At Sophia Network we love to give people an opportunity to write about what they are passionate about and this month Hannah Fytche, a young woman of 15 years old, writes about the impact of advertising on self-image.
Sexist advertising. Is this really a thing of the past? Usually when I hear this phrase, my mind is thrown back to previous times of more blatant advertising that projected interesting stereotypes of women. However, after looking into the subject, it becomes more apparent that sexist advertising is still gathering strength today; dangerously, it has become so ingrained in our culture that it often passes unnoticed, but still has subtly damaging effects on the people it reaches. In particular young, teenage girls can take the messages of adverts negatively, and the images they are confronted with across all types of media can have a negative effect on their self-esteem and lifestyle.
In the past, advertising pressured women into trying to be a particular type of person, who lived up to all of the images of ‘perfection’ illustrated in the colourful portrayals of the product. This ‘perfect’ image showed women being completely controlled and influenced by their husbands, and, in doing this, it was the woman’s job to ensure that all of the cooking, cleaning and child-raising was attended to, while staying physically perfect as well. Slogans such as “Christmas morning (and forever after) she’ll be happy with a Hoover” and “The chef does everything but cook-that’s what the wives are for” were accepted throughout society at this time; they were blatantly obvious and left no room for lenience or different interpretation.
A particularly patronising viewpoint portrayed by this advert was that women are weak, weak enough to not even be able to open a bottle of ketchup. This implies that men are better than women because they are stronger, and this is a complete imbalance in equality of gender. Another example of this patronising tone is found in this car advert, picturing a girl sitting tense at the steering wheel. One of the selling points for the car is that it is “for simpler driving”, suggesting that the driver, the girl, requires a “simpler” system for her apparently less intelligent self.
These particular opinions may not seem so prevalent today, but how much has advertising really changed? Many people agree that advertising still holds a massive power of influence and pressure over people, but to what extent, and how much is different from the past?
Really, advertising has not changed that much.
When researching this topic, I came across a website which compares the advertising of the past to modern day advertising. The similarities are almost as shocking as the messages displayed, and they highlight a negativity that is extremely undermining and offensive to women in particular. One example of this relates to an advert we have already seen.
In the past one of the selling points for a car was how easy it was for a woman to drive.
This simply is not acceptable; how is a woman in any way similar to a car? The message this sends out to women today can make them feel less than they are, only worth as much as an inanimate object.
Further than this, many adverts today portray qualities that project a feeling of worthlessness onto a girl or woman, usually through using relationships. One product that you would never expect to be advertised in this way is post-its. The image they used shows a sleeping couple, the woman accompanied by her name written on a post-it stuck to her forehead. This implies that women can be treated as sexual objects, and that they are not worth the effort of remembering names. This is a dangerous image to show; as well as advocating sleeping with people outside of personal and meaningful marriage relationships, it suggests that names don’t even have to be known, suggesting that ‘Jane’ is not worth any effort or sensitivity at all.
Self-worth and self-esteem can also be impacted by the presentation of women across many adverts. Every day we see images of women with ‘perfect’ anatomy: the right shape, hair, make-up and clothes all summing up to equal this supermodel that all girls should supposedly look up to, to gain popularity and happiness. This is the part of advertising that is the most subtle and the most caught up in our culture. In a consumerist society where what you have is never the best, advertisers and companies play on the ‘need’ for people to have the products that are going to make them look, feel and be the best person.
For example, we can walk down any high street and be bombarded with images that depict what we are meant to look like. In magazines and newspapers adverts also hit us from every side, showing pictures of women with the perfect skin or those who use the new “extra-lengthening” mascara.
Television also promotes many of these images. In between the actual programmes, we now see ‘documentary’ adverts, providing us with a make-up tutorial or the perfect wardrobe. People seem to be obsessed with image and dressing to impress, and this is one of the particular angles that many advertisers go for.
Watch this advert - http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=Ic9nwG8J7Uw&feature=endscreen). This is an advert for No7 “Fanomenal mascara”, which is promoted by Boots. The advert shows a woman walking into a bar, and seeing the ‘perfect’ man. The story continues with potential pitfalls for the woman in her attempts to ‘get’ this man, but after measuring up her options, she just walks past and looks him directly in the eye. His head is turned, and she smiles knowingly.
What is her secret? No7’s ‘Fanomenal’ mascara, of course.
Because she has chosen to wear this, her eyes apparently become her most attractive feature, and all she needs to do to gain the attention of a man is to look at him.
This presents several damaging ideas. Firstly, there is the point that relationships are needed, and your main aim should be to seek one. Secondly, we see that the woman should pursue the man, by being attractive and slightly calculating. Thirdly, this particular mascara needs to be worn in order to be attractive, which is apparently a needed characteristic to have a relationship. Finally, this mascara is the only thing needed to be attractive; not a knowledge or understanding of personality or character.
Are these ideas really what people need to be presented with?
No. Advertising such as this can influence and shape the way that women and young girls view themselves, which can often end in a negative self-image. After all, no-one is actually as ‘perfect’ as the adverts suggest.
Unfortunately, the impacts of advertising reach much further today than they have in the past. We now have social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which are extremely effective at passing on information and advertising quickly. YouTube has also begun to include adverts before videos, often eye-catching ones which aim to get you interested instantly, instead of skipping straight to the video you wanted to watch.
So, we see that people are all the time presented with these images; in fact, in a recent study by Dove, statistics show that girls up to the age of 12 have seen over 77000 adverts. Dove also asked 2000 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 how advertising made them feel about themselves, revealing a response that linked advertising with negative body image. After being exposed to adverts such as those which dominate the media, the girls used words such as...
to describe how they felt, all because they thought that they could “never be that beautiful”.
Why do we allow such an image to take root in the minds of girls such as these? It is not true, and it is not right.
To combat these views, campaigns such as Dove’s “Campaign for real beauty” exist, which is a positive response to the negative effects of advertising we experience today. Their website includes resources to help with self-esteem, and their advertising campaigns include images such as these:
These completely contrast with anything else presented by media or advertising, and portray a more true and thought-provoking idea.
However, there is still more to change. Right from the 1950s and 60s view that all women should cook and clean, up to today’s modern ideas of beauty, there needs to be a culture change. There needs to be something that turns the mindset of society around and gives girls in particular a more positive view of themselves through the images they come into contact with.
So, think about what ideas of ‘perfection’ you see around you.
What do they say about you?
Is this true?
How do the adverts need to change?
People need to be valued for who they are, not how they measure up to the advertising illusions.
(Sources of information: