include a wider array of body types, it is entirely possible that young girls wouldn’t have the added pressure of having a perfectly stick-thin body in an already difficult time in their lives. They could focus on things that mattered, things that would better our society, but instead young girls, and all women, are occupied by trying to live up to a standard that no healthy person can meet.
Of course, not all adverse effects of the media are so easy to see. A force so powerful and
omnipresent as advertising is deeply ingrained in many aspects of our lives, and for that reason, it can be difficult to discern what is caused by advertisements and what isn’t. One study by Ferguson explored the effects of television exposure on the body dissatisfaction of young girls. Although they found that exposure to television did not directly raise the participant’s levels of body dissatisfaction, they did find that television exposure increased the participant’s feelings of inferiority toward their peers (Ferguson 478-479). This suggests that continuous exposure to the thin-ideal may have normalized that body type and made the participants view their peers as
fitting this standard more than themselves. Therefore, even though the girls did not experience immediate negative effects after exposure to the thin-ideal, they are likely to experience negative effects later when they inevitably compare themselves to their peers. Similarly, this study exemplifies how different avenues of media consumption can have varied effects. Had the participants been exposed to the thin-ideal through an advertisement or magazine, the results may have been different, but conversely, it also shows that no matter the format, negative effects will inevitably ensue.
The psychological effects of advertising are widely varied based on many factors including the viewer’s self-esteem, personality, and self-discrepancy. Rodgers, Chabrol, and Paxton found that it is those who have pre-existing conditions such as depression or eating
disorders that are most influenced by advertisements depicting the thin-ideal (393, 400). While there have been many theories and studies done on the psychological effects of advertising with just as varied results, researchers all agree on one thing: advertisements are harming women. The most common negative psychological effect of advertising is lowered self-esteem, but the effects can be as serious as developing depression, an eating disorder, or even suicidal ideation. It should be noted that some of the more serious effects of advertising often don’t affect the viewer immediately. More often, advertisements catalyze a downward spiral of sorts. First, the viewer of the advertisement will feel dissatisfaction with their bodies when comparing it to an ideal one pictured. According to Brausch and Gutierrez “Body dissatisfaction has been cited as one explanation for the increased rate of depression in adolescent females… these negative feelings could foster dieting and eating-related risk factors” therefore, body dissatisfaction is not a small issue, and it often leads to extremely serious, even dire, consequences (59). Often times, issues such as body dissatisfaction are written off and discounted as unimportant or just typical adolescent insecurity, but this issue almost always leads to action. In a national survey, 61% of high school females reported dieting to lose weight (Brausch and Gurierrez 59). Furthermore, depression and eating disorders are linked, with a high frequency of people who suffer from one suffering from the other as well. Therefore, as body dissatisfaction rates go up, eating disorder and depression rates will follow.
Apart from advertisements, there is a social pressure look good and conform to the thin ideal. Upon closer consideration, it becomes clear that advertisements may be a main culprit in cultivating this social pressure as well. A study by Tiggemann, Marika, and Mcgill studied the effects of body-focused advertisements versus product-focused advertisements. Their findings indicated that body-focused images were more likely to elicit social comparison from the women
than product images (Tiggemann, et al. 39). Another study suggests that there are two ideals a
woman is exposed to on a regular basis “the body-perfect ideal, which is ultra-thin for women,
and the material good life, emphasizing an affluent lifestyle, money, and expensive material
goods” continuous exposure and normalization of both of these ideals have the potential to make
women feel socially inferior (Ashikali and Dittmar 514-515). Being surrounded by these ideals
constantly, it is easy for one’s perspective and ideas about what is normal to be skewed.
Gender also plays an important role in how viewers are affected by advertisements. For women, advertisements featuring women who have been objectified by being put in suggestive and vulnerable poses or being dominated by men feeds a climate of quiet fear all women experience. “Turning a human being into a thing, an object, is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person” this violence is not limited to external sources; the objectification of women also makes self-objectification, and consequently self-harm more likely (Kilbourne 598). Researchers Sabiston and Chandler explain self-objectification theory, stating “[The] theory suggests that the constant focus on women’s bodies and objectification of them leads women to monitor their outward appearance and body shape, to be concerned with others’ perceptions of their appearance, and to be more preoccupied with what the body looks like rather than what it can do” this theory exemplifies how widespread the issue of objectification is because women themselves have begun to see themselves as only their appearance (515). Overall, objectification is the most serious problem to arise from advertisements, as it has led to the harming of women by themselves and others.
Although we have made many strides as a culture in the way women are viewed and treated, the way women are portrayed in the media remains archaic. Women are portrayed as objects, their images pinched and stretched and altered until they no longer resemble real people.
This remains problematic for women in our culture because viewing these exaggerated, falsely perfect women leads to body dissatisfaction, which often results in even more serious issues like depression and eating disorders. These adverse effects are not limited to a specific age group of women either, teenagers and even children are just as susceptible to their effects. Furthermore, the objectification of women in advertisements is hindering them in real life situations. Despite this, thin-ideal and violent advertisements are not going away, in fact, this problem has only intensified in recent years. That is precisely why now more than ever, we need to make a change. In a world where women were free of unrealistic expectations and negative body image, think of all we could accomplish. After all, do you think a woman has ever looked at the starving, stick – thin models she is supposed to want to be staring back at her from a glossy page and felt powerful?
In summation, women have been made to feel inadequate for too long. Advertisers have built an
empire born from insecurities and fear and painted it with images of falsely perfect women.
Although many strides have been made toward a better world for women, advertisements are
hindering and undoing all the careful progress we have made. If this toxic outpouring of harmful
images could be stopped, or even just slowed, it would mean a safer, more accepting
environment for women and young girls to live in. It is up to us now, the consumers, to make this
happen. It is imperative that advertisers be made aware of the harm they are causing, and how
much safer our society could become if changes were made.
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