Reality TV Shows. How Real Are They?


Reality Shows have become a huge part of the television, and as many adults might be aware that everything in those shows is not “real”, the children and adolescents might believe everything that’s happening in these shows. How do they know what is real and what is not? What could these reality shows be teaching them? And how is it affecting their mental health?


Television has been the source of information since it’s invention. People have been acquiring their news as well as entertainment from it, and many believe everything they see to be the absolute truth. The kind of curated information that is presented to us may not always be good for us. The influence of television on its audience is enormous. While there are many positive impacts, there are a few negative impacts as well. While reality shows attract audiences from a range of demographic groups, it is inordinately popular amongst the preteens, adolescents and young adults. 


Our some of the previous articles talk about how the media portrayal of certain issues can affect the way people view these certain issues or topics. If the representation is negative, then the opinion or the view of such issues or topics could be anti and dismissive as well. For instance, if there is a conversation taking place concerning mental health and if it is in a negative tone, then it reaffirms the stigma surrounding mental health issues. The terms that are used and the context in which mental health is spoken about plays an imperative role in forming, or even reforming, peoples opinions regarding it. 


There are so many reality shows to pick from, both Hollywood and Bollywood. Keeping up with the Kardashians in Hollywood and Bigg Boss in Bollywood would be great examples seeing as to how popular they are among the masses. So, how is it that shows like these affect people’s decisions and opinions, not just about certain issues, but also about themselves as well as the people surrounding them? 


Body Image: Many reality shows illustrate or idealize a certain type of beauty, a certain type of image for everyone, be it men, women or the LGBTQIA+ community. These shows express that appearance, the outer beauty, is vital, crucial. That without one’s looks, they are nothing. The show Botched, for example features people modifying their looks and are seemingly happy and satisfied with it and their life after surgery. Keeping up with the Kardashians show the life of a family who are constantly spending time and money on altering their appearance, characterizing that one’s natural looks are not good enough. For instance, an individual watching such a show might relate to someone’s physical appearance on the show and this contestant or celebrity decides that there is something wrong with a certain body part, say their nose is too fat or their lips are too thin or they are not buff enough. The person watching may start to find fault with their own appearance, even when there is nothing wrong with it. This might make them feel like there is something wrong with them. The celebrity or contestant, exhibit on television that by changing some part of their body, via plastic surgery or adding fillers, can gain them popularity and happiness, sustaining the notion that “real” people can gain happiness and success just by focusing on their appearance. 


The Violent Behaviour: The reality shows are often seen promoting interpersonal drama, aggression, violence and bullying. In Keeping up with the Kardashians, the constant quarreling and criticism amongst the family members give the impression that it is okay or that it is normal to condemn or backstab or be condescending towards one another. For women, these shows illustrate that gossiping is normal in female relationships, whereas for men, they show that there is a constant need to curse and get violent when angry, if not then they are criticized for being weak or a “pussy”. The Indian reality show Bigg Boss, is quite famous for the contestant’s violent behaviours. The show is known to overlook aggressive behaviours of the contestants in order to gain viewers. There is an excerpt from this show where one male contestant has pinned a female contestant on the floor with his knee pressing on her abdomen and her arms folded over her chest. Such violent behaviour portrayed by adults may be perceived as normal by the young people watching it. The contestants of the show also tend to use abusive language, derogatory and politically incorrect terms with one another.  


These shows on many occasions fail to focus on the importance of intelligence or any other “real world” matters or issues. They focus so much of the superficial and the materialistic things that sometimes one is left wondering what genuinely is ‘real’ about them? Agreeably, reality shows can be highly entertaining, but it is important to be aware of the messages and the values portrayed in these shows. One needs to remember that these shows are not the true reflection of the world. As a parent or a guardian, it is essential to monitor what the children are watching and to remind them as well that what they see on tv or on the celebrity’s social media is not the whole truth. Talking to the young people about these shows and asking them why they like certain characters in these shows can help you understand how they are feeling and why it is that they are feeling that way. Reality shows and its culture may dictate what is regarded as “cool” and “acceptable”, so starting a conversation with your child and asking them questions like: Do they desire the lifestyle portrayed on the show? Or What is good or bad about the behaviours portrayed on the show by certain characters? Or What are the values being portrayed and what are their values and opinions? By holding such conversations you can find out why your child likes certain characters and whether they are going to be adopting such values, behaviours and opinions. 


Some Reality shows are notorious for portraying mental health issues in the negative light. The kind of terms used and the way the treatment methods are mocked, cements the doubts, the stigma surrounding mental health. Referring to someone who is exhibiting aggressive behaviours as a ‘Psycho’, may make the viewers believe that if someone is portraying  aggressive behaviour, that means they are mentally unstable. And if/when there are people who are consciously seeking help for their mental health and are feeling good, they are ridiculed for seeking help. When a person is diagnosed with cancer or some other disease, they go through a treatment process to get rid of it, and when they are able to beat it, they are referred to as a survivor. However, when it comes to someone who is seeking treatment for their mental health and are seeing positive results, they are stigmatized for a long time, if not for the rest of their life, regardless of the issue. 


At Pause for Perspective, we are a group of clinical psychologists, psychological counsellors and educationists who are experts in psychotherapy, couples counseling, family counseling, children’s and group counseling. Our aim is to help individuals and communities to live fully and intentionally, overcome trauma, anxieties and life’s challenges.



By Insha Fatima

Writer at Pause for Perspective.