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Imagine a picture of an average-sized woman on the cover of Vogue; an accurate depiction of American women. She would have curves, her hair would be a little dry and her collarbone would probably be invisible. Well, seeing that happening would be something new! No, no, no, advertisers know that beauty and thinness sell. But with rising cases of anorexia and bulimia in this country, even among celebrities who are also forced to conform to this stereotype, one has to start to wonder: is the extra money worth the damage these images cause to society?
If you take a look at the front covers of the most of the fashion magazines, you wouldn’t be surprised to find an array of super-thin models staring out from the glossy page with emaciated, sunken faces and protruding, skeletal hipbones. They are women with stick-thin arms and legs and a very sharp, prominent collarbone straddling the shoulders.
These images are not shocking to readers of such magazines: they are the norm. One common stereotype swarms the pages of women’s magazines: To be beautiful, you must be tall, tan, blonde and thin. Headlines pop from flashy covers: “How to Lose 20 Lbs. in 10 Days or Less” and “150 Ways to Look and Feel more beautiful”. Within the pages of these magazines, women are fed an artificial image of beauty. They are bombarded with advertisements for shiny cars, sleek cell phones, swoon-worthy shoes and glittery cosmetics. The ads provide the same, ridiculous notion that if you buy the company’s product you will look as beautiful as the young, sweat-drenched, bronze beauty selling it. But beauty is subjective and cannot be defined by a few key attributes. However, women and girls of all ages are fed this image of artificiality and therefore, strive for something that is essentially unattainable.
The negative, unhealthy, artificial images projected in fashion and beauty related ads combined with the number of ads women are exposed to daily is a dangerous combination. According to the Media Awareness Network, “research indicates that exposure to images of thin, young, air-brushed female bodies is linked to depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits in women and girls.”
But perhaps the most depressing issue is that the younger the viewer of these ads, the more vulnerable she is to experiencing life-altering damage to her self esteem and body image. The problems start earlier than anyone would like to admit. A study published in the Wall Street Journal surveyed students in four Chicago-area schools and discovered that more than half of the fourth-grade girls surveyed were dieting! Teen Magazine also reported in 2003 that 35 percent of girls ages 6 to 12 have admitted to dieting at least once and 50 to 70 percent of girls who are average weight believe themselves to be overweight. It doesn’t seem normal for such young girls to be concerned about adult issues like weight, but with images of skinny, beautiful women permeating every inch of the media that surrounds them on a daily basis, body image issues strike early. Young girls who should be playing with dollhouses are instead counting the calories in their lunchboxes.
But young girls are obviously not the only age group affected. Adolescents are perhaps the most targeted by the media because of their amount of disposable income. Teens have after school jobs and virtually no bills to pay, so advertisers take advantage of this. When girls see ads featuring flawless beauties like Kate Moss, they believe that if they spend their money on the products directed at them, they will, too, be flawless. How can a girl face her peers if she’s the only one in class without the latest RAZR mobile? Or what if she can’t fit into the Express skinny jeans that everyone is wearing? Social suicide.
There seems to be only one logical way to correct this problem: Eliminate, or at the very least, cut back on using models in advertisements that contribute to this stereotype. Countries that have put a ban on models with a BMI of below 18 are headed in the right direction. But, in order to create some real effect, major changes need to happen in advertising.