Advertising is one of the major promotion tools that are commonly used by marketers to communicate with their various target audiences. It is so commonly used that some use the term interchangeably with marketing. Although this standpoint is erroneous, it is a pointer to the popularity of advertising from societal point of view. With reference to a body of literature Boddewyn (1992) rightly stressed that societal members are bombarded by several millions of different advertisements every year. In fact, it is stated that the average consumer is exposed to about 3000 commercial messages in a day. While such messages could be targeted at a variety of audience depending on the marketing objectives of the advertisers, one area of concern of using this tool which has generated significant attention is the social effect it has on Women.
One of the basic assumptions about the media is that the mass media have an important influence on peoples’ lives and sometimes change their beliefs and opinions. This subtle influence or impact of the mass media on the habits of the audience is what is referred to as social effect of the media of which advertisement is a tool.
We live in an age inundated with advertising, from commercials on TV to posters on the sides of buses. We see advertisement every time we open a magazine or call up a Web page on the Internet. All that exposure has a significant effect, and the stakes are often more than deciding whether or not to buy a certain product. Women, in particular have suffered some serious psychological blows from the subtle and pervasive effects of advertising aimed at them.
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This term paper will be looking at the social effect or impact that advertisement is having on women by delineating the overview of what scholars and researchers have said concerning the issue, and also to outline various influences and impacts advertisement has on women as well as prevention measures. This paper argued that media advertises and promotes a very unhealthy trend of extreme dieting and other bad eating habits to women and there after conclude that women need to be sensitized on the impacts and influences it has on them.
Overview of the Social Effects Advertisement have on Women
Advertisement defined by television, posters, magazines, internet etc and the overall concepts and content they portray, is a huge part of the lives of most women. An American writer named Ginsberg (2003) once said “whoever controls the media-the images-controls the culture”. This is true, and the media continues to gain more control every day. There are many reports that high exposure to advertising images that portray extreme thinness can create strong body dissatisfaction, poor self esteem, and body image. Researchers have looked at the concept of ‘thin ideal internalization’ by testing amounts of advertising exposure against a personal drive for thinness amongst women. Hargreaves & Tiggeman (2003).
Since self interest in thinness is developing, exposure to advert can make it more difficult to resist the pressure of internalizing a certain standard of thinness. This extreme exposure to unrealistic standards has created a high rise in eating disorders over the past years. Many studies have shown that the more television or magazine exposure a woman has, the more likely she is to be dissatisfied with her own body. This is enhanced by the idealization and comparison to models or television personalities. Ward & Harrison (2005).
In addition to overall body dissatisfaction, greater concerns and self consciousness about one’s weight and size are also higher. However, another study showed that it was not the amount of exposure to multiple genres of advertisement that predicted a drive for thinness and internalization of the thin ideal, but rather their attraction to thin personalities and celebrities Ward & Harrison (2005).
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Television advertisement strongly effects women body image and attitudes by constantly and consistently portraying females who are thin, young, and extremely attractive. Rarely do any of the television shows portray anybody overweight, and when they do, they are often the unpopular, ugly, plain, or unlike character. This just perpetuates the stereotype that fat is now equated with ugly, lazy, poor, or stupid.
The increase in the level of beauty adverts in magazines also has a strong hand in the ways that women view themselves. This magazines are filled with articles and tips aimed towards losing weight and being thinner. This is why findings show that the two most common dieting methods that women use; calorie restriction and diet pill consumption, are influenced by the amount of reading of beauty and fashion magazines. Thomsen, Weber, & Brown (2002).
Studies have shown that eight in ten women read magazines, exposing them to thousands of advertisements as well as pictures of stick thin models and celebrities. The consumption and reading of these magazines alone becomes an important experience, allowing them to feel like they can and are relating to the models and celebrities that fill the pages and sell the products. The magazines that women read allow them to feel that they are crossing the boundary between inaccessible and attainable glamour.
Is very incisive and definite when he stressed that Women, are exposed to close to 3000 advertisements a day, and it is thought that with the amount of technology that women have access to, they are the highest viewers of the movies, television shows, and magazines that portray the advertisements; many of which sell unrealistic images.
Advertising for many products such as clothing and food often brings the message back to being about looking a certain way and the importance of appearance. National surveys show that almost 75% of women consider themselves too fat, which is why on any given day in America, 56% of all women are on diets Wilson & Blackhurst (1999).
In a survey of girls ages eleven through seventeen, their number one wish was “lose weight and keep it off,” which is why over 80% of girls have dieted by the time they reach age eighteen, Wilson & Blackhurst (1999).
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The images of unrealistic body standards that girls are exposed to from a very young age have contributed to the “3 D’s” which are body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and dieting; all of which have been identified as precursors for eating disorders.
Food advertisements in particular send many messages to women about what is the “right” way to eat, and what people will think about people who are fat or eat too much. The stigmas that go along with being fat are not only meant to encourage thinness, but also make the associations that being fat equals being lazy, disgusting, stupid, slow, unhealthy, and just less of a person than someone who is thin Kilbourne (1999).
Advertisers go the extra steps to send this message across by specifically comparing women to men in food advertisements, and try to make the women feel bad for wanting or trying to eat the same way as men.
Sexual exposure is another dominating area of the media and its influence over women. Sexuality and the media have long gone hand in hand in society. Advertisers have used sex to sell every kind of product imaginable, from hotels and shampoo, to soda and sneakers. Women are exposed to over 14,000 sexual references, innuendos, and behaviors a year, in which fewer than 170 of advertisements involve the use of birth control, self control, abstinence, or responsibility, Strasburger & Wilson (2002).
This can then make women feel as though if they look or appear a certain way, they can not only have the love and affection that is portrayed, but will feel sexy and special as well. One in every ten girls under the age of twenty in the United States becomes pregnant; higher than any other industrialized country in the world, Martin (2007).
The multiple layers in the media, including advertising, celebrity culture, plastic surgery, sexuality exposure, eating disorders, and more, all contribute to a confusing and conflicting time for women and their identity development. Women are constantly bombarded with messages to look, dress, appear, and act a certain way, all while supposedly maintaining good morals and a sense of individuality. Additionally, while women may be told to ignore media influence and not succumb to the pressures of advertising, they are given far more praise for how they appear when they do incorporate society’s standards into their lives. All of these factors contribute to the emotional, physical, and mental challenges and struggles that face women today.
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Schneider (1996) is of the opinion that women are targeted audiences for purchasing the clothes, workout methods, beauty products, and special diet foods that “make” their celebrity role models who and what they are. However, when interviewed, celebrities rarely discuss or reveal the difficulties and stress that it takes to look a certain way. When women see positive images of their favorite celebrities, they begin to emulate their strong, glamorous, and positive qualities, and become oblivious to the negative qualities. Furthermore, there is a message being sent to women that they are now experiencing something new, exclusive, and exciting by always having the latest “it” product. The products in the magazines become just as important to obtain as the figures of the celebrities who are shown using or wearing them.
Social Effects of the Media on Women.
It has become obvious now that the media advertises and promotes a very unhealthy trend of extreme dieting and other bad eating habits to women. Most of media sources put on their covers images of skinny emancipated females. Doing this they influence the subconscious mind of the masses. And women continue to spend their money trying to achieve this unattainable look they constantly see in media advertising. So, the basic trend in the media industry at the moment is to promote slim, even skinny unnatural looking women’s bodies as being beautiful.
Women of all ages but especially young women look at magazines, TV, movies and other media products full of images that show skinny women’s bodies. And these are perceived by the subconscious mind of young women as being a role model to follow and aspire to be like. Achieving this skinny look does not come naturally; it inevitably leads to practicing some kind of dieting, excessive exercising or abnormal eating behaviors.The reasons for this according to some analysts, is an economic one. By presenting an ideal look which is difficult to achieve and maintain the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. It is estimated that the diet industry alone is worth $100 billion (U.S.) a year. This is a lot of money and certainly worth their while to continue to foster emancipated women as being the norm. And the consequences of this trend are huge. On the one hand, women who are insecure about their bodies are more likely to buy beauty products, new clothes, and diet pills or other diet supplies. On the other hand, research indicates that exposure to images of thin, young, air-brushed female bodies is linked to depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits in women and girls.
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To sum up, the media does impact on women’s body image significantly and it can affect women’s physical and mental health in a negative way. And the only way to stop these negative effects coming from the media is to teach women not to judge themselves by the beauty industry’s standards and learn not to compare themselves to the cover girls. And also it is important to promote a healthy life style with emphasis on internal beauty like improving self-esteem and self-confidence. Not on being a stick like model. However, with the above explanations of the social effect of the media the following are the subsequent influence of advertisements on women;
For decades, the media has been thought to contribute to eating disorders, by consistently portraying only stereotypically thin attractive bodies, glorifying thinness as the key to success and beauty, and by sending, messages that if one is not thin, they must be lazy, ugly, and unsuccessful, Gilbert, Keery, & Thompson, (2005).
The ideal of beauty has changed throughout the years under the growing influence of the media to portray an often unattainable standard of beauty. One study found that 69% of women said that magazine pictures influenced their idea of the “perfect” body shape, and 47% said they wanted to lose weight because of it, Field (2000).
Women that read magazines are three time more likely than those who do not to diet or exercise more frequently to lose weight, and are also more likely to feel that magazines influence their idea of an ideal female body, leading to a stronger likelihood of disordered eating symptoms. The advertising that women are exposed to makes it even more confusing and difficult to ignore the double standard message that advertisers send; to both eat all of the food that is advertised while also dieting. Two variables that can contribute significantly to the media’s effect are the tendency to engage in social comparison with media images, as well as to psychologically internalize the societal ideal of beauty. This can make women especially vulnerable and susceptible to the media’s influence, and foster their struggling to define themselves.
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However, weight and eating issues have become a huge problem over the past few years, on levels of both over and under eating. Both obesity and eating disorders are on the rise. Social comparison theory states that it is normal for humans to compare themselves to others and the qualities others might possess. However, the idealized images that women are comparing themselves to are most often altered and extensively edited. Many women compare themselves to women on television shows, and those who do so show higher levels of body dissatisfaction, stronger drive for thinness, and more eating disorder symptoms. It is interesting to note that while there has not been nearly as much research done with girls and women of color, they often reported having higher body and weight satisfaction and are less likely to develop an eating disorder. This is often due in part to media images most often depicting thin white women, therefore making it easier for women of color to have greater acceptance of larger female body types.
Some women from different ethnic or racial backgrounds may also vary in the extent to which they are dissatisfied with their bodies because meanings of the body depend on cultural and social group context. Grabe & Hyde (2006).
Studies have shown that African American women often feel more accepting of larger sizes and feel less societal pressure, which may be in part to wanting to resist conforming to White standards of beauty. A study on Hispanic women showed higher body satisfaction with women, possibly due to the fact that larger, full bodied women are thought to be healthy and of high stature in many Latin American cultures. Grabe & Hyde (2006).
One popular example of this is a study that was done in 1995 in Fiji. The study showed the sharp rise in eating disorders among young women in Fiji after the introduction of television into their culture. Within three years the number of women at risk of eating disorders had doubled, 74% of women said they were too fat, and 62% of them had dieted in the past month. While this doesn’t prove a direct link between television and eating disorders, it is fair to say that advertising and television do promote abusive and abnormal attitudes about eating, drinking, and thinness. Kilbourne, (1999).
The internalization of the “thin ideal” is also a factor in eating disorders, due to the social reinforcement of these ideals by friends, family, and the mass media. When the ideals are encouraged and promoted, the benefits of being thin are enhanced, making it even more of a desire for many women. This is especially heightened when the women feel that becoming thin and losing weight might be one of the only things they have control over. However, since the portrayed ideal of beauty is unattainable for most women, they turn to disordered eating and exercise, which in turn can lead not only to eating disorders, but to depression, anxiety, and other self harming behaviors. While mere exposure to advertisement influences will not necessarily cause disordered eating and poor body image, it is becoming more difficult for women to ignore, with the importance of being thin emphasized so strongly from many sources.
Self Harming Behaviors
In addition to eating disorders, there are many other self harming behaviors that advertisement influences women to engage in. Although anorexia and self-starvation are often placed at the top and appear to be the most visible body-morphing activities, activities such as self mutilation, drug abuse, over exercise, cosmetic surgery, and smoking have all become methods by which women feel the need to do in order to achieve a normal and desired appearance to society.
Sexuality can be a powerful motivator, and many advertisements use sexually explicit imagery to help sell their products. While sexiness in and of itself isn’t harmful, reports from Jean Kilbourne and other activists cite an alarming trend of objectification and exploitation in advertising. Women often appear wanton, passive and child-like in advertisements, sending a message that such qualities are normal and even desirable in women. Even more disturbing, men receive the message that women should act submissive and wanton, and come to expect that in their relationships with the opposite sex.
Along with body weight issues, advertisements often depict very young and impossibly beautiful women. According to the “New Yorker” and others, advertisers’ covert young demographics since, they often have more spending money. That can result in ageism, particularly against women, who may perceive images of unattainable youth as ideals to strive for. As women get older, they feel pressure to look younger, ignoring the natural beauty of a 50- or 60-year-old body in an impossible effort to retain a 20- or 30-year-old one.
Advertisements promote materialism in several ways. The first is by creating new needs and desires among women. Advertisements also encourage women to compete with each other by purchasing more and better objects. Finally, advertisements often encourage women to replace their old possessions by purchasing the newest and best model. This fosters a “throw-away society”.
Distorting Women’s Self Image
The anxiety women experience from feeling unattractive is arguably one of the most pervasive and damaging consequence of advertising. Only one body type is almost always presented in the media and in advertisements that of a very tall, thin woman. Women that would meet these criteria for anorexia as 15% below normal weight. APA (1994).
In reality, this unhealthy body shape is unattainable for 99% of women.
Many times, even these “beautiful” women are deemed not good enough for advertisements. Photographs are airbrushed or otherwise altered to remove any lines, bumps, or lumps – anything less than “perfection.” If the ideal of beauty is physically unattainable, then consumers will never be able to attain the image they want, and therefore there will be an endless demand for new beauty products. This is the reason for the incredible proliferation of the weight-loss, fashion, and cosmetics industries, which are among the largest and most profitable consumer industries. As a result, the millions of women who are unable to reach this standard of beauty feel a sense of failure, shame, and guilt. This dissatisfaction with one’s body is a major cause of eating disorders, which have increased through the years as women’s ideal body weight as it is portrayed in the media has increased.
Advertising campaigns can promote stereotypes by portraying groups, such as women, in their traditional or stereotypical roles. Such stereotypes include linking specific groups to products, such as women with cleaning supplies. These advertisements tend to foster generalized and often false beliefs about who these members of groups are and should be. Other critics express concern over the way advertising has affected women. Advertisement depicted women primarily as decoration or sex objects. Although millions of women worked outside the home in the 1960s, advertisements continued to focus on their role as homemakers. Whether owing to the feminist movement or to women’s increasing economic power, after the 1960s it became more common to see women depicted in professional roles. However, many advertisements today still emphasize a woman’s sexuality.
Commodification Of Women As Sex Objects
Another serious problem is the fact that advertisements almost always portray women as sex objects, in order to increase the appeal of their product. This significantly affects the way women think about themselves, particularly young women, because it is during the adolescent stage of life that young people develop their sense of self and identity. This sends the underlying message to women and girls that the only important thing about themselves is the way they look, causing many women to believe that their self-worth is dependent upon attention from men.
Commodification of women as sex objects has a very detrimental effect on and women. The constant abuse of women’s sexuality to sell products in the beer, sports, film and music industries, for example, has completely distorted our understanding of sexuality and gender roles. The commodification of women undoubtedly contributes to the high incidents of rape and physical assault in our society.
Monkey-See Monkey- Do Effect.
Woman in society often feel bad about their body image if they do not have the same figure as a model. They want to have a slender body because of what they see in advertisements; they seem to be always comparing themselves to what they see in advertisements. Women see the way other females appear in the media and they try to recreate their look. “Over three-quarters of the covers of women’s magazines include at least one message about how to change a woman’s bodily appearance-by diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery” (Beauty and Body Image in the Media).
In a 1992 study of female students at Stanford University, 70% of women reported feeling worse about themselves and their bodies after looking at magazines. 54% of women belong to a gym to achieve an ideal body and some women take on unhealthy habits and develop eating disorders (Industry Statistics).
Women spend a lot of money and time on their image because of what they see in advertisements.
Prevention, Solutions, and Interventions
Some types of prevention and early intervention techniques include media literacy programs that educate women about how the media alters images in order to achieve the look they want to sell. This allows women to cognitively and verbally challenge the thin ideal promoted by the media. Gilbert, Keery & Thompson (2005).
Teaching media literacy at a very early age is extremely important also, both at home and in school, in order to help children become more aware and critical of the images to which they are exposed. Shields & Heinecken (2002).
Also, since celebrities can have so much influence over adolescents, media literacy programs should enlist the help of the albeit few, but willing and dedicated celebrities to help raise awareness of the seriousness of the negative images and messages that the media sends to women.
Other programs include feminist psychotherapy, where women are empowered by learning about cultural values and norms, with the use of self esteem building exercises. It is also important for schools and education settings to begin to focus on this as a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Curriculums need to reflect the importance by teaching skills such as peer relations, stress management, self esteem building, as well as information on healthy living and eating, body image, and eating disorder awareness.
This is obviously a very large societal and cultural issue, and one that need to be addressed in any country. There is a strong need for not only more awareness as to the severity of the problem, but also for more thorough and pervasive psycho-education for all women.
In this term paper, I set out to find out social effect or impact that advertisement actually has on women. Mere looking at the opinion of scholars and findings of researchers, I gained a better understanding on how negatively women have been influence by advertisement.
Advertising is a major area that has influenced women in a very negative way, due to the unrealistic portrayal of perfection. However, it will take much more than just the images in advertisements and media changing. The overall culture of women in society has to change, which is no small feat. Changes need to be made on many institutional levels, in order to stop the devaluing of girls and women. There needs to be more equal treatment of boys and girls in education, on all age levels.
This term paper has revealed that women constantly internalize the images around them, which largely conform to a negative and unrealistic perception of how a woman should look. When women receive nothing but these types of images from the media or advertisement, which are then reinforced by peers, they are often left thinking they must change things about themselves, often with harmful behaviors.
However, it is extremely important that women are sensitized in order to forestall this debilitating effect that advertisement is having on them. Actors for this sensitization includes; government, educational sector and host of other social institutions.
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