
"I don’t see them as a positive," says Elitou, 17, founder of Young, Hip & Chic, a popular teen fashion website. "There are other ways you can get your name out there besides being rowdy. It’s influencing girls the wrong way."
It’s no wonder disapproving celebrities such as Star Jones (can you blame her, considering the abuse she took on The Apprentice by Real Housewives of Atlanta bully NeNe Leakes?) and pop rapper Nicki Minaj have forced the cast of Basketball Wives into some major damage control.
You could see it coming. This week’s episode featured executive producer Shaunie O’Neal — yes, the ex of former NBA superstar Shaquille — pondering on camera with her pastor whether people see her as nothing more than a "hot ghetto mess." (Obviously, she didn’t ponder hard enough to pull the plug on the show, which is slated to return next season.)
In a preview clip for next week’s "reunion" wrap-up, a usually defiant Lozada appears downright mousy. "I’m not proud [of my behavior]," she says. And this week, Roman appeared on The Wendy Williams Show to do her act of contrition.
"I was embarrassed as a black woman to see you guys go at it like that," Williams told Roman.
To which an apologetic Roman replied, "This particular incident has taught me a valuable lesson. For the first time, I looked at my daughters and they weren’t really proud of me ... I have a huge platform. I should take more responsibility."
I wonder whether that bit of insight hit her before or after she suffered a mild heart attack — at age 41.
Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Annettejh.