It is not unknown that advertising is a powerful influence today and it is unlikely that one will go a day without seeing an advertisement. In fact, the average American citizen will be exposed to around 5,000 ads per day over a lifetime, becoming desensitized to their skewed messages. These advertisements range from ones promoting their product with humor or with sex appeal. Many of these ads with the purpose of sex appeal have caused major controversy with tactics of Photoshop and body-slimming.
These advertising tactics are becoming so widespread that society has become immune to these harsh techniques. Advertising agencies want consumers to have a desire for the product, therefore, the edited models are representative of that appeal. As a consumer, seeing the perfect-skinned, slim model on an ad promoting the product is designed to make the consumer buy the item in the end. Slimming, smoothing of skin, whitening teeth, detailing eyes and enhancing breasts are just a few of the features in editing photos for the media.
This false concept of the “ideal body” has been around for decades, shaping how women view themselves and others around them. Though photographers use an intense amount of editing features on their advertisements, it is important to note that there are some models that are naturally skinny and promote their healthy eating habits online. There are trends arising in the advertisement industry regarding natural beauty and anti-slimming features. In some of these advertisements, curvy models are featured but there are also models on the pages that are naturally skinny.
It seems as if everyone is slimmed down to a perfect proportion but models’ daily routines include working out, eating healthy and taking photos. It is no surprise that some of these models don’t need the extra editing to their bodies. However, many forms of advertising in society continue to overstep boundaries with excessive photo shopping, further linking to an immunity to the “perfect body” and demise of confidence among women everywhere. Women are a major target for fashion advertisements, revealing beautiful models to enrich the image of the product being advertised.
Studies have shown that the mass number of ads in magazines, on screen and billboards allow women to compare themselves to these ads, placing an unrealistic expectation on themselves regarding how they are supposed to look. Whether it be makeup, hair or body features, these qualities are all depicted to look effortless on the models. However, this so-called “perfect” hair and makeup is merely a fantasy as the editing and beautification of the models takes hours to complete. Society has begun to set a bar for beauty that the average woman cannot reach.
Amy Slater, a research psychologist for body image, paired with another psychologist, Marika Tiggermann, to conduct a study to test advertising’s effect on young girls, around ages 6-9. Prior to the test, researchers showed more fashion advertisements to the girls, where the models were inappropriately dressed. The study consisted of a sample of 300 girls who were asked to pick between two paper dolls, one dressed in sexualized clothing of a low-cut top and short jean shorts and another with a sweater and cargo pants on.
With a greater exposure to the advertisements and sexualized media, the results revealed that 70% of the girls said they favored to look like the scantilydressed doll. Slater and Tiggerman stated that “… selfobjectification has been linked to body shame and disordered eating in adult women and adolescent girls” and there is a possibility that younger girls may start to contribute to the statistic, themselves (Slater, Tiggermann 22). Though there could be a slight bias in the research due to the homogeneity of the sample, the results are no coincidence and there may be some truth in how advertisements effect young girls.
This look at advertising’s effect on the younger girls proves that the over sexualizing and excessive editing of models in advertisements produces negative effects of body image, even in younger generation today. The fashion industry is also guilty in its attempt to embellish its models, captivating female readers. Likewise, Fashion magazines like Vogue with their glossy advertisements covering page after page represents the thin archetype. Many argue that the fashion industry has gone lengths to enhance their products, using models and excessive editing features.
Mike Madrid, a well-known author, continues the argument stating, “… many feel the ultra-thin models used in fashion present the women with an unattainable, unhealthy body type” (Madrid 298). Many fashion magazines are full of advertisements of stick-thin women, portrayed in a sexual manner. Conversely, who is to say the consumers looking at these ads may not even be focused on the product but the models, themselves? Another study was conducted, where women ages 18-30 were told to look at five different fashion advertisements in magazines for a period of 15 seconds each.
Using eye-tracking technology, they saw that many of their eyes focused on the slim figures of the models and body dissatisfaction greatly rose. Though there are limitations to these studies because of the homogeneity of the samples, there is evidence due to eye-tracking equipment that there is a greater focus on the model’s body features from skinny waists to large breasts, causing a surge in body discontent (Bury, Tiggermann, Slater 8). Marketers’ goal is for consumers to buy the product they are trying to promote through advertisements.
However, if their target audience is looking at the model and not the product, their mission is meaningless and the potential awareness the consumer could have had for the product has vanished. This raises questions as to why companies advertise this way if there is more focus on the model and not the product. Society’s constant message regarding the “ideal body” has become one of the most circulated ideas in the media today. Its constant presence in advertising allows consumers to become desensitized to skinny and edited people, creating a false reality.
The studies depicted above are representative of two differing age groups: young girls, ages 6-9 and young adults, ages 18-30. These tests prove to exemplify an effect on girls with the advertisements surrounding them. Though the fashion industry is guilty of this, other industries promote their products through enhanced features of women. The audience proves to be a key factor in how companies will pitch their product in the advertisement. Depending on the audience, models are portrayed either over-sexualized or extremely slim with exotic features.
In certain commercials, advertisements will display women in a sexual manner with over-enhanced features; as a result, it is clear that the company is catering to the male consumer. There is hope that with some humor and sex appeal implemented throughout the ad, that the male consumer will remember the product in the future. For example, a Keystone Light beer commercial featured a man in a convenience store picking up beer. A woman wearing a low-cut top and tight jeans walks over and appears to be speaking to him, asking if he wants to go to a party later and come to her house before.
The man perks up and replies to her but the woman reveals that she is wearing a Bluetooth earpiece and was not talking to him. This commercial incorporates humor as well as sex appeal with the scantily-dressed woman. These forms of appeal draw the male audience in, even if it sexualizes women more. In these commercials, women tend to dress in a certain fashion; their features are enhanced through a set “costume” by most advertisers. This costume includes something to accentuate the breasts, butt and legs.
Though not all advertisements display strong gender roles, there is a common theme where men and women are portrayed differently in advertisements. Based on society’s standards, women must not only dress nice to look respectable but wear makeup and style their hair. Men, on the other hand, can put on a suit and look distinguished and professional, no makeup or hair styling needed. These stylistic differences in ads are based on many different aspects, mainly what audience they want to attract.
As some advertisements attract male viewers, fashion ads usually target women, hence the number of slim models portrayed with perfect makeup and hair. Advertisements promote a strong desire among the consumers; this desire drives the customer to purchase the product in the end. In essence, based on how a product is marketed, it is evident who the audience is supposed to be, no matter what the gender. It is no surprise that there is a vast difference in how women actually look versus how advertisements portray them to look.
Nevertheless, though most advertisements edit their models to an extreme measure, consumers are seeing a slow change in the ad industry. Companies are starting to run campaigns about natural beauty with regards to slimming models. A company that is notable for their anti-body shaming campaign is Dove’s advertising campaign, “The Perfect Real Body”. Dove released this campaign when they saw a Victoria’s Secret advertisement of multiple skinny models in a line with the slogan “The Perfect Body”. This ad caused controversy amongst viewers, causing Dove to replicate the Victoria’s Secret ad with curvier models.
Dove announced the photo through twitter with the caption, “Today we celebrate the perfect REAL body and all the women who have said #IAm Perfect the way I am” (Gnosh 1). Victoria’s Secret ended up pulling the photo off their website, responding to the backlash of the media and a formed petition. Though the trend is slowly on the rise, it is evident that companies are starting to promote “real beauty” through non-edited photos and use curvier models for their products. Aerie, a sub brand of American Eagle Outfitters, launched their campaign, “#AerieReal” which challenges the supermodel standard by no longer airbrushing their models.
After the launch of this successful campaign, Aerie’s sales soared by 20% in the 2015 fiscal year, proving to be a great success. In the first quarter of the 2016 fiscal year, sales further surged by 32%. These numbers were far higher than any analyst had expected and continues to grow through their positive customer service and strong social media presence. With the positive feedback that Aerie is receiving, there is hope that more brands will follow the trend to end airbrushing their models as well.