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January 2012

GSRI Quarterly

Issue No. 12

Behind the Scenes:
Girls and Reality TV



Girl Image Crisis

Pictured above: “Behind the Scenes: Girls and Reality TV” expert panel: (From left to right) Jill Zarin, Jess Weiner, Kimberlee Salmond, Caeley Looney, Danielle Carrig, and Noorain Khan.

The Girl Scout Research Institute released its latest research study, Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV, at an event titled “Behind the Scenes: Girls and Reality TV,” hosted by Edelman Worldwide on October 12, 2011, in New York City. A panel of experts in media and reality TV discussed the impact of reality TV on girls in light of the new research findings, which show that:

  • Real-life reality shows such as Jersey Shore and competition-based shows such as American Idol were most popular with respondents. Many girls think these programs reflect reality, with 75% saying of competition shows and 50% saying of real-life shows that they are “mainly real and unscripted.”
  • Girls have both positive and negative perceptions of reality TV; 86% of girls believe reality TV shows often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting, while 75% of girls believe reality shows inspire conversations with parents and friends about things that happen on the shows.
  • Reality TV viewers appear to accept as real the dramatic aspects of reality TV shows. For example, 78% of regular reality TV viewers think gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls, compared to 54% of non-viewers.

Overall, the findings of the study show that reality TV seems to impact girls on a personal and social level. Regular viewers seem to see the world in more confrontational terms and relate to their peers differently than do those who don’t watch as much. Reality TV can serve as a learning tool, inspire families to explore new interests and activities, and encourage young people to get involved in social causes. Read more about the study here!

The expert panel included Danielle Carrig, A&E Networks; Noorain Khan, formerly of; Caeley Looney, Girl Scouts of Nassau County; Kimberlee Salmond, GSRI; Jess Weiner, author and media strategist; and Jill Zarin, TV personality. For more on the event, check out this video!

In the News

This research study gained significant U.S. media coverage in TIME, Huffington Post, Inside Edition, BET, Los Angeles Times, TMZ, The Hollywood Reporter,, Entertainment Weekly, Fox Providence, Babble, Jezebel, BlackBook Magazine, Reality Check, Minneapolis StarTribune, Houston Chronicle, Television Blend, Augusta Free Press, Deadline New York, Broadcasting & Cable, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and many other outlets.

The study also gained international coverage in France, the Philippines, Czech Republic, and Australia.

Girl Scout councils in Colorado, Northern Illinois, and Utah have used this research to connect to local and national programming and advocacy efforts.

Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana launched an interactive video campaign to empower girls ages 13–17 to share the realities of their lives. The "Reality Check" campaign launched with a live television studio discussion among a panel of experts (including Judy Schoenberg, director of research and outreach, GSRI) and girls about the results of GSRI’s Real to Me study. Check out the local coverage of this event in Chicago Parent and Chicago Tribune.



Girls and Media



Body Image, Health and Media

This study on girls and reality TV joins a larger portfolio of recent research examining girls’ consumption of various forms of media and how it may impact their perceptions of self and others, as well as their attitudes and behaviors of how the world works. Along with the reality TV research, the girls and media portfolio also includes research on girls and social media as well as body image and the fashion industry.

These studies have prompted healthy media advocacy efforts, such as the Healthy MEdia Commission, which convenes a premier group of media industry leaders and subject matter experts to provide recommendations for promoting positive media images for media, parents, and youth. GSRI’s research also prompted Girl Scouts of the USA to work closely with Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) to introduce the Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 2513/S. 1354) in July 2011. This bill supports media literacy programs and youth empowerment groups, facilitates research on how images of women and girls impact youth, and establishes a National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media to help promote healthy, balanced, and positive images of girls and women.

Girl Scouts is now seeking Congressional cosponsors for the bill. Join the Girl Scout Advocacy Network today to send a letter to your member of Congress asking them to sign on to the bill and be a Voice for Girls!

There is also a national program component to complement the girls and media research; the Girl Scout Leadership Journey MEdia helps girls think critically about the media that they consume. This Journey is designed for middle-school girls and encourages participants to take a closer look at all media (television, movies, songs, video games) and to remake what they see, putting their “real me” in media.



Updates & Events



Anna Maria Chávez

Pictured above: Anna Maria Chávez, Girl Scouts of the USA CEO

Partnership for a Healthier America

Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chávez was invited to join First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington to speak at the inaugural summit of the Partnership for a Healthier America, part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign. Anna joined key organizations and leaders from the government, nonprofit, and private sectors to commit to reverse the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. Click here for more!

Healthy MEdia Commission Outreach

Anna Maria Chávez also joined Healthy MEdia Commission Co-Chair Deborah Taylor Tate, former FCC commissioner, to meet with leading editors from Meredith Publishing Group and the Time Warner Cable Women’s Collective to discuss opportunities to support and promote healthy, balanced images of women and girls. For more on the Healthy MEdia Commission, click here.

Girls & Women in Sport and Physical Activity

Kamla Modi, Ph.D., Research and Outreach Analyst, GSRI, attended the Girls & Women in Sport and Physical Activity Conference 2011: Creating Change at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. She presented a poster entitled: Positive Developmental Experiences through Sports Participation for Adolescent Girls referencing The New Normal (GSRI: 2006), and integrating athlete legacy badges in the National program portfolio. Kamla was also featured in an article on how to keep girls in sports during the middle school years.

About GSRI

Reality TV shows feature ordinary people in unordinary environments, such as competing in a contest for a prize or living life in a new place or with new people. Viewers appear to relate well to reality TV characters and content, accounting for the popularity of these shows. Reality TV gets mixed reviews by critics and fans; critics believe that certain reality TV shows portray immoral or outlandish behavior as normal, even conniving or self-seeking behaviors in order to get ahead; all of which can have negative consequences for younger viewers. However, reality shows also feature inspirational story lines and can generate awareness of certain health issues.


About GSRI

ParentTVCouncilThe Parents Television Council analyzed rates of violence, foul language, and sexual references in more than 100 hours of reality TV shows during a three-month period in 2002. They observed a total of 1,657 instances of “objectionable content,” at an average rate of 14.5 instances per hour.

PsychologyTodayA study in Psychology Today found that reality TV viewers were most intrigued by ethical slips in behavior, the spirit of competition, and a desire for status and/or attention.

iti_pic1A guest commentary in TelevisionWeek draws a connection between participants in reality TV and social psychological research of the ‘70s: when people are placed in intense emotional conditions, they can lose their psychological perspective.

TV_weekA new study in Cyberpsychology assessed the values of characters in two popular television shows in each decade from 1967–2007, finding that on a list of 16 values, fame jumped from the 15th spot in 1987 and 1997 to first in 2007. The study also found that from 1997 to 2007 benevolence fell from 2nd to 13th and tradition dropped from 4th to 15th.

TheHuffingtonPostA Huffington Post article comments on how popular reality TV shows portray negative stereotypes about women, raising concern about how this impacts girls who watch these shows.

ExtremeHomeMakeoverIn an inspiring episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the home makeover team surprised Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia employee Earnie Graham by rebuilding her home and constructing a new log cabin at a nearby Girl Scout camp.


Collaborations Supporting Girls' Health and Positive Body Image

The Girl Scout Research Institute, formed in 2000, is a vital extension of Girl Scouts of the USA.

The GSRI conducts original research, evaluation, and outcomes measurement studies, releases critical facts and findings, and provides resources essential for the advancement of the well-being and safety of girls living in today’s world.

The GSRI also informs public policy and advocacy for Girl Scouting.


About Girl Scouting



Contact Us

Girl Scout Research Institute

Public Policy and Advocacy
Washington, D.C., Office

Girl Scouts of the USA

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