In the common room of the Darien Library last Wednesday at 7 p.m., five panelists joined a full audience in watching the new documentary "Miss Representation," presented by the library and the YWCA of Darien/Norwalk's Parent Awareness Network. The film gives a past and present look at how the media influences society to value women.

Amid evidence from media clips and interviews from people including Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow and Condoleezza Rice, statistics flashed up on the screen throughout the movie: "American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV; 17 hours listening to music; three hours a week watching movies; four hours a week reading magazines; 10 hours a week online."

This surprised several panelists, like Darien High School senior Jay Alter, who recalled the statistic shown in the film that 78 percent of girls hate their bodies by age 15.

"There's a lot we don't know of young women and the media," said Alter, president of the Invisible Children club and member of the Youth Asset Team at Darien High School.

The event's moderator, broadcast journalist Jeanne Yurman, asked the panel, "What is the way out?"

"I try to focus on the positive aspects" when counseling young women, said Family Centers' youth counselor Amanda Romaniello.

"I use myself as an example: I am a professional woman sitting in front of you. You have a voice," she said.

Panelist Edward Moran, a clinical social worker also from Family Centers, put the spotlight on parents and suggested they ask the question, "Are we having conversations about that?"

"Your values may be what's most important to them," Moran told parents in the audience.

Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom understood Moran's point when she made the documentary. Newsom narrates from her own perspective while pregnant with her daughter, Montana. In the film, she contemplates the world Montana will grow up in by looking back on her youth as an insecure girl with low self-esteem due to media influences.

None of this surprised panelist Patricia Spoor, a women's studies adjunct professor at Southern Connecticut State University.

"I think everyone should have a women's studies course," Spoor said. "When you see how women have contributed to civilization, it gives you grounding. It gives you self confidence that's not immediate, but it grows."

Before turning to the audience for questions, Yurman ended the panel discussion by stating, "Awareness is the first step to making change."

The audience seemed to yearn for something more. Several women in the audience asked Spoor how to start making change.

"It starts with you," Spoor said, suggesting a few friends get together and have a discussion. "Historically, it's amazing what happens when women come together. If you do it together, in your homes, that's a start."

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