Reality TV and Public Health: Beware the Messenger

Does Kim Karsdashian really have a place castigating MTV’s glorification of Teen Mom’s as a facilitator of teen pregnancy ( )? After all, it was she that took some creative shortcuts to get to the top of the food chain in Hollywood – and it worked out well for her. She turned some interesting career decisions (e.g. an infamous sex tape) into a multimillion dollar brand. In a media environment where hard work is a sucker’s game – does she really have a leg to stand on when it comes to calling out young women who are pregnant as well as TV networks for giving them a platform?

Bottom line – MOST teenage women do NOT want to have a child and have enough sense to know that early unintended pregnancies have myriad negative consequences. Micro-epidemics may pop up here and there (e.g. the one in Tennessee to which Ms. Kardashian refers), but by and large, girls are focusing more on proms than Pampers. And young women are entering universities and the workforce in higher numbers than ever in history.

However, can you blame a young woman who is fed a steady diet of quick glamorous lifestyles a’la the Kardashians, Snooki, or even the Real Housewives – where the royal road to success is merely to be badly behaved and have a camera capture the entire thing? Shows like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant could easily feel like a way to capitalize on this new trend of reality celebrity and a life of Bentleys and parties. I suppose it could be more appealing than the drudgery of work, education, and dues paying. But the fact is, most folks won’t parlay their 15 minutes of reality fame into much more than an endnote.

I understand the smoke and mirrors of PR – and obviously Ms. Kardashian’s handlers want her to broaden her “platform” to take on social issues (much like Miss America contestants have to simultaneously balance breast implants and their concern with the environment in order to win the pageant). But let’s beware the messenger. Everyone is looking for the winning lottery ticket – the quick fix, the fast road to success. It feels like a double bind when someone who made their millions on the back of salacious decisions and a reality platform is calling women out for possibly considering the same opportunities.

But at the end of the day, these women may view Ms. Kardashian and others like her as the messengers they hope to emulate, and honestly, if her message stops young women and girls from making bad decisions – then from a public health perspective – I say do what works. But the hypocrisy wasn’t lost on me, and perhaps the simple message of folks like the Kardashians, the varied denizens of New Jersey and Real Housewives of every ilk who want to become the new voice of public health should be”do as I say, not as I do”.


This entry was posted on Friday, January 21st, 2011 at 4:32 pm and is filed under Health and Wellness, Media and Mental Health, Relationships and Sex. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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