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Symbolic Annihilation: How Media Makes You Invisible

There is a fancy term researchers use called "symbolic annihilation." Read the article to learn what it is, how it makes you disappear, and what can be done about it. 

What is symbolic annihilation?

Symbolic annihilation is what happens when you look at your culture, when you look at the media around you, and you don't see anyone who looks like you. It is called annihilation because it's like you disappear, it's like you're not even there. 

There are all kinds of women who experience symbolic annihilation when it comes to media. We often don’t see the bodies of fat women or women who are older. Women with disabilities are another group we just don’t see enough in media representation. We tend to show a certain type of woman in media. And she doesn't represent everyone. 

Can the situation be changed?

Social media does have the potential for good. One of the good things it can do is provide a broader representation. For lots of reasons, it matters to look at media and see people who look like you. It can make you feel accepted, it can make you feel like you're a real part of your culture. Feeling invisible is a terrible way to feel. But diversity in media representations isn’t enough. 

If images are still sexist, if they're degrading, then that’s not a win for diversity of representation. 

For women who do feel invisible in media, there are so many social media accounts you can follow that will make you think, "No, I really am seen, people who look like me really do exist out there the world." 

There are some companies that are trying to do this in their advertising. I think that can be really well done. And I see comments indicating it feels really good for people to see themselves represented. 

But you have to be careful because on social media you will find trolls. Every time a company tries to show really good body diversity in their advertising, there are always commenters who are ready to tear people down or talk about who doesn't belong. If you see an image you like, I always want to say, “Don't read the comments!”

And there is also you can do to change the situation for the better. 

You can also try to support the companies who include different types of women and more types of bodies in their ads. If that makes you feel good, you can support them by trying to buy their products if it's possible.

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