What impact does poor representation in TV shows and movies have upon people’s everyday lives?

The effects are harmful and profound, according to our new research study, Reflecting Me: Global Representation on Screen, which explores how consumers around the world feel about how people like them are depicted in TV shows and movies.

We surveyed over 15,000 people aged 13-49 in 15 countries around the world and connected with a diverse range of people in 7 countries through video interviews and immersive digital exercises. This project explores multiple aspects of diversity, encompassing race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, disability, and more.

We’re covering findings from this research across a series of blog posts. Here’s what we learned about how some people feel poorly represented and the influence this has upon their lives:

People need to see themselves reflected on screen. Among those who feel poorly represented, 69% attribute this at least in part to their appearance – their body type, physical demeanor, or dress. People of Color are four times more likely to feel poorly represented because they don’t see enough people with their skin color or tone. Women are more likely than men to feel under-represented based on body type, hair type, and skin tone. Four in ten people who feel poorly represented and have a physical disability say they don’t see enough people with their body type; a similar percentage of gender-nonconforming people share this sentiment.

Good representation means showing a diversity of life experiences. Although outward appearance is important, it’s just one element of representation. Often, the lives people see in entertainment don’t resemble their own. Those who feel poorly represented attribute this sentiment to not seeing enough people who behave like them (33%), come from the same economic level (29%), speak with the same accents or dialects (22%), have a family like theirs (21%), and live in a home like theirs (21%).

Stereotypes are hugely damaging to audiences. When compared to people who feel well represented, poorly represented people are a third as likely to feel they are represented as successful, twice as likely to feel they are represented as lazy, and three times as likely to feel they are represented as dumb.

Poor representation leaves people feeling defeated and distanced. For those who feel poorly represented, 59% say this makes them feel unimportant, ignored, or disappointed. This sense of alienation has profound impacts, affecting their self-esteem and confidence (41%), sense of belonging (40%), and opportunities in life (34%).

Audiences around the world are vocal in calling for more to be done to improve representation on screen. In our subsequent blog posts, we’ll explore TV’s power to shape people’s attitudes and look at the changes audiences would like to see.