A young woman stands in front of the mirror and is disgusted by the reflection that only she can see. Thunder thighs, flabby arms, and a pot belly obstruct her view of the beautiful, smart, and loving woman who stares back at her. This is exactly the type of person the advertisement agencies and the media prey upon, someone who is self-conscious and ashamed of her body, someone who is willing to go to any length or pay any price to have the “perfect” body. In her essay, “Narcissism as Liberation”, Susan Douglas wrote about the power and influence that the advertisement industry has in America. The advertisement agencies and the media do not just prey upon self-hating persons, they help to create them.
“When an image is presented…, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions. Assumptions concerning: Beauty, Truth, Status, Taste, etc. (Berger 53).” We learn from a very early age all about assumptions concerning body image. Television commercials and magazine advertisements teach us that we must look like model and surround ourselves with beautiful things in order to live a worth while life. We are constantly bombarded with images of
“beauty” every time we turn on the television set or flip through the pages of magazines. Day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, our minds are being filled with images of “beautiful people” endorsing products that they claim will make us beautiful as well. We believe what these advertisements claim, and we buy the products. After using the product, we begin to compare ourselves to the so called “beautiful people” in the advertisement and soon realize that we do not measure up. We learn from a very early age that it seems our bodies are inferior to the rest of the world’s.
The advertisement industry and the media have the power to influence our opinion on what we see as being beautiful. Advertisements dictate what we must look like in order to be accepted in a world so obsessed with body image. They tell us that it is no longer sexy to have a normal body with a little fat on your bones. The hour glass figure is out of style, while the stick figure is in style. In order to be considered sexy and beautiful in today’s world women must have the tanned body of a half starved adolescent girl. The advertisement industry and the media created this bizarre body image, and millions of American women buy into buy.
A hand cream advertisement ran in Good Housekeeping, a magazine that is mostly read for middle aged housewives. The advertisement shows the right hand of a young women, probably in her twenty’s, with a freshly done manicure and no wrinkles or veins in sight. This Neutrogena New Hands cream promises to “visibly reduce the sings of aging on your hands.” This little wonder “reduces the look of age spots” and gives your hands “a more youthful tone and texture.” I can see it now, all the housewives flipping through the pages of Good Housekeeping trying to find new recipes, then they come to this advertisement and compare the youthful hand on the page in the magazine.
We all want to have the “perfect” body, but we do not want to have to go to the gym and work out for hours to get it. We want it right away with no work involved. We see an advertisement in our favorite magazine for a new product called Dior Svelte Prefect. This new product is “quick, powerful, and effective in controlling cellulite.” It promises visible results in only one week. The advertisement shows one side of a women’s firm buttock and toned thigh. This new product seems to be the answer to everyone’s prayers, it’s a miracle in a bottle.
Magazine advertisements are not the only things that help create inferiority complexes in women, the magazines themselves do as well. Cosmopolitan, a popular women’s magazine, plays a major role in making women feel insecure about their bodies. Supermodel, Claudia Schiffer, graced the cover of Cosmopolitan’s July 1997 issue. She was photographed wearing a beautiful, yellow, long dress by Calvin Klein. Her flawless skin, toned arms, perky breast, and svelte body is thrown in the faces of American women and mock them. Cosmopolitan magazine puts this super model, and others like her, on the cover to show it’s readers what they should look like but never will. Cosmopolitan does not just put Claudia Schiffer on the cover, they also have a small article about her. It is an article meant to show that there is more to Claudia Schiffer than just a pretty face. The writer at Cosmopolitan refers to her as “one superbusy supermodel, restaurant mogul, and soon-to-be movie star.” There goes normal women’s theory that the reason why they themselves do not look like a super model is because they are too busy. Claudia Schiffer is “superbusy” and she still as time to spend to make herself beautiful. There is also a question and answer section with Claudia where she must answer the tough questions that Cosmopolitan asks her, questions that the American public want, and need to know. She answers questions about her diet, her favorite makeup looks, and of course the ever so important question about what she takes to every workout. When asked, “What makes a woman beautiful?”, Claudia responded, “Her personality. You have to be beautiful on the inside in order to be beautiful outside.” Sure, that is easy for her to say when she looks the way she does, but what about the rest of the women who do not look like her?
The non-super model population of American women are “bombarded by the message that approval from others, especially men, means everything, and without it you are nothing, an outcast, unworthy and unloved (Douglas 120).” Advertisements tell us that in order to get approval and to be loved, we must buy all of the products that they sell, then, and only ten will our lives be worth something. We, women, try so hard to look like Claudia Schiffer that we spend million of dollars each year buying products that the advertisement industry claim will make look like her. And when those products do not work, some women take this beauty obsession one step further by literally starving themselves to death.
One of the articles in this issue of Cosmopolitan is called, “Fat Fears.” This article is about “how to stop torturing yourself and lose pounds.” Three “diet experts”-Sarah Ferguson, Dr. Robert Atkins, And nutritionist, Carrie Latt Wiatt-answer dieting questions. Through out this article there are pictures of a young woman wearing a skimpy black bikini. The magazine shows us this picture to reinforce the idea that if we only would follow these tips that the “diet experts” gave us, then we would look like the woman in the black bikini.
Another article in Cosmopolitan called, “Why Thongs Turns A Man’s Mind to Mush”, illustrates to women that a man will only love them if the have a model’s body. In the article,”real” men were asked “Which is hotter: thong or bikini?” The majority of men said they like women to wear thong underwear. One of the men said, “Regular bikinis look too old-fashioned to me.” Another man said, “Thongs are sexy; it’s part of the whole “bad-girl” appeal.” This puts an added pressure on women to have the perfect body in order to wear the thong underwear. Women will want to please their man and keep them happy so that their man will love them in return.
There is something about our body that we all would like to change because we feel that our bodies are not good enough, like our height, our weight, our eye color, etc. We want to change ourselves because of the pressure that advertisements places on us to be one of the “beautiful people”. They make us feel worthless because we do not look like a super model. If the advertisers and the media stopped focusing so much attention on physical beauty and perfection and focused a little more on inner beauty and strengths, then maybe when we would look in the mirror, we would not just see what we look like on the outside, we would be able to see the person we really are.
Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing” Ways of Reading. 4th Ed. Eds. D. Bartholomae & A. Petrosky. Boston: Bedford Books, 1996. 46-72
Susan, Douglas. “Narcissism as Liberation” Ways of Reading. 4th Ed. Eds. D. Bartholomae & A. Petrosky. Boston: Bedford Books, 1996. 117-133
Fabian, Allison. “Fat Fears” Cosmopolitan, July 1997. 190-195
Golin, Mark. “Why Thongs Turn a Man’s Mind to Mush” Cosmopolitan, July 1997. 32