By Lulu Clemmons
The concept of accepting yourself for who you are is something people of all ages have a hard time grasping. Little kids wish they were princes or princesses, teenagers and young adults desperately want to to fit in with their peers, and adults aspire to be picture-perfect role models. The perfect, idealized version of yourself is what society deems to be acceptable as displayed through the media and the entertainment industry as a whole.
Almost all actors have the same typical look: acne-free faces, “fit” bodies and defined features. Seeing people who are supposed to represent you and all your flaws look completely different on screen gives a wrong perspective of what is normal. Muscle masses larger than the average teenage boy, and clothing sizes made for bodies that look like stick figures are unachievable for most teenagers. These unrealistic characteristics make it difficult to relate and connect physically with the people on the screen.
What might be a cause of these unrealistic characteristics is the use of adult actors playing teenagers. These actors are sometimes 10 or more years older than the roles they’re playing. Take “Riverdale” for example: a show that started when the main characters were sophomores, who should be, in reality, 15 to 16 years old. When the show first made its television debut the actors in real life were actually 24 (Cole Sprouse), 19 (KJ Apa), 20 (Lili Reinhart), 22 (Camila Mendes), 22 (Madelaine Petsch), 24 (Casey Cott), and even 28 (Ashleigh Murray). Although child labor laws limiting the hours of minors under the age of 16 might be the reason for these casting choices, there are definitely some qualified and talented actors who are 18 and not 28. It’s hard to hate these shows and movies though, with their exciting story lines and attractive famous actors. These actors (especially KJ Apa and Cole Sprouse) might be more attractive than they were a few years ago, but it gives the wrong perception of what a modern teenager’s looks and maturity levels really are.
Going through puberty is hard enough to begin with, but the added stress of not feeling as pretty or muscular as the people on the screen can be highly detrimental to the self esteem of a developing person. The constant feeling of not being as physically attractive as the people you look up to who are supposed to be representing you make impressionable younger audiences feel inadequate when they look in the mirror. According to dosomething.org most teenagers today are self-conscious about how they look with seven out of 10 girls having self-esteem issues: 75% of those said girls engage in negative activities in order to meet unrealistic characteristics, and 40% of boys exercise excessively in hopes of gaining muscle mass. 38% use protein supplements in hopes of meeting the standards of what an “acceptable” physical appearance looks like. The invisible barrier between us and the people who are supposed to be our media representatives is hard to see and has become a danger to the physical and mental health of the average teenager.
Hollywood is able to get accurate casting right some of the time with movies like Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” a coming-of-age movie that follows the life and struggles of an average American middle school girl. In the movie the main character Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is trying to navigate her final days of middle school before becoming a freshman in high school. Fisher is only a year away from her character’s age in the movie, making the casting on point. The closeness in age of Fisher and Kayla helps audiences, young and old, relate to the problems and feelings she experiences. Fisher gave an amazing performance and this movie is exactly what the rest of Hollywood needs to look at and learn from.
Casting directors focus on the most attractive or most profitable actors instead of who is the most qualified or who would make the biggest impact. If producers want movies to be more realistic, they can find ways to get actors that are the correct ages for those parts. There will always be problems in Hollywood, but more accurate representation can be the first step towards fixing a massive issue lying within.