College Girls in Media vs College Girls in Reality

Media and Hollywood movies have affected and influenced society’s perception on female college students. Due to Hollywood movies and media, society mostly recognizes the negative stereotypes of a college women. Saran Donahoo, an associate professor and education administration of Southern Illinois University, once said, “The messages in these films consistently emphasized college as a place where young women come to have fun, engage in romances with young men, experiment with sex and alcohol, face dilemmas regarding body image, and encounter difficulties in associating with other college women.” In this essay I will be talking about the recurring stereotypes (generalized image or idea of a particular type of person or thing) and themes portrayed in three hollywood movies, Spring Breakers, The house bunny and Legally Blond and how these stereotypes affect our society.  

The movie Spring Breakers is about four college girls who lack interest with their daily routines and want to escape on a spring break vacation to Florida. After realizing they don’t have enough money, they rob a local diner with fake guns and ski masks. They break the laws in order to get down to Florida, just to break more rules and laws once they’re there. During the film, you will notice a lot of partying, drugs and sexual activity. The four girls wear bikinis for majority of the film and are overly sexual. These are some common themes and stereotypes seen in all three movies. Media and movies like spring breakers have made it a norm to constantly want to party, get drunk and have sex as a college woman. In an article by Heather Long, she mentions how the movie can even be seen as supporting rape culture. She believes because of these stereotypes always being shown in media, it is contributing to the “girls asking for it” excuse when it comes to rape cases with young girls. Long also said “…never mind the fact that thousands of college students are spending their spring break not on a beach, but volunteering with groups like Habitat for Humanity and the United Way, especially after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.” This shows how media only displays one side of a certain group or story. Even though not all college girls like to party and lay on a beach naked for spring break like shown in the movie, that is what media likes to portray. Not only does this give the wrong message to our society but these portrayals are influencing bigger issues like rape, as the author mentioned. When media only focuses on one perspective, society starts to think partying, drinking and having sex is the only way to be as a female college student, which is not the case.

The House bunny is a movie about an ex playmate or girlfriend if Hugh Hefner that gets kicked out of the Playboy Mansion due to her aging. She then becomes a mother of an unpopular sorority with girls that are bit geeky, and unusual compared to other girls on campus. The story goes on to the ex playmate helping the girls fitting in and achieving popularity. The movie displays the message that girls must be a certain way to be accepted as the norm sorority girl and how being yourself is not good enough. In order for the girls to fit in, they had to become a lot more sexual, dress more provocative and act differently than their usual selves. This was a common theme in all three movies. All the films stressed the importance of beauty, especially through body weight. This also gives the message of girls only being worth their bodies and being portrayed as objects. Instead of showing the importance of being accepting of who you are what you look like, movies like the House Bunny show the opposite. This effects the issue of media enforcing an unrealistic image of beauty to young girls. Due to these Hollywood movies, young girls everywhere do not feel comfortable with their own appearance. Many resort to eating disorders and unhealthy habits in order to reach what they are told is beautiful.

Another recurring theme was how little the movies displayed the academic aspect of being a college student. Throughout the movies, you rarely see the girls doing anything academic related. The author of the article What’s With The Media’s Representation of Sororities? said college girls must “meet the school’s GPA standards that set them above academic probation, sorority women strive for academic excellence well beyond their university’s Greek life GPA requirements, not to mention their individual house’s required GPA.” This shows how media does not show all aspects of what it’s like to be a female college student. There are huge differences in what the media shows compared to what is reality that many people do not realize. They portray college girls mostly focusing on their appearance and looks opposed to their future and studies. When in reality your academic and ability to be successful should have nothing to do with your appearance.

The third movie, Legally Blonde is about a sorority girl who gets dumped by her Harvard boyfriend due to not being “serious” enough. In order to get her boyfriend back, she applies to Harvard through a video and works towards getting a law degree. This connects to the stereotype that girls just go to college to find a man. In all three movies, the plots focus heavily on romance. They display the message that women value a relationship more than their academic futures. Legally Blonde begins with scenes of Elle, (the main character) preparing for a marriage proposal from her college boyfriend and ends with a scene of a marriage proposal from a new boyfriend she meets at law school. Saran Donahoo mentions in her article how “While completing a college degree is a good way to broaden career and economic opportunities for women, media images continue to emphasize college as a place to earn the ‘Mrs. Degree’ by fuiling desires and directing individuals to fulfill traditional gender roles.” Besides the stereotypes of college women being partiers and wild, there is a bigger stereotype of women just going to college to find a husband. This teaches girls in society that finding a man is more important than having your own career. Also girls might not feel secure with themselves when they are not in some sort of relationship due to media making it seem so important. A lot times society and media tells women that if they are not married at a certain age, they have failed as woman. There is also an unrealistic expectation that you are suppose to meet your life long partner in college. Therefore, many young girls feel pressured to “find the one” once they go to college. Movies like Legally Blonde are one of the main reasons why most young girls believe they must find a man in order to reach happiness, especially while they are in college.

Although there some movies that do not portray these stereotypes when displaying a female college student, majority of them do. The main stream and most popular movies are usually the ones that have the most partying, sexual activity and drug/alcohol use. These are recurring themes due to the fact sex sells and people are much more interested in bad behaviors opposed to good behaviors. Guinevere Turner, (co-screenwriter and actress – American Psycho) said “people want to see R-rated movies, adults and children alike, and an easy way to get an R-rating is to have sex scenes or nudity. We’d be fooling ourselves if we didn’t think teenagers wanted to see sex. And in creating the taboo, we create frenzy around it.” Since it is natural for humans to be drawn to sex and things they are usually supposes refrain from, they are more interested in movies that display them. Therefore big hollywood movies, exactrate the use of drugs/alcohol, partying and sex in order to make more money. What these film makers don’t realize is how these extractions can affect society’s perspective on what is reality and what is not.

Overall, all three movies focus on college girls being wild, parties who are just trying to find a man. Media images of college life of girls generally focuses on the social rather than the academic side of higher education. For example parties, drinking, greek life, sexual activity, and romantic relationships are common scenes portrayed in the movies. Due to movies just displaying the stereotypes of female college students, affects societies perspectives on how college girls must be. These movies also affect bigger issues like rape and how girls see themselves. In reality, not all college girls are in sororities and the ones that are, have to do so much more than just partying and keeping up with their appearance. It is important to know that movies and media do not show all aspects of what it means to be a female college student and not every girl must live up to these expectations.  

Learning Moments:

One main thing I learned during this course is how media only shows you what you want to see and how much it influences us. For example we exposed to so many advertisements that sometimes we can not tell the difference between what is being promoted and what is content. Celebrities could be wearing a specific brand, and we wouldn’t know if they actually like that brand and chose to wear or if they are being payed to promote it. I also didn’t notice before how much advertisements have effect are culture negatively. In America, we are known to really value beauty and I think advertisements are a huge reason for that. Ads tell women how they look is the most important thing, and surround us with the image of ideal beauty. This causes people to become insecure with themselves and not appreciate their own beauty.

Another main lesson I have learned is how media does not always tell us the full story but only what they want us to know. Recently we had to do an activity where we had to find a news article and evaluate how newsworthy it was. After doing some research I realized that a lot of stories we hear about are not always important. Many authors write and exaggerate things to make it seem important and newsworthy but don’t have the right intentions. A lot of stories are also very bias and don’t give you all the sides and information. I now realize that I must evaluate and question the stories I see and hear and not believe everything right away.

Work Cited:

The House Bunny. Dir. Fred Wolf. Prod. Adam Sandler. Perf. Anna Faris, Colin Hanks, andEmma Stone. Columbia Pictures, 2008. Film.

Spring Breakers. Dir. Harmony Korine. Perf. James Franco. Big Beat/Atlantic, 2013. Film.

Legally Blonde. Dir. Robert Luketic. Perf. Reese Witherspoon. MGM Home Entertainment, 2001. Film.

Long, Heather. “Spring Breakers Isn’t Just a Terrible Movie, It Reinforces Rape Culture.” The Guardian. N.p., 28 Mar. 2013. Web.

Piscopio, Katie. “What’s With The Media’s Representation of Sororities?” Her Campus. N.p., 16 Oct. 2015. Web.

YAKABOSKI, TAMARA, and SARAN DONAHOO. “Hollywood’s Representations Of College Women And The Implications For Housing And Residence Life Professionals.” Journal Of College & University Student Housing 41.2 (2015): 44-61. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

David Keeps. “Sex Sells, Says Hollywood.” The Guardian. N.p., 16 July 2000. Web.


One thought on “College Girls in Media vs College Girls in Reality

  1. Sogandkarimi,
    Your look into the media’s representation of college women was rather interesting. Your three examples seemed very similar, which could mean that these are the most common types of portrayals of college women in film, but I wouldn’t say that’s the case. Films such as these are generally so absurd that to me, they almost appear satirical, although I’m not sure that’s the case either. It is ridiculous that college women are so often objectified in their representations in popular culture — such portrayals as these seem so far fetched they just aren’t relatable or realistic, especially when undergoing an experience that is so different than these. Thanks for notating the absurdity in stereotypical portrayals of a young woman’s college experience!

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