It's generally accepted (though not always acknowledged) that women are poorly portrayed in media. Filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom is particularly aware of this; when she first started pursuing an acting career at 28, an agent told her to lie about her age and keep her Stanford MBA off her resume. And as an adolescent, Newsom struggled with self-esteem issues and an eating disorder. Thus, when she became pregnant with a daughter, she began to wonder what pressures her child would face from the media as she grew up.

The result is Newsom's first documentary, Miss Representation. The film's premise is simple enough: How does the media's presentation of women affect women's representation (or, in many cases, under-representation) in positions of influence and power in America?

The short answer: Poorly.

Now, Newsom never discounts or denies the many advances American women have made in business and politics over the last century. But there is the underlying sense that women are currently in a degenerative, self-perpetuating cycle. The average teen spends 10 hours a day consuming some kind of media and sees at least 500 advertisements a day – advertisements that are generally Photoshopped, creating even more unrealistic expectations for the human body. The results are disturbing: 53 percent of 13-year-old girls have a negative body image, and by the time they turn 17, that number rises to 78 percent. A whopping 65 percent of women and girls have eating disorder behaviors.

But the most frightening part is the fact that there is no sign of a slowdown. Currently, U.S. women spend more money annually on beauty products than they do on education. Since women who self-objectify themselves are less likely to run for office or even vote, it's largely this obsession with appearances, the film argues, that the U.S. ranks 90th in terms of women in national legislatures. At the current rate, it will take almost 500 years to reach gender parity in Congress.

And those few women who do make it to public positions of power are degraded by mainstream media. Discussions about high-ranking female journalists nearly always focus on their physicality, not on the content of their reports. Women in political office are far more likely to be described emotionally, generally with negative verbs. The result? Those few teen girls who aspire to political office have to deal with demeaning names and being called "ball busters" in the press. "We are teaching young women that their worth lies in their youth, their beauty, and their sexuality," Newsom says. "Not in their capacity to lead."

Throughout the film, Newsom does not ignore men – and she doesn't just talk about men's role in perpetuating the cycle, either. Newsom warns that girls are not the only ones vulnerable to falling into stereotyped roles. Teen boys are bombarded by just as many advertisements that depict strong, handsome, wealthy, powerful, and emotionally suppressed men who are generally portrayed as the center of the universe for the women around them.

In short, Newsom argues, it's up to us – men and women alike – to take a stand. We need to demand better regulation of film and advertising industries' depictions of women. As women, we need to reject the media's portrayal of selfish, vindictive women and support each other in our career aspirations and in our self-esteem struggles. We need to find healthy ways for boys and men to express their emotions in ways that aren't physically or psychologically harmful. We need to help our teens understand their inherent worth as individuals – not as objects to be primped and pressed into perfection, but as human beings with talents, with value, and with dignity.

This is not just a problem for the so-called secular world. These teen girls struggling with body image; these women with eating disorder behaviors; these people who feel their only worth is in their appearance are in our churches, too. Regardless of the debate over a woman's role in ministry, all Christians should value the worth of the women around them. They are an inherent part of Christ's church. Like men, they reflect the image of God. Like men, they are precious to him. And like men, they all have something to contribute to the church – something beyond their looks.

Morgan Feddes is Christianity Today's editorial resident.