|Photo Source: Google Images|
I worked on a paper titled The Portrayal of Women in Magazine Advertisements and it's been on my mind to share a few things about it here so here goes. Women (and men) come in an endless array of shapes and sizes, but one would never know it from looking at adverts. “Physically attractive” and “sexually desirable” is almost synonymous with “flawless” and “thin.” Men are usually portrayed with perfect six packs abs while women are shown as slender which is a stark contrast to the rounder curves of most women’s bodies. The current ‘beauty ideal’ smiles at us from the pages of Vogue or Glamour magazine. She is a seventeen-year old professional model, weighing just 120 pounds on a slim 5‘10” frame. Her teeth is pearly white, she has no wrinkles, blemishes or even pores. This flawlessness is, in fact, an illusion created by makeup artists, photographers and photo retouchers (Hello Photoshop).
Most of the images we see in the media have been nipped and tucked, trimmed and filled out, flattened and rounded, down to the last detail. In the end, we see a reflection of someone not even the model can claim as her own. Botox, fake tan, color contact lenses, hair extensions, boob jobs, the list is endless. The problem is, that standard is unattainable, even for those held up as examples. Each image is meticulously worked over: teeth and eyeballs are bleached white; blemishes, wrinkles, and stray hairs are airbrushed away. In some cases, a picture is actually a combination of body parts of several different models; a mouth from this one, arms from that one, and legs from a third. Since the media molds expectations, opinions, and attitudes; the audience of these adverts may accept the way women are depicted as reality.
It is one thing to live up to a certain standard and quite another to try to live up to somebody else’s fantasy. The overwhelming presence of media images of painfully thin and flawless women means that real women’s bodies have become invisible in the mass media. The real tragedy is that many women internalize these stereotypes, and judge themselves by the beauty industry’s standards that are too unrealistic in its flawlessness. As an adaptation to the physical demands of childbearing, women’s bodies typically have a fat content of around 25 percent, as opposed to 15 percent in men. Fattening, which in some African cultures is perceived to bring out the best in the African woman is almost a taboo. In the Eastern part of Nigeria, some tribes send bride-to-be’s to the “fattening room” before the wedding to make sure the bride looks well fed and healthy for her wedding. The world has however shrunk cultural borders with the rapid growth in social media where brands are sold worldwide. Global advertising campaigns that display ‘Beauty Myth’ type models are produced and the western ideal of beauty held up as evidence of beauty is the thin, long legged, long neck, long finger-nails, long free flowing hair (Brazilian anyone?)
It is disturbing that media images of female beauty are unattainable for all but a very small number of women (less than 5%) consequently; many women are dissatisfied with their seemingly imperfect selves when they compare their reality with the airbrushed perfection. It is really sad that are there sensitive/impressionable young girls with self esteem issues that are magnified significantly by the fake perfection that is shoved down our throats via airbrushed ads, magazines, catalogs, TV shows, movies, billboards, etc. The adverse consequences from feelings of insecurity and body dissatisfaction include eating disorders, low self esteem, unnecessary, expensive, and painful plastic surgery, depression and all can lead to death.
Thankfully, there have been some moves to buck this trend. There is a Dove Campaign for Real Beauty launched by Dove which was established to inspire and educate females about a wider definition of beauty. The Campaign Fund continues to create thought-provoking adverts and confidence-building programs that embrace all definitions of beauty. Tyra Banks’ also launched campaign called “So What?” to promote positive body images for women and eradicate low self-esteem. This was in response to a magazine article that called her “fat”. Thankfully, curvier/fuller figured celebrities and models like Tyra Banks, Eva Mendes, Octavia Spencer, Amber Rose, Heidi Klum, and Kim Kardashian, are being acknowledged for their beauty. Even Nigerian magazines such as Glam and Essence and Genevieve now feature various sizes of women.
You can work out to keep fit and maintain a good Body Mass Index (BMI) but please do not obsess. We may not have control over what and how the media decides to represent us, but we certainly have the power to change how we act. Until adverts depict women in more realistic ways, women will persistently measure themselves against non-existent and unattainable standards of beauty. And until we embrace reality, women will continue to seek commercial remedies for imaginary flaws. It is up to the women in particular and society at large, to think more critically when they look at that Victoria's Secret spread and less critically when they look in the mirror.
I would totally *cough*
do prefer the before in the above picture than the after (i had to save the best for last hehe. You're welcome ladies). You can view some of the pictures here, here, here and here. Some of the changes i find unnecessary. Check out this Dove advert too.