Influence of Advertising on Social Perceptions of Body Image

Review of Research Question

The mainstream media has for years been criticized for convincing young girls that they have to be very thin in order to be attractive. Generally, the media has been held responsible for shaping the thoughts of the society when it comes to body image as portrayed in movies and adverts. In most cases, the sorry state of things in the society is considered as a result of modernization. However, the reality is that people subconsciously absorb what is projected onto them by the media. They become convinced about what perfection should look like or what constitutes beauty, and in the end, they set standards for themselves, or rather, they try to live by the standards set by the media, intentionally or otherwise. For this paper, it was found that almost all advertisements featuring women had skinny women with flawless skin. This leaves no place for larger women or women with freckles or other skin flaws. This is the projected image of perfection, against which young women in the society try to judge themselves. Similarly, muscles and perfect hair as seen in male actors and models in the adverts define what men today are trying to measure up to. This is how advertisements influence social perceptions of body image. 

Review of Findings

A. Understanding How an Advertisement Works

While there are so many adverts across both new and traditional media, it is possible to look at all of them and find some common ground. This is especially practical in the context of the current society where hundreds of thousands of products are being advertised daily. The underlying messages tend to shape the society owing to their repetitiveness (Nielsen, 2014).

1. Appeals

A random search was conducted online and four adverts from different companies selected. The companies whose adverts were selected include Coca Cola, Maybelline, Miss Dior, and Protein World. These companies operate in different industries, and they are mostly international in their operations. Each of the selected adverts featured a woman, and it can be noted that all these women were really pretty and thin by general standards. The woman on the Maybelline advert was exceptionally tall and thin as was the woman in the Protein World advert. In each case, it can be appreciated that the main reason for the women on the adverts was the appeal. They made the audience look again. Similarly, adverts featuring men use very attractive men such as David Beckham and Brad Pitt, among others. Thus, adverts generally feature people with appealing traits such as memorable faces and really amazing bodies. In this case, the appeals are the physical attributes that cause the audience to look at the advert, and each advert has them. From the examples mentioned above, the appeals are all related to appearances thus playing a great role in shaping the social constructs on attractiveness both for men and women.

2. The Intended Message

The Maybelline advert features a supermoel with a perfect body. She is very tall, extremely thin and has perfect skin. Considering that Maybelline is a makeup company, the intended message is that people who use the brand look beautiful. In the pictures, the model does indeed look very attractive, with flawless skin and very impressive makeup. On the other hand, the Miss Dior advert is about being sexy. It features a very beautiful model who could be thought of as naked owing to her position and possibility of being covered up only partially. The intended message here is that the scent accentuates the individual’s sexiness. The diet coke advert features to skinny women who seem to be enjoying themselves. The advert boldly states ‘Regret nothing. No calories. No sugar.’ In this case, the intended message is that if the individual takes diet coke, they would not have to worry about gaining weight. The women in the advert are even skinny to emphasize the above mentioned fact, and they look really happy. In regard to the Tommy Hilfiger advert for Bold, the individual in the advert is rather ripped and muscular, not to mention really attractiveness of his facial features. The intended message is that Bold is the scent of masculinity, and thus, if one would like to be considered as attractive, they would need to use that scent.

3. The Actual Message

In this case, the adverts featuring women had a common feature of thin women being paraded as attractive and thus worthy of being present in the adverts. Companies are known to create impressive brand images, and thus, when they select people to appear in their ads, they only choose the best. The fact that these companies are only using skinny women is an indicator that thinner bodies are more attractive as defined by the society. Similarly, muscular men are considered as more attractive while those who do not have abs and muscular arms are considered as less attractive by the societal standards as shown in the adverts (Nielsen, 2014). This is the actual message that the consumers get from these adverts.

B. Body Image in Advertisement

Four adverts were selected to show that men and women are equally defined by the media in terms of what body image is considered as beautiful, handsome or generally attractive. The first advert is the one for coke diet showing two skinny women. The woman in the Miss Dior advert is equally thin. While this may be a coincidence, it is unlikely that the public would be convinced that only skinny women get onto adverts by default. The general understanding would be that only skinny women are considered attractive in the mainstream media. Similarly, the men are being defined by their muscles and facial features creating a specified perception of what an attractive man should look like.

C. How Advertisements Influence the Perception of Body Image

Considering that the media is a reflection of the society, it can be expected that the body images featured in advertisements represent the various body images that can be found within the mainstream society. However, the reality is that the body image on advertisements is only a fraction of the actual body image of the average individual. Most people want to be famous or to be on TV, or on a billboard (Shiffman &Kanuk, 2010). Nevertheless, those who get on these billboards are chosen based on how attractive they are. Considering that only skinny or muscular people get on the billboards or on TV ads, it can be presumed that these are the only attractive people in the world. In such a way, the society ends up associating skinniness and muscles with attractiveness. The more the people are exposed to adverts that feature skinny or muscular people, the more they are convinced that being skinny or muscular is the same as being attractive. Thus, there is the association of body fat with ugliness or unattractiveness. 

Implications for Marketing Practice

In business, marketers are simply meant to improve sales volumes by increasing market awareness and generally getting the products to the consumers. However, within the society, these marketers continue to shape how individuals perceive themselves by determining the ideal body image based on the features in their advertisements. This means that marketers would have to stop ignoring the actual effects of advertisements in relation to defining social concepts such as beauty and attractiveness (Jobsky, 2013). Marketers need to feature all types of body images in their advertisements in order to enable all kinds of people to relate to the ads while also appreciating their uniqueness and redefining attractiveness in the mainstream society.

Recommendations and Supporting Rationale

Advertising may mostly be about creating market awareness and appealing to the customers in one way or another with the aim of influencing the purchasing practices of these customers, but it has a deeper impact on the society than just the created consumerist culture. To avoid the negative impacts that have currently been created through advertising, there are a number of things that can be done. First, advertisements need to be clear and with limited undertones for the definition of beauty as associated with a particular body type, size or skin color. This will ensure that people no longer read between the lines and associate skinny or light skinned or blonde with true beauty while condemning any deviation from these standards as ugliness. In addition, the advertisements should be versatile enough to accommodate a varied definition for perfection in regard to body image. This will allow everyone to appreciate their body type, size or skin color based on what they see in the media thus eliminating the limitations of a definitive body image when thinking of beauty. Lastly, the advertisements need to stop focusing on physical aspects of the individual and rather emphasize on personality and intelligence. This will limit the society from being too superficial and judging people based on how they look.