PART 3 OF 3: Representation & Impact: How Entertainment Affects Self-Image

Whether or not a person grows up seeing themselves represented in the media can have a large impact their self-image. Image provided by Tom Barrett via Unsplash.

Avery Ackelbein’s journey toward understanding her Jewish heritage and finding belonging centered on a lack of accurate representation of her identities in entertainment and media. In the third and final part of this series, Ackelbein reflects on how the lack of representation affected her during adolescence and what accurate representation could look like today.

Representation Creates Pride in Cultural Roots

From Ackelbein’s perspective, representation means much more than just seeing herself in characters onscreen. As mentioned in part two of this series, having accurate and widespread representation in entertainment can create better tolerance and cultural understanding for all people. For those with hidden diversity and underrepresented identities, it can mean feeling pride in your identity, perhaps for the first time.

“Having the Jewish religion and culture accurately represented in the media normalizes it, for me personally and for others,” Ackelbein said. “It almost brings forth a form of pride that I never realized I had for having Jewish heritage.”

A person points a remote at a televison displaying an out of focus navigation menu.
It can be hard to find media that tell accurate stories about hidden diversity. Image provided by Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash.

Because Ackelbein’s exposure to accurate representation is low, she gets a feeling of excitement and pride when she does see it. However, this feeling is not as common a recurrence as it should be. This applies to those with hidden diversity as well.

The next logical question is, how do we create these accurate depictions of cultural fluidity, hidden diversity, and identity in the media?

What Does Accurate Representation of Hidden Diversity Look Like?

“To me, an ideal representation of a Jewish person in the media is difficult to describe… Any person in the eye of the media is often under a magnified, exaggerated lens of who they actually are,” Ackelbein said. “Despite this, simply portraying the many different types of people that practice Judaism would be the best way to represent what the culture and religion truly are.”

Ackelbein’s idea of existing in the public eye and the ways that public perception affects identity are important to note when discussing how best to create representative content. No two people identify the same way, culturally or otherwise. In Judaism alone, there are several ways that one can identify themselves outside of the traditional denominations. This includes whether or not a person chooses to practice any of the religious aspects of Judaism, just the cultural traditions, or a combination of the two. This can also be influenced, similarly to Ackelbein, by one’s parents and how they choose to raise their children in proximity to Jewish tradition.

While this is a very general overview of one highlighted community, the issue of the complexity of representation is compounded when you consider all of the ways that people across the world identify. People with hidden diversity feel this burden and lack of representation constantly, and it affects their self-image and identity throughout their lives. So, how do we create entertainment and content that can alleviate this feeling of separation and foster a sense of belonging?

Representation Must Be Present From The Beginning

Representation starts in production and in the writers’ room. When content is created by and for people with hidden diversity, accurate representations manifest naturally. Individuals that understand and have culturally fluidity or have been globally mobile can tell those stories better than perhaps anyone else.

A camera and lighting equipment face a scene in a library where a person sits in a chair.
Creators and entertainers with hidden diversity are beginning to gain momentum in the mainstream. Image provided by Sam McGhee via Unsplash.

Many TCKs and CCKs are creating, producing, or starring in content that is truly representative and tells stories of people with hidden diversity. By watching and supporting those creators and that content, stories of hidden diversity become more mainstream. When they become more mainstream, tolerance and cultural understanding improve. Additionally, people with hidden diversity see themselves in the media and feel a sense of belonging and community. Feeling belonging breeds that sense of pride in diversity that Ackelbein continues to search for today.

“People should be proud of the aspects of their identity that stray from the ‘norm,’” Ackelbein said. “Diversity and differences between people are what makes the world interesting.”

Avery Ackelbein

In part one of this series, we looked at the impacts that representation in entertainment can have on young people’s self-image and identity.

In part two of this series, we looked at what Jewish representation looks like in the mainstream media and the ways it impacts people’s understanding of the religion and what it means to be Jewish in the western world.

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