Our Romantic Comedy Culture
Real-life relationships don’t look like the ones on T.V.—and that’s how it should be.
-David Sbarra, Ph.D, YouBeauty.com
Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant in ‘Music and Lyrics.’
A central message behind much of the content at YouBeauty.com is that being beautiful is about being yourself—cultivating your authentic sense of self and learning about all the different ways to accentuate your best qualities.
Part of the reason I joined YouBeauty.com as its Relationship Expert is that this is a decidedly different message than most of what is out there in the popular media. We are inundated (buried!) with messages about what’s wrong with us and how to look and be as perfect as possible.
Airbrushed models represent physical impossibilities; yet, from the time we’re very young, we’re fed a steady diet of beautiful images and told we should aspire to these standards.
It is now well known that exposure to these beauty standards can increase risk for eating disorders among women. As the father of a young daughter, I’m naturally concerned about these problems, and I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about how to protect her from this revolting process.
As I reflected on the nature of the problem, I wondered if the same thing happens in our relationships. Almost every issue of every magazine intended for women—from Seventeen to Cosmopolitan— has a feature story on “love at first sight,” or “finding your soulmate,” or “how to have perfect sex.” These stories suggest that love at first sight, soulmates and perfect sex are real and attainable.
The movie genre of romantic comedies is hardly any better. These films often portray love as something that happens magically and simply “works out” without any serious effort.
To be fair, box-office hits are not won by showing a couple arguing about who’ll empty the dishwasher next. Nevertheless, we live in a Romantic Comedy Culture, and, in my opinion, the way the media portrays relationships can be quite bad for our mental health.
What evidence do I have to support this perspective? In 2007, psychologist Bjarne Holmes published a very interesting study on this topic. Holmes examined the degree to which people liked TV programs, movies, and magazines that are relationship oriented (see the list; remember study was published in 2007, which means some of the shows might seem dated by now). He found that the degree to which people loved these romantic shows was highly associated with degree to which they also believed in “predestined soul mates” and that “mind reading is expected in relationships.”
What’s to be done about the problem? Find out next!