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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

Sizing up TV's social role

By Caroline Bernier 23-11-2018

What percentage of people on this planet can you actually brand as ‘perfect’? Of course, the answer is that no such figure exists.

But you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The mainstream media has always had a knack of bombarding us with endless images of size-zero models and telling us what we’re ‘supposed’ to look like. Unfortunately there’s always been pressure on our society, particularly the younger generation, to conform to look a certain way.

In many ways, television has been guilty of projecting unrealistic images of false perfection more than any other medium. Yet over the past decade – arguably one of the most socially turbulent we have lived in – our industry has stepped up and delivered programming that embraces diversity, inclusion and social change.

Often regarded as a more superficial genre, the entertainment world has actually been at the forefront of disrupting dominant beauty standards. In the US, shows like NBC’s The Voice and Fox’s The Four: Battle for Stardom are not only giving audiences a feel-good factor but are also breaking down barriers by demonstrating that you don’t need to be 6ft tall with blue eyes to be accepted in this world.

Indeed, the more broadcasters and producers develop these types of diverse, family-oriented programmes for a pre-watershed time slot the better. Television can still be that driving force to get families together in a room and discuss issues around diversity and help redefine the notion of beauty.

The Fashion Hero aims to challenge attitudes towards beauty in the fashion industry

I’m proud that our own The Fashion Hero features real people: those who are tired of being told they’re not good enough, those that think they don’t fit, those who have been rejected, bullied at school or laughed at because of their different sexual orientation or religion. Our show gives all contestants a huge hug of self-esteem and puts them right in with a chance of featuring as a role model in a designer’s international advertising campaign.

By teaming up with 40 social media influencer contestants, The Fashion Hero is already having an incredible impact as it continues to challenge attitudes towards beauty in the fashion industry. It’s a clear example of programme makers tapping into social media platforms to help shape a diverse narrative and while keeping their show relevant.

More broadcasters should really look at using this space, because platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are actually now the tools by which they can relate to real people who are behind this revolution of social change.

But it’s not just perceptions of body image that television is now shifting. More widely, there are a multitude of examples of how television is influencing viewers to make real changes to the world we live in.

The BBC’s wildlife documentary Planet Earth has seen Sir David Attenborough urge people to take action about saving the future of humanity and do more to prevent global warming. Chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver also continues his good work to help all of us eat a much healthier diet and Oscar-winning climate change doc An Inconvenient Truth serves as a reminder of how we should use and produce energy.

It is pleasing that this new breed of programmes is educating and entertaining viewers in equal measure. For instance, I still marvel at Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres’ talkshows and how they celebrate real American people’s stories at the heart of their programmes. Both are strong and successful female role models who are also pushing diversity up the social agenda and promoting good values. What more could you want from two of the leading female television presenters with millions of people watching?

As television programme makers, we have incredible power to influence audiences who are now living in a more connected and cosmopolitan world than ever before. With viewership in the billions across multiple networks, SVoD services and online portals worldwide, our content industry is surely in the best position to reflect a more open and diverse society in our work.

today's correspondent

Caroline Bernier Executive producer and president Beauty World Search

Caroline heads Beauty World Search, the Canadian company behind ethical fashion format The Fashion Hero. She has 25 years of experience in the entertainment, fashion and television industries, working in direction, production, promotion, development, product placement , events, marketing, choreographing and staging.

Caroline set up Beauty World Search eight years ago to challenge norms in the fashion and television industry and develop a new format for air.