Why It's So Crucial That Teen Shows Get It Right

I tend to associate certain television shows with certain periods of my life, and Gossip Girl unquestionably characterized my high school years. Not only did I idolize Blair Waldorf, but I was embarrassingly invested in her relationship with Chuck Bass—a relationship that, years later, I have come to recognize as most definitely emotionally abusive, and verging on physically abusive as well. Of course, Blair and Chuck ended up together when Gossip Girl came to a close, and the many, many unhealthy aspects of their relationship were either glossed over or somehow romanticized, serving the broader aim of portraying their love as capable of overcoming any and all obstacles (despite the fact that, time and time again, Blair and Chuck themselves proved to pose the biggest threats to the longevity of their relationship).

As a high school student, this was the dynamic I aspired to emulate in my own romantic endeavors. Even today, dealing with men who only show the faintest interest in me when bored or horny, I am all too willing to attribute their ambivalence to some deep-seated fear of prolonged emotional attachment, rather than force myself to accept the simple truth—these men care very little for me, and only feign care insofar as doing so directly benefits them in some way (and requires minimal effort). The depiction of young love in shows like Gossip Girl undoubtedly contributes to the popular mindset that if a relationship is easy, then you can't possibly have found "the one"; rather than being portrayed as toxic, emotional strife often serves as a testament to the depth of feeling between two characters.

Shifting our focus to the actors and actresses cast as the teenage leads of these shows, it quickly becomes apparent that there is a vast discrepancy between the "teenagers" found on television and the teenagers found in actual high schools. Let's consider Gossip Girl once again. At the start of the series, the main characters were meant to be in eleventh grade—so, roughly speaking, about 16 or 17 years old. However, when Gossip Girl premiered, the youngest actor or actress in one of these leading roles was Blake Lively, 20 at the time. Though three or four years may not seem like a huge age difference, I invite you to reflect on just how much you personally have changed in the same amount of time. The Gossip Girl cast looks far more like a lineup of models than it does a group of typical high schoolers, and while watching the show, I found myself internalizing the belief that because I didn't resemble Blair Waldorf or Serena van der Woodsen, I wasn't good enough.

Ultimately, no outside entity should be granted the power to determine how you feel about yourself. That being said, television shows marketed at teenagers should reaffirm teenage experiences, not further perpetuate unhealthy ideals and unattainable beauty standards.