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You Are How You Act, Eat and Live: How Real Is Reality Television?

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The proposal that reality television helps structure reality is connected with aspects of the representation of ordinary people on screens. The purpose of this report is to investigate how extreme versions of reality are represented through ordinary people and how these promote preferable lifestyle choices. While it is argued that reality television is a construct of reality, it can also be understood that it is produced to promote social change. How do reality television programs help structure reality? Reality television structures amplified versions of reality through editing and production methods to entertain and influence audience lifestyle and consumer choices. Reality television is not a new concept, dating back to the 1970s Britain experienced the introduction of a documentary-style reality show ‘The Family’ (1974). During the late 1990s, reality television transformed, highlighting ordinary people looking for love, competing for prizes, documenting life, and undertaking change. This report examines ‘World’s Strictest Parents’ (2008-2011), ‘How Clean Is Your House’ (2003-2009), and ‘You Are What You Eat’ (2004-2007), and why reality is constructed in these programs. Three main characterizes identified through these shows encompassing acceptable behaviors, idealistic images of femininity, and promoting good consumer tastes within the society.

Literature Review

Many television critics and media scholars agree that reality television is an inaccurate representation of realism. Annette Hill’s research suggests the performance of real people on the screen becomes a framing device. Hill notes that ordinary people ‘act up’ for the cameras, and therefore, this appears to be less real. Anita Biressi’s research also explores these theories noting that reality television is constructed under controlled environments, participants are carefully selected, and narratives are heavily scripted. Both Hill and Biressi state that stylized elements fashioned as soap operas dramas fabricate entertaining scenarios where real people react to highly artificial circumstances. However, viewers of reality television were likely to believe the contents dramatized footage over documentaries authenticity. Furthermore, Lyn Thomas expands on these concepts noting that lifestyle television features a narrative structure where ordinary people exhibit extreme realizations and life-changing moments. Moreover, it is suggested that the term ‘lifestyle’ in its self is resonated from reality television.

The studied literature suggests all scholars agree that reality is questionable in both reality and lifestyle television. Numerous studies are directed towards the ethical and moral implications of reality and lifestyle television genres. Many reality television shows demonstrate the extremities of what social expectations regarding rights and wrongs. Gay Hawkins notes that current affairs style shows have been replaced with reality television where ethical issues become forms of cheap entertainment. Additionally, it is suggested that the fundamentals of television are based on ethics because instability provides audiences with aspects of normality in society. Moreover, it is suggested that reality television offers a platform to send moral messages to audiences in the form of scare tactics. Laurie Ouellette research develops on these theories. Ouellette cites that discipline, rationality, and responsibility are types of public service announcements that are performed through television daily. Moreover, it is suggested that reality cooking shows can bring social and governmental changes. For example, Jamie Oliver’s reality show ‘Food Revolution’ visited UK schools and examined the food quality, later resulting in legislative changes to school dinners.

Annette Hill’s research further raises ethical concerns that reality television participants have their civil rights removed during filming. Furthermore, questionable morals involving filming school-age children are subjected to government policies. It is essential to consider where reality television programs are located. Maggie Andrews and Fan Carter note that the domestic space is increasingly used to formulate reality television series where parenting is seen as a set of discursive skills. Ethical parenting skills and disciplinary tactics are subjects, where experts intervene with ideas of ‘tough love’. Examining ‘Supernanny’ as a case study, Andrews and Carter compare the expert's interactions with unruly families as a modern day, Mary Poppins. Additionally, New Labour discourses suggest that good family life, ethics, and values in society are all fundamentals of a family unit. Therefore, it is noted that this approach to reality television is an example of Fairclough’s cultural governance. Moreover, it is suggested that the first and second wave feminist theory demands that the domestic space be revaluated. Reality television has become a method to showcase female power in society. Beverley Skeggs expands on these theories, the family, femininity, raising children are key cultural subjects which television is historically has been interested in. Moreover, Charlotte Brunsdon’s research notes that soap opera and reality television is culturally regarded as ‘trash TV’ because it is prominently set within the realms of the domestic space.

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Research Method

To answer the proposed research question, this report will use a qualitative research method. Various scholar’s theories concerning how reality is constructed through lifestyle and reality television production methods are explored in reference to entertainment and influences on lifestyle choices. The initial procedure is to explore the library database to establish a list of academic peered reviewed sources. Focused study areas were in social sciences, television, film and media, and cultural studies were the reports, targeted information was sourced. Proceeding these searches, each journal articles bibliography was compared with the relevant information to create a list of further authors and research topics. Additionally, scholarly books were sourced. Completing the initial research, three highly successful reality television series were selected to support each theory and to provide relevant examples in each topic area. ‘World’s Strictest Parents’ (2008-2011), ‘How Clean Is Your House’ (2003-2009), and ‘You Are What You Eat’ (2004-2007) are all placed within a similar category. This method was useful because it enabled the development of the initial ideas to be compared with scholarly resources.


As stated above, ‘the real’ is often a construct in reality television through scripted narratives and extreme representations of ordinary people. It can be argued these extremities impact audiences’ perceptions of acceptable behaviors. ‘World’s Strictest Parents’ (2008-2011) by BBC Three, highlights the struggles involved bringing up disobedient teenagers and offers intervention via offering international travel to experience stringent family life. Opening scenes, the teens are depicted at their worst, smoking cigarettes, drinking, swearing, and anti-social behaviors. Real people acting up for the cameras and editing footage is vital in framing how television presents the truth. For example, a compilation of moments where Calvin acts up in front of the cameras ending in scenes where Calvin and Rosie are blatantly disrespecting the parent's authority over cigarette smoking. During the show, the teens are depicted in the sequence of life-changing events. Beverley Skeggs notes that reality television relies on behavioral modification, rules, discipline and one's desires for social change. Examples are, Calvin, visiting an orphanage, the moments are edited to highlight his behavioral change. Ouellette cites that television offers the prime location to showcase that bad people make bad choices. Moreover, Jack Bratich mentions that these programs are performative acts which function to promote good decisions. Therefore, reality television does not only represent the construction of ‘the real’ it offers the chance for real interventions.

One key aspect is how reality television constructs reality through feminine ideologies as a vehicle for social conformity. Channel 4’s ‘How Clean Is Your House’ (2003-2009) features Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie, two television hosts which embody societies ideologies of the perfect housewife. The narrator explains key concepts while the narrative drives the show allowing audiences to join at any part with a full understanding of the show's content. Dramatic scenes and intense music frame unexceptionable ideas of cleanliness within the home. Through the show, many comparisons are drawn between a clean home and happy heterosexual relationships. Laurel Foster states that a clean home reflects expectations of femininity and how the role traditional housewife should conduct herself within society. For example, the narrator states, “It’s quite clear Michelle needs sorting out”. It must be noted that ordinary people choose to exhibit their extreme behaviors both as an attempt at celebritization and the need for personal intervention. In each episode experts test, several swabs Aggie sampled which reinforce the necessity for intervention. Bacterial cultures are found, and drastic results are shown later in the narrative reinforcing these ideas. Gay Hawkins raises ethical questions that reality television handling of sensitive material becomes cheap entertainment. Moreover, it is suggested that Foucault’s use of pleasure invites people to question how we meet societies exportations, furthermore how we need to correct these to conform. Employing these tactics ‘How Clean Is Your House’ reinforces societies ideologies of femininity through the domestic space while manipulating reality.

Lifestyle and reality television makeover series amplify the real to highlight extreme cases of overweight individuals, thus promoting consumer choices. Channel 4’s ‘You Are What You Eat’ (2004-2007), nutritionist Gillian McKeith challenges overweight individuals and families to modify their eating behaviors. Opening scenes depict various problematic health factors. For example, weight, health, appearance, abilities, and lack of social acceptance. Mise-en-scène techniques help over-emphasize representations of the participant’s poor lifestyle choices. For example, dim lighting, props, composition, and selection of clothing assist with fabricating an emotional audience response. Bratich suggests that reality television is more concerned with inventing reality then representing the real. Exacerbating reality to represent a poor diet a week’s worth of unhealthy food is laid out while the narrator reads a lengthy list of fried and take-away dishes. Skeggs notes that reality television uses professional advice as a vehicle to reinforce the ideologies of good taste through consumerist cultures. For example, Gillian sent the participants to the greengrocers with strict orders on what to purchase. Professional delivers informative health statistics which help frame elements of authenticity to viewers. “The reason I want to measure your waist is because that can give me an idea of the risk factor for you with heart disease and type two diabetes”, as what was said during the show. Dana Heller notes that factual entertainment television is an initiative from Channel 4 to provide a public service to the community. Moreover, the Independent Broadcasting Authority notes that the challenge is to produce programs that are entertaining while promoting good behaviors. Creating elements of realism, ‘You Are What You Eat’ employs numerous editing devices to represent a small minority to promote healthier consumerist choices.


While it is argued reality television is a construct of reality, it can also be understood why it is used as a vehicle to encourage aspects of change. As noted above, reality programs are interested in ordinary people ‘acting up’ for the cameras while editing these moments in a stylized fashion. Stylizing reality programming is becoming a cheap form of entertainment and is raising ethical implications concerning governmental policies and participants civil rights. Additionally, parenting skills are scrutinized within the domestic space and experts are featured to help frame elements of reality. Constructions of reality are achieved through ideologies of social conformity. ‘World’s Strictest Parents’, ‘How Clean Is Your House’, and ‘You Are What You Eat’ all use intervention as a vehicle to meet with societies expectations. Mise-en-scène techniques, editing, staging, and casting all amalgamate together to reinforce how reality is constructed. Moreover, heterosexual relationships, domestic duties, and the ideal body weight all reflect societies expectations of femininity. Reality television provides audiences with fabricated images of the ‘real’ to fashion obedient teens, perfect housewives, and slim women all contributing to the consumer economy.

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You Are How You Act, Eat and Live: How Real Is Reality Television? (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
“You Are How You Act, Eat and Live: How Real Is Reality Television?” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023,
You Are How You Act, Eat and Live: How Real Is Reality Television? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Mar. 2024].
You Are How You Act, Eat and Live: How Real Is Reality Television? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Mar 4]. Available from:
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