Before I started teaching Adolescence Development to undergraduate students, I wasn't that familiar with research on adolescents. Thus, teaching the course has been a big learning experience for me. One discouraging thing that I have learned is that for teenage girls, physical appearance still has a large influence on both their popularity and their sense of self worth. I feel that despite efforts to break down gender stereotypes, we still live in a world that places a premium on certain characteristics in both women and girls. These characteristics include being beautiful, engaging, easy to get a long with, and compliant. Thus, we continually see women in both TV and films who are there to be decorative instead of being whole people. We see female characters that are solely defined by how they support men (the wife, the girlfriend, the mother) instead of well-rounded characters that have their own thoughts, dreams, and character-flaws.
It is for these reasons that I was really looking forward to the premiere of "The Hunger Games". From everything that I read about the movie, I got the sense that Katniss Everdeen was going to be portrayed as a very unconventional female film character. However, what really struck me as I was watching the film was that not only is she an unconventional character, but the movie itself comments on the difficulty of being popular if you are not the ideal female stereotype. In the movie, Katniss is involuntarily cast into a reality show in which she must fight 23 other adolescences to the death. In order to survive, she must gain the popularity of the viewing audience by being attractive, engaging and witty. Katniss is completely at a loss given that she is serious, guarded, and doesn't know how to say the right thing at the right time. To say that Jennifer Lawrence pulls the role off amazingly would be a gross understatement.
Just as Katniss has to gain popularity among the viewing audience of her home country of Panem, she also has to gain acceptance among American viewing audiences. Before the premiere of the film, there was concern about whether the male American audiences would want to see a movie that focused on a girl, and an unconventional girl at that. Also, the director and marketing team broke out of the norm by not making the character sexy or focusing on the love triangle to sell the movie. They ended up with an amazingly solid film and a very strong female lead that is both an engaging and full person. I don't see any reason why "The Hunger Games" won't do well with American audiences, and I think that the success of this this is good for both women and girls in our current society. Slowly we are getting the message across that you don't have to be a gorgeous bombshell to be popular. It is ok if you are quiet, not good with words, or not pretty. In fact, I am hoping that with films that follow this one, we will be teaching girls that a lot of different characteristics in women should be celebrated and that your looks aren't your most important feature.