My written task is related to mass communication as it explores the distorted portrayal of beauty in commercial advertisements and the adverse effects it has on women. In class, we have analyzed the Dolce & Gabbana ad that displays woman’s beauty in a highly unnatural way. Apart from the overuse of make-up, it was also characterized by excessive application of graphic editors, which mask and modify natural beauty in a manner that deceives the viewers with unattainable aesthetic perfection.
The advertisement that I chose to focus on in the written task is the Victoria’s Secret ‘I Love My Body’ campaign, which demonstrates the emphasis that modern advertisements place on beauty-modifying technologies with the purpose of attracting more customers. My written task discusses the influence that such software-manipulated advertisements have on the public, particularly on women. I examine the extent of Photoshop use in commercial advertisements and trace how it urges women to set unrealistic goals in trying to imitate unnatural beauty.
For this task, I chose the format of opinion editorial for an informal magazine, Suitcase. Opinion editorials have to be short (typically, no longer than 750 words), clear and persuasive (Oregon State University). They need to focus on one main point, illustrating it with examples, drawing upon personal experience of the writer and providing specific recommendations. My target audience is young women who are interested in fashion tendencies and thus are exposed to a lot of commercial advertisements. The format of op-ed is perfectly suitable to address them directly and to persuade them that unnatural beauty should not be imitated. My approach to the text was successful as I fully conveyed the idea how baneful commercial advertisements can be both for physical and emotional health of women and adolescent girls, citing multiple examples and evidence to be more persuasive.
The last week, I came across an advertisement in Victoria’s Secret ‘I Love My Body’ campaign, featuring nearly-nude women in seductive poses. The emphasis on sexuality has recently gone viral in advertisement industry and it can barely be surprising. However, the problem is that, while the tempting beauty of the models is undeniably attractive, it is also desperately untrue. “Oh hey, those Victoria’s Secret models are fat, ugly and disgusting”, said no one ever. Their true beauty, though, is thoroughly hidden behind the graphic layers imposed in various programs, such as Photoshop.
I would be curious to look at the Victoria’s Secret advertisement if they posed women with normal and realistic body proportions. There are many images on the web that show how photos have been edited for the public to hide many of the ‘unattractive’ face and body features of the models. A great example of this is the Dove “Evolution” commercial, which shows the editing process of a photo before it is displayed all around the world. It is only possible to hypothesize how distant the unedited picture would be from the final commercial…and how potentially comforting it might be for women!
Graphic post-production is used to convincingly show “how the end result of consumption of a product would look, just like how Victoria’s Secret products would look on a person” (Zhang). However, these deceitful techniques position women in an inappropriate manner, making them look more attractive for the customers, as if they were cars or gadgets. In 2011, Esquire magazine editor Alex Bilmes was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “The women that we feature in the magazine are ornamental. I could lie to you if you want and say we are interested in their brains as well. We are not.
They are objectified… We provide pictures of girls in the same way we provide pictures of cool cars. It is ornamental. Women’s magazines do the same thing” (Zhang). He sincerely admits that women are objectified in advertisements, rather than treated as human beings. At the same time, hundreds of other editors do not pay any attention to the humiliation of women in the advertisement industry. Recently, a few advertisements were banned in the UK, due to their excessive use of software and, perhaps, this is a viable way to fight the tendency for idealization and objectification of women.
Advertisements, though, can be offensive to women even when they do not exploit the theme of sexuality. The campaign of Budweiser Budvar depicts a young woman with a slogan, “When the average Czech girl looks like this, who the hell needs alcohol.” Even though the ad is for a good cause (to stop men from binge drinking), the statistical terms it uses make it ambiguous. A Czech woman might ask herself: “If an average woman in Czech Republic looks like this, am I under-average?” Therefore, the advertisement is quite insensitive to women who do not match the standards of beauty that it sets.
The portrayal and presentation of beauty in advertisements has a deep effect on women by forming the stereotypes that they feel impelled to follow. While three decades ago standard-setting Playboy models proudly demonstrated their voluptuous bodies, today their forms would be called flabby, at the very least (Klein 43). Thus, the ideals are constantly evolving, but why are they evolving toward dystrophic bodies only? Is it somehow aligned with men’s desires? A quick survey of men of the street would convincingly show you that their tastes differ so much that it is not reasonable at all to chase a single ideal. Victoria’s Secret models may look like they are on the verge of becoming anorexic, but young women still strive for that ‘ideal body’ that the media has drilled into their heads.
To tell you the truth, when looking on the Victoria’s Secret advert, I also caught myself thinking that I needed to lose five kilos, while the Budweiser Budvar advert made me want to get a plastic surgery. For some women, there is a very short distance from desire to intention and action: they immediately go on the strictest diet and start exhausting themselves with exercises to lose those fives kilos and get the figure of their dream. And so the journey of different eating disorders begins, starting from bulimia and ending with anorexia.
The tendency toward imitation of beauty standards is particularly dangerous when we think about adolescent girls who are willing to ruin their health just to look as thin as the models they see every day in glossy magazines. However, most importantly, idealized advertisements are harmful to women’s emotional health, as women are constantly reminded that they should not accept their appearance as it is. Seeing lanky and beaming models all around them, women gradually lose their confidence and breed inferiority complex, which can cause deep psychological problems.
How is it possible to “love your own body” as the Victoria’s Secret advertisement suggests, when the models wear underwear of practically size zero? (“A Lotus Grows in Brooklyn”). Even though the ad portrays women of different races, it does not hide the fact that their look has been seriously modified. The wide use of technological modification in advertisements sets distorted standards of beauty that thousands of average women are still eager to follow. Let us remember that we can still be beautiful even with two kilos of excessive weight or with wrinkles on the face! We can hardly remain beautiful, though, when we develop anorexia from trying to be like one of those Photoshop-manipulated alien models…