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Everyday of our lives, we are exposed to dozens of advertisements, whether it be on television, the radio, in magazines, on billboards or signs, or anywhere else that companies try to reach us in an effort to promote the products they sell. Advertisers appeal to our hopes, dreams, wants and desires, and exploit our insecurities in an effort to sell us a product, ranging from cars, to household appliances, to a bottle of shampoo.
Advertising affects everyone, whether they acknowledge it or not, and it often promotes something that is out of reach to the average person, such as great wealth, or a perfect body. Advertising often carries an overload or excess of meaning, such as statements of power, wealth, leisure, and sexual allure, and they also convey meanings of race and gender. (“Introduction: Media Studies”) As this paper will demonstrate, advertising is an extremely powerful tool which has the ability to change the way we perceive ourselves.
Of particular interest is the effect that advertising has on women. Women are continually bombarded by advertisements in which they are told, directly or indirectly, that they must be thin in order to be beautiful, and they are marketed products that they are led to believe will help them achieve their desired body image of being thin. Women become convinced that they must look like sexy all the time, when in reality, it is almost impossible.
Women often begin dieting in order to attain the perfect body that they are striving for, and they occasionally undertake more extreme measures to lose weight, such as bulimia or anorexia, all because they are led to believe, by advertising, that they must have a perfect body. Women are also sexually objectified in advertising, and viewed as merely sexual objects. This paper will explore in depth how women are portrayed in advertising and, more importantly, the impact which it has on them.
In western culture, a slender physique has come to be regarded as the standard of feminine beauty; although it is an unrealistic benchmark for nearly all women. The average woman has a seven percent chance that she will be as slim as a catwalk model, and an even lesser chance that she will be as thin as a supermodel. (Konrad, 2008) A 2000 study found that the body fat of models and actresses is, on average, 10 percent less than that of a typical active, healthy woman. (“Behind the Hype: Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign”) The models that companies use in advertising are also getting thinner relative to the average population.
Twenty years ago, models weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. Today, they weigh 23% less than the average female population. (“Beauty and Body Image in the Media”) However, these truths do not stop women from trying to attain the perfection they see in every day advertisements. Since advertising continually implies that women should be slender, those who do not have this particular body type often suffer from low self esteem and hold a negative self image of their body.
After a study in which women viewed sexual and non-sexual ads, the women who viewed the sexual ads rated themselves as being larger, on average, than the women who viewed the non-sexual ads, and women who viewed the sexual ads also expressed greater dissatisfaction over their current physique than the women who watched the non-sexual ads. (Tygart) George Lipsitz has argued that consumer culture and media representations play a greater role than ever in defining identities. (“Just Do It”) When women see thinness represented in advertising, they would like to look like the models they see and have that same identity that is being shown to them.
In addition to women feeling pressure to conform to the desired body type due to their constant exposure to it in advertising, they also are under pressure to attain the perfect body because they believe it is what men feel they must look like. According to a study published in American Behavioural Scientist (Choi et al. , 2008), women are able to realize that the images of supermodels that they see in advertisements are unrealistic and they recognize that they will not be able to attain the body of a supermodel.
However, these same women feel that men who view these advertisements will not be able to ascertain the fact that the body types shown are unrealistic. Since women feel that men cannot discern the unrealistic nature of the female body that is presented in advertisements, they feel that men will expect them to meet the standards of beauty portrayed in these ads. Consequently, this leads women to desire to look like the models they see in advertisements, not necessarily because they want to, but because they believe that men view it as realistic and attainable.
As stated by Choi, et al. (2008), “Women are influenced by unrealistic media imagery because they are well aware that men will view those images as real, and value them. ” It is argued that, although women know the images shown to them in advertising are unrealistic, they are unable to ignore them, because of the threat of men judging their bodies. Since advertising has the effect of making women desire a thin, slender body that is almost impossible to attain, they frequently make radical efforts in an attempt to get it.
An astonishing 75 percent of women who are a normal weight feel that they are in fact overweight. The Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders research group states that one in four college aged women undertakes unhealthy methods of weight control, ranging from skipping meals and laxative abuse, to self induced vomiting. (“Beauty and Body Image in the Media”) It has also been estimated that magazines directed to a female audience contain over ten times as many advertisements promoting weight loss than men’s magazines do, advocating a variety of solutions, from diet pills to cosmetic surgery.
Researchers have shown that this advertising has led to an increase in eating disorders. (Choi, et al. , 2008) Teenage girls who already claimed to be dissatisfied with their body image showed a higher tendency towards dieting and bulimic behaviours after prolonged exposure to advertisements in a teen girl magazine. (“Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising”) Self-image is often affected in teenage girls because they cannot escape the message that their bodies are imperfect. “A Girl of Many Parts”) Many researchers believe that advertisers want women to feel insecure and disappointed with their body shape, since this will create the desire for an unattainable body that will increase the consumption of products that companies are trying to sell, such as skin care creams, weight loss supplements, and others. Paul Hamburg, a professor at Harvard Medical School, states: “The media markets desire. And by reproducing ideals that are absurdly out of line with what real bodies do look like, the media perpetuates a market for frustration and disappointment.
Its customers will never disappear. ” (“Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising”) In terms of sexual objectification, women agreed that they were sexually objectified in advertising, however, contrary to popular belief, younger women appear to no longer have an issue with it. The “third wave” of feminism today embraces sexuality, and views sex as power. (Dahlberg & Zimmerman, 2008) Many feminists now believe it is acceptable for women to use their glamour to their advantage, as long as they are doing it out of their own free will.
According to a recent study, young, educated women are not offended by the sexual objectification of women in advertising, which may be a product of the highly sexualized culture we live in today. (Dahlberg & Zimmerman, 2008) Although women are deeply affected by how models appear in advertisements, by their desire to want to look like them, the women of today no longer appear to be affected by the sexuality in advertising, and in many cases, they are embracing it. To conclude the efforts, if any, which are being made to change the portrayal of women in advertising should be examined.
Although advertising on the whole is still relatively unchanged with respect to its portrayal of women, some companies have altered the message they send about beauty and changed their advertising to reflect this change. An example is Dove, and its Real Beauty advertising campaign. Dove launched the Real Beauty campaign in response to a study it undertook among females aged 18 to 64, the majority of whom felt that advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty for women that is nearly impossible to achieve. “Behind the Hype: Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign”) The ads featured the use of everyday women instead of professional models, and images that were not airbrushed in any way. The campaign has been well-received and led to an 11. 4% increase in Dove’s sales in early 2005, although, some critics stated that the campaign promotes obesity in a time when many Americans are struggling with weight issues. Since Dove introduced the “Real Beauty” advertising campaign, both Nike and Levi’s released similar campaigns, featuring everyday people as opposed to models. “Behind the Hype: Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign”) It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue into the future, but at the very least it demonstrates that companies are beginning to provide an alternative to the advertising they had used in the past. In summation, advertising plays a considerable role in how women regard themselves and in their perceptions of how they should look. Advertisers use models with a physique that all but the few, most genetically gifted women could ever attain.
As previously stated, he average model has a body fat percentage which is 10 percent less than that of a typical healthy, active woman, and supermodels, on average, weigh 23 percent less than the average woman. After viewing advertisements featuring supermodels, women often feel worse about themselves and begin to suffer from poor self-image and low self-esteem. Even a small amount of exposure to advertising has been demonstrated to make this occur; although women are exposed to hundreds of advertisements on a weekly basis.
However, women no longer appear to be affected by the sexual objectification they see in advertising, which has been attributed to the third wave of feminism and the sexually charged culture that we live in. Women also feel pressure to look like a supermodel because, although, they often realize that what is advertised to them is not realistic, they believe that men do not realize this and want regular women to look like the models they see in advertisements. This leads women to seek out that body type, since they feel that men expect it from them.
Women undertake everything from common methods of weight loss such as dieting to extreme measures such as anorexia to achieve the body that advertisers tell them they must have. The dissatisfaction they have with their bodies leads them to consume the products that advertisers are marketing to them. One company, Dove has taken a major step forward in its advertising, by using everyday people who have a normal body type in its “Real Beauty” campaign, and other companies have followed suit with similar advertising, but the majority of advertising still promotes an unrealistic body type as being ideal and desired. Until this changes, women will continue to hold on to the desire to look like a supermodel, however unrealistic that may be, they will continue to go to great distances to turn that farfetched dream into a reality.