I’ve written quite a lot about body image recently, including a piece on Real Beauty andEndangered Species Women, as well as the Just As You Are page, which has been on this site for a number of years.
A few days ago, I came across The National Organisation of Women’s Love Your Body Campaign. Their major concern is how advertisers target women and young girls by making us feel inadequate, one of my pet peeves. They have named October 19th as Love Your Body Day, in the hope of raising awareness of how we are being marketed to, and to encourage us to feel better about ourselves.
I downloaded their PDF presentation of Sex, Stereotypes and Beauty, The ABCs and Ds of Commercial Images of Women, and I confess I was shocked. (If you decide to download it too, please watch it first before sharing it with anyone under the age of 18.) Of course, most people are aware that advertisers promote a standard of beauty that doesn’t come easily to most of us, and that costs money. It’s their job. However, more and more, they are using photographically altered, unrealistic images to make us feel utterly inadequate. It’s causing women to hate themselves, and exacerbating an already alarming rate of anorexia and bulimia.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy reading a good glossy magazine, and there are beauty products I love, many of which I have endorsed here, that I honestly believe do what they promise to. They help me to enhance my appearance and in doing so, increase my confidence. We all need a bit of help from time to time. But many advertisers would have us believe that there is not a single part of our bodies that does not need improvement, and to be even barely acceptable, we need not only to fundamentally change how we look, but we also need to spend money – a lot of money. They also promote an unrealistic and even offensive image of women and femininity.
We are often portrayed as inherently vulnerable, promiscuous or as exhibitionists. I would not by any stretch of the imagination consider myself to be a prude, but more and more I am aware of imagery being used in mainstream advertising that only a few years ago would have been considered downright pornographic. Women are pictured wearing skimpy underwear, legs akimbo, and we think nothing of seeing naked or scantily clad women in photographic advertising, even on billboards. The UK advertising standards agency are to soon begin enforcing a ban on sexually suggestive billboards near to schools, but what are our children looking at when they are elsewhere?
How are our sons growing up to view women? Are we unwittingly allowing a generation to grow up seeing women as vulnerable, as possessions, as a collection of body parts, worthless unless ‘perfect’? No matter what we teach our children by our words and actions, if they are being assailed by conflicting messages everywhere they look, it’s going to be hard to give them a realistic idea of what women are really like in the flesh. How do we begin to teach our sons to respect women, regardless of their height, size, colour, age or what they wear, if they grow up on a steady diet of photographically altered, unrealistically tall waifs with perfectly coiffed hair?
And how do we stop the madness? Even some of the products I love use edgy advertising that makes me uncomfortable. For example, Tom Ford, often reported in the press as an amazing designer who celebrates women of all shapes and ages, uses some very alarming images in his advertising. Whilst I salute his use of older models on the catwalk, naked, often compromised, women are prevalent in his print ads. A recent perfume advertisement featured the completely hairless nether regions of a woman with a perfume bottle laid against them in an utterly phallic position. You didn’t see the rest of the woman – she didn’t have a face – it was literally just her pubic area and the top of her legs. And that’s before we go on to the advertisement featuring just breasts being pushed together over a perfume bottle, and a wide open doll like mouth – no nose or eyes – just the mouth. Seriously!
Something has to give, and we are the place it can start.
If advertising offends us we need to complain to the companies concerned and to the appropriate authorities. (In the UK, this is the Advertising Standards Agency.)
We need to vote with our custom, and refuse to buy from companies whose advertising truly offends us. Equally, we need to support the brands that do promote a healthy images.
We need to point out unrealistic advertising to our children, explaining why it is unrealistic, and making them aware of how images can be photographically altered. We also need to discuss why advertisers do this, and that the heart of all advertising is to make us feel we needtheir products so that we spend our money on them.
I encourage you to visit The NOW Love Your Body Campaign website, and to discuss this issue with your friends, family and your kids. Mark Love Your Body Day in your calendar and get involved if you can. Big brands have a lot of influence in the world, but as consumers, we hold the ultimate power. Let’s encourage advertisers to embrace more inclusive, ethical and realistic images in their marketing campaigns.
Most of all, we need to remember – always – that we are good enough just as we are.