Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps

A New Form of Representation or Depictions as Usual?

by Adria Y. Goldman (Author) Damion Waymer (Author)
©2015 Textbook 137 Pages


Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps explores representations of Black women in one of the most powerful, popular forms of reality television – the docusoap. Viewers, critics, and researchers have taken issue with what they consider to be unflattering, one-dimensional representations. This book discusses images of Black women in reality television during the 2011 viewing year, when much criticism arose. These findings provide a context for a more recent examination of reality television portrayals during 2014, following many reality stars’ promises to offer new representations. The authors discuss the types of images shown, potential readings of such portrayals, and the implication of these reality television docusoap presentations. The book will be useful for courses examining topics such as popular culture; mass media and society; women’s studies; race and media; sex and gender; media studies; African American issues in mass communication; and gender, race and representation, as well as other graduate-level classes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Black Women’s Mediated Depictions: An Overview
  • Chapter 2. Docu-Soaping Black Women
  • Chapter 3. Does Majority or Minority Cast Status Matter?
  • Chapter 4. Reclaiming Sexuality
  • Chapter 5. Black Motherhood
  • Chapter 6. Physical Appearance
  • Chapter 7. She Has Her Own (Money)
  • Chapter 8. Girl Fight
  • Chapter 9. Who Is She Repping?
  • Chapter 10. Why Are Viewers Calling for Boycotts?
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Series Index


The origins of reality TV can be traced to the 1940s launch of Queen for a Day, an early US game show. Since its emergence, the genre of reality television has grown in presence and popularity among producers and consumers. We might assume that these unscripted, yet heavily edited, shows present reality to their audiences. However, scholars have found that many audience members acknowledge and accept the fact that reality television is not real (Andrejevic & Colby, 2006; Biressi & Nunn, 2005; Clissold, 2004; Gillan, 2004; Gray, 2009; Stern, 2005). Many producers and directors acknowledge the extensive participant recruiting and editing processes that go into the production of reality television shows (Andrejevic, 2004; Ouellette & Murray, 2009; Pozner, 2010). Thus, one could argue that the reality in these television shows is actually a constructed reality—produced by the editors, rather than the actual participants. So what does this constructed reality say about Black women in contemporary US society? We begin this exploration, first, by assessing what others have written about women’s roles, in general, in reality television. Then we discuss what reality television is, its effects, and potential implications of mediated depictions of women in these programs. We can then establish the basis for this project and begin to interrogate Black women’s ← 1 | 2 → depictions in reality television in general and in docusoaps, a subgenre of reality television, specifically via #EnoughisEnough.

Women in Reality Television

Reality television has helped to increase the number of female representations in media (Gauntlett, 2008). However, history proves that increased representation does not always result in more accurate representations or quality representations. Pozner (2010) examined the appearance of women across several different subgenres of reality television. She argued that “reality television has emerged as America’s most vivid example of pop cultural backlash against women’s rights and social progress” (p. 240). Scholars such as Pozner argue that producers are opposed to women’s liberation and use stereotypical and demeaning images to keep women down; however, the blame for such images is too often placed on female participants who sign up for the shows and female viewers who continuously tune in and watch such representations. The editing process and strategically altered contexts frame female participants in a particular way. Participants are “molded into predetermined stock characters” that fit certain stereotypes (Pozner, 2010, p. 28). These constructed images deliver messages on how these women are supposed to behave. In addition, these images teach women what they should regard as the key to their happiness and success. Pozner maintains that these images are especially damaging to the millions of women who are avid viewers of reality programming.

A major theme that emerged from Pozner’s analysis is that female participants’ physical appearance is extremely important in reality programming, as has historically been the case for most female television roles. However, reality television magnifies this ideology. In reality television women’s physical appearance is communicated as being the key to success in the workplace and in romantic relationships (Pozner, 2010). Although this point of view is pervasive in reality television, a certain physical appearance is not the only imperative that these shows deliver to and about women.

Pozner also argued that women in reality television are governed by one (or more) of four traditional stereotypes:

During their search for “Mr. Right,” female participants are often portrayed as being extremely emotional and hypersexualized. Yet, as much as the hypersexualized character is featured, she is also condemned for behaving in this manner. Her male counterparts, on the other hand, are allowed to behave the same way and yet they receive praise. Pozner’s discussion offers a general overview of the problems with female portrayals in reality television. It is important, however, to highlight other research on women’s portrayals in specific subgenres of reality television. We discuss research on women’s portrayals in popular subgenres of reality television: competition shows, lifestyle shows, makeover shows, and dating shows.

Women in Competition Shows

Competition shows are those in which participants compete for some large prize (usually money). Typically, the prize awarded to the winner is large enough so that the contestant would not normally be able obtain the equivalent amount ← 3 | 4 → quickly via traditional means such as work. Participants can compete individually, as a pair, or in a group. Edwards (2004) stated that, “one of the clearest explorations of gender role stereotypes occurs in the subgenre of competition game shows” (p. 227). Within these shows, Edwards found that traditional gender roles and stereotypes were reinforced rather than challenged. Women were framed as being less physically fit than male contestants. Because the majority of competitions were based on physical strength, Edwards asserted this presented women as inferior competitors. If a female was a strong competitor in such activities, she was considered an exception; thus, women were framed as weaker and inferior to men.

Waggoner (2004) also found that women were presented in more objectifying ways than men. An examination of Survivor revealed that the competition show focused on the females’ sexuality and physical appearance. The show communicated the idea that a woman’s most valuable attribute was her appearance. Waggoner wrote, “Female sexuality [was] constructed as a potentially valuable survival tool for certain women on the show” (p. 218). Moreover, “…those women whose bodies do not fit the standard represented by these images (i.e., large breasts, flat stomachs, and firm buttocks) [were] eliminated early in the game” (p. 219). Cameras focused on females’ bodies in limited clothing, thereby presenting them as “products for fetishization” (p. 219). Ironically, women who used their sexuality to advance throughout the competition were punished. Women were supposed to use their sexuality only as a “commodified object of heterosexual desire [that] has value only for those who consume it” (p. 219). These studies demonstrated that portrayals of women in competition shows reinforced traditional gendered norms and stereotypes.


ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
mediated depictions minority gender images
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 137 pp.

Biographical notes

Adria Y. Goldman (Author) Damion Waymer (Author)

Adria Y. Goldman, PhD (Howard University), is Assistant Professor of Communication at Gordon State College. Her recent publications include the co-authored journal article «Identifying Ugliness, Defining Beauty: A Focus Group Analysis of and Reaction to Ugly Betty.» She is also one of the editors of Black Women and Popular Culture: The Conversation Continues. Damion Waymer, PhD (Purdue University), is Associate Provost for Special Initiatives at the University of Cincinnati. He is the 2013 recipient of the PRIDE Award from the Public Relations Division of the National Communication Association for his contributions to public relations education, and he has published more than forty journal articles and scholarly book chapters on communication and issues of diversity and public relations.


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146 pages