The Power of Images- A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words


This is a media literacy unit that will focus on analyzing and understanding digital images. The basic definition of media literacy was created by the Aspen Institute in 1993. The defined it as the ability to decode, evaluate, analyze and produce both print and electronic media. The critical component of media literacy is to separate or make yourself autonomous from the media images around you so that you can be an effective and informed citizen. Media literacy can incorporate aesthetic appreciation and expression, self esteem issues, consumer competence and social advocacy.

As a society we are bombarded with images. Images of celebrities, models, and idealized situations surround us everyday. Images communicate ideas and can be manipulated to change meaning. Understanding how images are created and manipulated is crucial to being literate in society today.

According to the Aspen Institute report, those who teach media literacy share some beliefs about media. One of those beliefs is that media is constructed for a purpose and that purpose can have certain implications. Media can have commercial, ideological, and political implications. The person viewing that media has to negotiate it to construct meaning. The United States is a mass-producer of media and in a country where we idealize individualism, we are simultaneously creating a “culture of denial” about the implications of media especially in regard to commercialism.

Images are a form of communication. They are created with a certain audience and goal in mind. Certain people are meant to be drawn to these images and behave in a certain way. Advertisements are created to sell to certain group and convey certain messages about the product. We respond to these messages on many levels, some consciously and some subconsciously. In many ways our reactions are unavoidable. We need to train our minds to see the images and become aware of the messages they convey.

Media literacy education lends itself to a hands-on, experiential learning environment that stresses critical thinking and is inquiry-based. It can be both interdisciplinary and cross-curricular. The teacher’s role is as more of a facilitator so that student can construct their own understanding of the issue.

Middle school students are especially vulnerable to the messages that images convey about body issues, commercialism and fitting in. They are bombarded with images of perfect bodies, faces and things. They need to understand more about these images, and they need to know how to read and understand images so that they can make better decisions. They also need to understand how to create images and harness the power of media to communicate.

Killing Us Softly 3 Advertising's Image of Women

This video captures many of the ideas in the rationale. Depending on your students and school culture, it might not be appropriate for students. I recommend that the teacher views this. It offers a great deal of insight to the issues of body image and advertising. A teacher could share some of these ideas with her student and frame activities around those ideas.