The functionality of our society, though one could argue not entirely, is based on what influences us. That is the role of the use of media in our culture. Despite it’s ability to inform us and increase our awareness, I tend to find that awareness severely limiting to an extent, so much so that it works in a guise and implants certain ideologies that continue to remain unless we’re able to become active in changing it. The power of advertisements has undoubtedly dictated what the masses accept, often without our questioning. We are barraged with advertisements that aim to sell us a certain product or offer us the opportunity to change something about ourselves. We are certainly affected by it, even if the latter claim that advertisements aren’t necessarily able to convince us so easily. Advertisements are the main player in the marketing game, as its influence in our society is extremely powerful and allows us to become subservient in its deceptions. Advertising relies on existing cultural hegemonies that it creates and sustains, such that it feeds on socially constructed ‘wrongs’ and insecurities that plague individuals in society. We choose to remain stagnant and unaware of these influences because we are led to believe that this is what is deemed to be right and normal, which poses a huge problem that is fluidly generated over and over again by huge corporations that market these advertisements to the public.
I often associate the term ‘profit’ as the end result. In the verse of advertising, all it truly aims to achieve is a profit. Although a profit, especially a successful one, can be garnered with success, scheme, and strategy as its collective components, the means of achieving it are never purely based on truth or for the greater good of all. According to Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising by Anthony J. Cortese, a successful advertisement campaign can achieve two goals that will result in a profit–> “raise the anxiety level” & “persuade the public that they need something.” The mantra of many advertisements, though not as blatantly obvious as some, have an embedded notion that “You will be happier, content, successful, etc. if you use this to change yourself.” Advertisements rely on making the consumer feel inadequate and inferior. Cortese disseminates many of the techniques utilized by mainstream advertising, which is “constantly bombarding consumers, especially women, with the message that they are inherently flawless – that what they are or what they have is not enough, too much, or not good enough” (Kilbourne, 1989). Let’s examine women’s health magazines and weight loss product commercials as contents that can be drawn out from Cortese’s discussion. ‘Health’ is not even the relevant term here, as these forms of media promote 1200 calorie diets to women, intense exercise regimes along with caloric restriction, and (not to mention) heavily photoshopped ‘fit’ women (often celebrities, trainers) giving their two cents on how they dropped they weight in the shortest amount of time. Don’t forget to read about how much ‘happier’ they are now. In the end, it’s not about health or well-being at all. These gimmicks insinuate that weight loss will make you happier and superior and often equate eating with shame, self-worth, and guilt. The abundance of body shaming is so pervasive and poses a dangerous message. This is the essence of such advertising, which promotes weight loss as being the ultimate key to the door of beauty and happiness.
It has been established in media critiquing that advertising preys on the insecurities of women. Nutrition companies like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and Special K are all a part of the diet culture industry that uses a woman’s lack of esteem to their advantage. Insecurities and self-worth are both mutually exclusive terms, and this is part of the given stratagem. When women succumb to these socially constructed ideals of beauty, companies that draw out these advertisements remain in their key power positions. A woman is constructed to be dissatisfied with who she is no matter what she does to become just like the person/people as depicted in those advertisements. Jean Kilbourne discusses this in her study, Beauty and the Beast of Advertising, which concerns women and their representation in advertisements. She says “A woman is conditioned to view her face as a mask and her body as an object, as things separate from and more important than her real self, constantly in need of alteration, improvement and disguise” (122). Essentially, a woman is not supposed to be happy with how she is, and must always change to conform to the idealized version of what a woman SHOULD be.
Becoming active participants in challenging advertising can serve as an alternative way in changing the path of the industry. How about creating ads that appeal to the women in a positive, affirming way that doesn’t shun them from one another? Instead, it could celebrate the diversity of women. I think completely eradicating the pervasiveness of the ‘ideal’ woman (thin, tall, slender, without blemishes, flawless, etc.) is impossible. I’m saying this only because I’m considering how deeply entrenched it is in our current society and how ‘thin’ and ‘fat’ will always remain social constructs. However, in creating advertisements that appeal to woman without separating them from one another and creating dividing lines between what is believed as ‘beautiful,’ and ‘ugly,’ maybe it can certainly diverge the ingrained notion of an idealized beauty. In increasing awareness of this through advertisements that are created in this realm of positivity and acceptance, it could be possible that people in the future will adapt to this. This is why it is crucial to be able to examine media with a critical lens.
What constitutes the effectiveness of ads is how much our culture depends on them to make us ‘acceptable’. The toxicity of these warped messages that draw from our inadequacies precisely explain why it’s critical to disseminate and discuss advertisements in our media landscape. Rather than questioning our self-worth based on what these ads promote, why don’t we question why we’re allowing these messages to dictate who we need to become? We so desperately need to be aware of the manipulative messages these companies send. It is imperative to see the prosaic methods these advertisements use to leech onto our lack of esteem. Realize that it is because of these messages, which enable the pervasiveness of such ideologies in our society. Look at the bigger picture. Be cognizant of them. And most importantly, challenge them.
Cortese, Anthony J. “Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising.” Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007. 45-76. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.
Kilbourne, Jean. “Beauty and the Beast of Advertising.” Los Angeles: Center for Media and Values, 1989. 121-125. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.
Interesting article I came across regarding an open apology made by a weight loss consultant to all her clients: (Huffington Post led me to this link).