The Media Don't Glamorize Teen Pregnancy-They Glamorize Bristol Palin

What Women Really Think
Oct. 5 2010 9:03 AM

The Media Don't Glamorize Teen Pregnancy-They Glamorize Bristol Palin

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Last month, some conservative commentators were bemoaning the fact that Us Weekly put Farrah Abraham and Maci Bookout-stars of the MTV reality shows 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, which depict the girls struggling with young motherhood-on the cover of the magazine. "It is sending the message to girls that if you get pregnant as a result of being sexually active; you could end up on TV or a magazine cover," a representative from the Parents Television Council told Fox News. Bonnie Fuller, writing in the Huffington Post earlier this year, claimed that Bristol Palin's appearance on the cover of People was similarly glamorizing (though that Fox News article seems to give Bristol a pass because she also promotes abstinence while beaming from the cover of national magazines).

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The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has just released new research that combats the notion that shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom make adolescent motherhood seem attractive (worth noting here that the National Campaign works with MTV on these shows and produces discussion guides to go along with episodes of 16 and Pregnant ). Almost 50 percent of teenagers from Southern Boys and Girls Clubs said they discussed sex, love, or relationships with an adult because of something they saw in the media about teen pregnancy; 82 percent of teens who had watched 16 and Pregnant said the show "helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it."

The smiling faces from the covers of Us and People are a pretty sharp contrast to the fights with boyfriends and struggles to make ends meet depicted on 16 and Pregnant . To say that that show is glamorizing anything is absolutely incorrect . Because I don't know every teenager in America, I can't say that there aren't one or two misguided souls who would bring a human life into this world just to get their mug next to a photo of a Kardashian. But I think it's safe to say that these straw teens have enormous problems that would have existed whether or not they glimpsed Bristol Palin on Dancing With the Stars . I'd also like to point out here that the new report from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior shows that teenagers are more likely than any other age group to use condoms-how does that square with the hysteria over magazine covers?

Certainly Bristol Palin occupies a strange media space , and as an extension of her mother-who gets press coverage every time she opens her mouth-Bristol is a tabloid queen. But even Bristol herself has pointed out that most teen moms don't get the advantages and opportunities she's had (see that PSA here ). Certainly she gets to look pretty fancy on television, but again, I have faith that most teenagers realize that they're not going to end up dancing alongside the Situation just because they get pregnant before they're 20.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.