In the vast tapestry of human existence, perception is a multifaceted prism through which we view the world. What we consider normal or abnormal, desirable or undesirable, often hinges on how our senses interact with the signs and symbols presented to us. As a result, the way we perceive our own bodies is profoundly influenced by the external world, particularly advertising (Tiggemann 2011).
Advertisements are ubiquitous in our modern lives. The portrayal of body image in advertising is a complex tapestry interwoven with perceptions, expectations, and self-worth. This exploration delves into the intricate relationship between body image and advertising, focusing on the psychological, sociocultural, and ethical dimensions of this connection.
The Weight of Unrealistic Beauty: Battling Distorted Ideals in the Media Cacophony:
In the cacophony of media messages, the relentless chants of ‘Size Zero’, and ‘Lean is in’ echo, bombarding our minds with distorted ideals of beauty. As Richard Perloff discusses in his article, the pressure to conform to these unrealistic standards is felt by millions, each morning’s reflection becoming a battleground of self-acceptance. How often do we catch ourselves scrutinizing our bodies, wishing we resembled the flawless images plastered across billboards and magazines? The truth is, that the advertising industry has mastered the art of shaping perceptions, often at the cost of our self-esteem and mental well-being (Fardouly et al. 2015).
The Norm and the Normal Curve:
To comprehend the influence of advertising on body image, we must first consider the concept of the norm. The idea of the norm, as discussed by Lennard J. Davis in his introduction to The Disability Reader, is deeply rooted in the work of Sir Francis Galton, who introduced the notion of the “normal curve”. This curve, often referred to as the bell curve, represents a statistical distribution of human characteristics.
The normal curve places certain characteristics, such as height and weight, at the centre of the curve, defining them as the norm or the ideal. Deviations from this norm are often perceived as deviations from the ideal, leading to stigmatization and discrimination. In the context of body image, this concept plays a pivotal role. Advertisements frequently promote a narrow definition of the ideal body, reinforcing the concept of the norm.
The Mirage of Perfection: And the Emotional Toll
Every day, our screens flicker with images of impossibly slim, flawlessly airbrushed models. These visuals weave a tapestry of unattainable beauty standards, leaving us entranced and overwhelmed. We find ourselves ensnared in a cycle of comparison, measuring our worth against these digitally altered ideals (Tiggemann and Slater 2014). In this process, it’s all too easy to forget that these images are not authentic representations but meticulously edited illusions, far removed from the reality of any human being.
Groesz and colleagues warned us how the pursuit of the ‘perfect’ body takes an emotional toll while endless diets, rigorous exercise routines, and self-imposed starvation become the norm in the quest for the unattainable. The result? Discontentment, self-doubt, and, tragically, self-hate. We begin to measure our worth by the inches around our waist, forgetting the inherent value that resides within us, irrespective of our appearance.
One also needs to focus on how these issues occur through visual messaging. Advertising relies heavily on visual cues, and the imagery it employs often conveys societal ideals of beauty. A mixed study done by Shelly Grabe and colleagues presents a worrying hypothesis where women subjected to the aforementioned visual cues suffer from body dysmorphia, internalised ideals towards thinness and emotional dissatisfaction in general. These images are carefully curated and airbrushed to perfection, presenting an unattainable standard of beauty. As Perloff highlighted the advertisements overwhelmingly feature models and celebrities with a narrow range of body types, setting unrealistic benchmarks for the public. This visual messaging seeps into our subconscious, making us internalize these idealized images.
Numerous psychological studies, such as those conducted by Fardouly and colleagues and Tiggemann and Slater, have shown that exposure to idealized beauty in advertising leads to the internalisation of these ideals. People who are consistently exposed to such imagery often experience decreased body satisfaction and self-esteem issues. This process of internalization is exacerbated by the fact that these images are ubiquitous and unavoidable.
This ubiquitous presence of such ideals is present in our cognition of beauty standards largely because of the media we consume, willingly or unwillingly. The images of flawless beauty we see in advertisements are illusions, meticulously crafted by editing teams. Understanding this fact can free us from the grip of self-doubt, emphasizing that our worth isn’t tied to these impossible ideals. However, the normalisation of specific body types by the media fosters unrealistic beauty standards. High-end fashion brands favour ultra-thin models, excluding diverse body types and causing body dissatisfaction. Fitness ads showcase muscular men, leading to body dysmorphia and unhealthy habits. Cosmetic ads heavily edit faces, promoting an unattainable standard and damaging self-esteem. Anti-ageing product commercials imply ageing is undesirable, reinforcing ageist beliefs and lowering self-worth among older individuals. Through these examples, we can see how it becomes almost impossible to not visualise individuals who are absolutely idealistic in their bodily features. The “fact” that these images are fictitious is known to us but their impact on our cognition is very real—almost contrary to the fact itself.
About the author …
Hello! I am Gomathi, an economics graduate from Lady Doak College, Madurai, with a keen interest in rural economies. I’m a passionate enthusiast in the field of research, particularly focusing on rural communities. My curiosity extends beyond economics; I am also fascinated by the world of movies and aspire to delve into research related to this creative realm.