Reality TV & The Self-Esteem of Women

Former QVC Show Host, Patti Reilly, reflects on this exclusive clip from the set of Miss Representation…

According to the New Oxford Dictionary, the word reality is defined as: “the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them”. The real reality is this: nothing and no one is perfect. Perfection is an illusion. It is a fairytale, an image, and it is far from our American reality. Yet we’ve been trained by various media outlets, reality shows in particular, to think of resorting to extreme beauty measures as an end that justifies any means.

Reality TV shows are actually the ultimate “illusion makers”. We’re supposed to believe that these shows are indicative of real life with overriding messages that focus on illusions of perfection: she is thin, sexy, and flawless- and in reality she has been augmented, whether through risky surgical methods, airbrushing or photo shop. The media constantly reminds us that we’re not good enough, we need to be fixed, and that our value lies in our youth and beauty.

Our culture teaches women that our worth is directly related to how we look. Fostering this belief distracts women with the notion that success will elude them unless they buy into “beauty as a commodity.” When watching these shows the resounding message is that “ordinary” may as well be synonymous with “worthless”. Perpetuating this nonsense that we should all be Barbie-esque in our looks and over the top in how we behave in order to get attention has to stop. Striving for this “idealized standard of perfection” promotes surgical procedures that have risks and consequences, not just physically, but to the true foundation of who we really are. Plastic surgery is not a one-size-fits-all solution to address a physical need to be something that emotionally we may feel robbed of. Women are becoming desensitized to their emotional needs and instead use beauty as a temporary band-aid. Statistics report that depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem are at an all time high in young girls and women. We can’t ignore the source, which is a thriving beauty industry that rakes in over 500 billion dollars per year with no signs of waning even in our strained economy.

By choosing to watch reality shows that depict women in highly sexualized and demeaning ways or in manners that are truly unflattering (fighting and competing against each other) we are choosing a co-parenting medium as “entertainment education” which is clearly not in the best interest of nurturing young women. For young women the false illusion of beauty has proven to be damaging to their perception of themselves and the world they live in.

So the question we must ask ourselves is, how sure are we that this new generation of young women can distinguish fact from fiction or real life from reality? These particular shows have been masterfully orchestrated to depict a cultural norm that directly impacts women’s value to society with the promise that the thinner you are, the prettier you are, and the more outrageously you behave the more successful and happy you will be. This skewed message sidetracks women off the path of empowerment, encouraging them to invest in fixing their outer-selves. Instead of deciding on a college and course of study, more and more women are investing their thought and hard-earned money into what cup size they should be.

It’s time to have a new conversation about beauty and hold a mirror up to our culture and ourselves. With reality shows like these dominating the primetime airwaves we have to be vigilant and heighten our awareness to what exactly our children are watching. The real answer is about teaching women to tune in to their emotional health and tune out the over-sensationalized media messages. Change the channel! Remember this timeless expression: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? Be the beholder. Take your power back and protect the next generation. What message would you rather be telling yourself and your children about beauty? Choose that. Hear that. Live that.

Learn more about Patti and her work at here


  1. Dan says:

    Great article, Patti…except for one grammatical error; it’s “elude”, not “allude”. Other than that, WELL DONE!!!

  2. CB says:

    Patti Reilly is a hypocrite; she promotes beauty, make-up, and proudly exposed her cleavage and body on QVC. Hard to take this blog seriously.

    • Lauren says:

      When we stop attacking each other and merge our voices to target those who are manipulating all women, then we will be powerful enough to change the status quo. We are sisters in this cause.

  3. Roxanne Fox says:

    As an entertainer in her mid-twenties, I have felt myself struggling with these precise issues, and wondering what was wrong with me!?! Why was I becoming increasingly depressed with my industry, my art, myself? I started noticing that I felt extremely disgruntled when my friends or family would settle on a Spring Break episode of some nameless show, or the same-old-sitcom scenario. I kept thinking to myself, “Is this what I’m devoting my life to? Is this what people want to see?” I’m happy to see that the answer is a resounding NO! It is unfortunate that there is an epidemic of depression, mood disorders, and self abuse among young women in our country. The silver lining is that it was through my own treatment that I came across MissRepresentation. I hope that more and more of us can get fed up enough to take notice! It’s time for a change.

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  5. Good article, Patti. I watched you over the years on QVC and was so impressed with your weight loss and your courage to leave and explore new things. The question I would ask…how do you merge this new persona with all of the money you convinced customers to purchase on those beauty shows on the Q? Are you taking your, small though it may be, responsibility for being part of the horror that this article exposes? Thanks you for your time.

    • Patti says:

      I knew very little about television shopping prior to accepting the job as host. I remember how elated I was when I got the call, and how eager I was to do the best job possible. Changing my image was something that happened over time and I realized that no amount of outside criticism was harsher than the way I thought about myself. I had a “television mirror” held up to me daily and I definitely fell into the trappings of trying to be as perfect as possible. Product knowledge and selling was my job, and when it came to the beauty category I loved it! I am still fascinated with the world of skin care & color products.
      Looking back I can see where I made mistakes and I’m not always proud of how I presented myself. My life is very different today and now I have the opportunity to use my voice and share my experience by supporting Miss Representation.

  6. Sandee Mirell says:

    Thirty years ago, in a personal correspondence with my best friend and co-author, we asked why must we have to choose? Smart IS sexy. Women no longer have to depend on a man for a living – or even for a baby.There is no good reason for any of us to “settle.” As to the age-old question, what do women want? The answers are freedom of choice, and men who are no less masculine for honoring and expressing their yin side; and women who are not afraid of being called “ball busters” when they assert themselves. It’s a pretty weak man who would resort to such a put-down, or call a man a “sissy” who cries with grief at the death of a loved one. Beauty is as beauty does. Our current standard of beauty as portrayed in the media – for both and women – needs to change. Let’s vote with our feet.

  7. CB says:

    As further evidence that Ms. Reilly speaks with a forked tongue, look at the photo she chooses to use of herself on her website page, Exposed cleavag

  8. CB says:

    In response to Ms. Reilly’s response, I’d like to say that she says the same thing over and over, whether in her blogs, Facebook, farewell QVC interview, etc. She was going to “use her voice” by going to Africa in August to help build a school; it doesn’t seem that she did that. Her website page has her photo with a lot of her cleavage exposed. Is this really necessary? She lacks credibility. I would appreciate a more honest “voice” than Ms. Reilly.

  9. Patti says:

    I continue to work with The Hamel’s Foundation and we had a very successful event in August raising money for the school- the trip was postponed due to the timing of the event.
    This movement represents change- in our perception, in our our culture, and in ourselves. I’m encouraged by your words and your conviction, but my goal is not to change your opinion of me, it’s to do things in life that resonate with how I choose live now.

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