Literature Review on advertising
Researchers agree that there is a direct correlation between exposure to harmful advertisements and the development of eating disorders and low self-worth among teenage girls (Bessenoff; Blackhurst and Wilson; Brausch and Gutierrez; Morry and Staska; Ferguson et al.; Chabrol, Paxton and Rodgers). In our society, people are exposed to hundreds of advertisements a day and as our lives become more technology-based, that number will continue to grow. All of this leads one to wonder what effect the omnipresent world of advertising has on people today. Research on this topic focuses on how advertisements affect women; it suggests that repeated exposure to advertisements that promote an unrealistic body type can result in lowered self-esteem and a more negative body image, which can lead to eating disorders and depression in women and teenaged girls.
The publication of false perfection has a significant negative impact on women and society as a whole. The circulation and promotion of an unattainably thin “ideal” woman has
warped society’s perception of what is normal, what is healthy, and what is beautiful. Women
who read beauty magazines were found by Morry and Staska to internalize societal ideals more and consequently, were more prone to developing eating disorders and to self-objectify (275-276). The ideals that these women internalized were promoted, if not fabricated, by the media; researchers Chabrol, Paxton & Rodgers statement elaborates on this pressure Morry and Staska
eluded to by writing: “media influences are thought to set up unrealistic body-shape ideals that increase body dissatisfaction, desire to be thin and may induce disordered eating behaviors as a
|means of weight control” (393). In their study, the researchers found||that “girls with high levels|
|of depression were more strongly affected by media influences on appearance,” this means that|
|advertisements and the media’s unattainable thin ideal are influencing||those who are most|
|vulnerable (Chabol, Paxton & Rodgers 397).|
While research in this field has made it clear that advertisements can have a plethora of negative effects on young women, it also suggests that not everyone is susceptible. According to Bessenoff, people with high self-discrepancy1 are more likely to experience decreased mood, eating disorder symptoms, more body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem when exposed to advertisements featuring thin models than someone with low self-discrepancy (240). This, according to Bessenoff’s ideas, is what separates the person who glances at an ad and goes on with their day from the person who looks at ads and experiences the aforementioned negative effects. Her experiment confirms the truth in this theory. In the experiment, 94 women with
1 Self-discrepancy is described as the difference between what a particular person perceives to be the ideal or social norm, and themselves.
either low or high self-discrepancy were shown advertisements and then asked to answer a series of questions (questions consisted of an Eating Disorder Inventory, Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire, and State Self-Esteem test). Half of the women were shown advertisements featuring women that embodied the thin ideal, the other half were shown neutral advertisements that contained no such women. Importantly, the group of women with low self-discrepancy had similar responses to the questionnaire regardless of the ads they were shown while women with high self-discrepancy responded with more depressive thoughts, lowered self-esteem, and felt more agitated and dejected after viewing the ads featuring the thin-ideal (243-247).
As well as the initial dissatisfaction and unhappiness that can come along with viewing these ads, body-dissatisfaction and other short-term effects can have long term ones. At any given time, approximately 56% of American women are dieting, and in a national survey 61% of female high school students reported having dieted to lose weight (Wilson and Blackhurst; Brausch and Gurierrez). While not all women are affected deeply by advertisements, this staggering statistic makes it clear that women are feeling body-dissatisfaction to a point where many of them are making an effort to alter themselves to meet the standard popularized by advertisements. Brausch and Gutierrez highlighted a potential avenue to danger when they wrote “adolescent females who actively diet or attempt to restrict their eating often experience ‘failure,’ which can lead or contribute to depressive symptoms” (59). This statement becomes especially chilling when one takes into account their findings that depression and disordered eating lead to increased suicidal ideation (66-67).
In summation, researchers have found that advertisements have dangerous negative effects on women. The effects are varied from person to person, but they can range anywhere from lowered self-esteem to depression or eventually even suicidal ideation. All of the
researchers found a strong and undeniable correlation between advertisements and the development of these negative effects in women (Bessenoff; Blackhurst and Wilson; Brausch and Gutierrez; Morry and Staska; Ferguson et al.; Chabrol, Paxton and Rodgers). Researchers found that the majority of women are unhappy with their bodies and when paired with the findings that advertisements promotion of the thin ideal contribute to body dissatisfaction, it becomes clear how widespread and nefarious the effects of advertising are. Many of the studies done in this field tend to focus on women rather than teenaged girls, therefore little is known about the effects of advertising on teens.
As early as first grade, I remember feeling dissatisfied with my body and the way that I looked. As it turns out, this is much more common than one might think and advertisements may be the primary culprit. For years, women in advertising have been objectified. Women are most commonly portrayed in advertising in violent and demeaning situations, often being dominated by men, or posing suggestively with heavily photo-shopped, falsely perfect bodies. Being surrounded by such negative imagery has caused many women to develop extremely low self-esteem and even eating disorders. One survey suggests that harmful imagery can be found outside of advertisements, namely in girls’ magazines. According to a Teen People survey, “Nearly 60% of the 13-to-18-year-old girls surveyed said comparing themselves to the models they see in the media, including magazines, makes them feel more insecure about their own bodies” (Walsh-Childers 63). These results mean that young girls see the falsely perfect women pictured in the media and begin to feel unhappy with their own bodies. This is problematic because when women compare their own bodies to an unattainably thin one, they are more likely to develop eating disorders as a means of decreasing their own weight. The negative
|consequences of media exposure are not always so obvious,||however. One study found that|
|exposure to television did not increase||body-dissatisfaction,||it did, however, increase||a sense of|
|inferiority||when comparing themselves||to other girls. “[N]either peers nor television||predicted|
|body dissatisfaction, although both predicted feelings||of inferiority response to other girls”|
|(Ferguson 478-479). Although||many women believe||they are unaffected by advertising,|
|advertisements have been shown to have several negative effects on women, often causing|
|women to compare themselves||to the women pictured in advertisements.|
|Upon hearing the term “ideal||body” most women imagine||the incredibly thin, but still|
|perfectly curved body that has been popularized by the media. This idea of perfection||is|
|dangerous||because it is entirely||unattainable for most women, but that doesn’t stop some women|
|from trying||to achieve it. The definition of the word “ideal”||is: “Existing only in idea; confined|
|to thought||or imagination; imaginary: opposed to real or actual” (OED). This definition makes it|
|clear the media should not be pressuring women to strive for an idealized figure because this|
|body type is not real or actual;||it is fabricated. Furthermore,||advertisements that put women’s|
bodies on display often portray them more as accessories than as people. When only beautiful and thin women are pictured, it gives the impression that beauty is the only thing women can contribute to the world. Objectification is defined as “the demotion or degrading of a person or class of people (esp. women) to the status of a mere object” and when women are constantly being portrayed in advertisements as perfect objects rather than actual people, it contributes to a growing problem of devaluing women in our society (OED). Objectification has grown dangerous for women in our society because if people continue to see women as objects, women are more likely to be abused both verbally and physically.
Advertisements are not only putting women at higher risk for abuse from external
sources, however, they are also putting women at higher risk for harming themselves. Eating disorders and depression among teenage girls are at an all-time high, and advertisements have been proven to be at least partially at fault for this. A study on the effects of thin-ideal advertisements by Tiggemann and McGill found that women experience immediate negative effects upon viewing advertisements, with participants reporting decreased mood and higher body dissatisfaction after viewing advertisements containing thin-idealized women (23). They said of their results “This is a disturbing finding in that we have demonstrated negative effects after only very brief exposure (11 images of thin idealized female bodies in about ten minutes), which is far less than what would be contained in a single issue of a fashion magazine” this suggests that a product specifically aimed at women, fashion magazines, are significantly contributing to a more negative body image and unhappiness in women (38). This is extremely telling of our culture because it reveals that we value monetary profit over others quality of life. Advertising is a lucrative business and for that reason we allow advertising companies to expose women to a constant barrage of unattainable body expectations despite the obvious risks and proven negative effects of doing so.
In today’s world, it is impossible to escape the thin-ideal, it is plastered across websites, billboards, store windows, television, and magazines. Unfortunately, young people have just as many opportunities to see and internalize these images as adults. Walsh-Childers findings show widespread the media’s influence is, and how all-consuming it can be, suggesting that the majority, 60%, of young girls are being made to feel insecure about their bodies because of media exposure (Walsh-Childers 63). In other words, our culture is cultivating yet another generation of insecure women. In a girl’s life, feeling insecure is often seen as a part of growing up, but there is no reason this should be so. If the media were to alter their output just slightly to