The role of women in advertising has remained a contentious issue in the contemporary society. For many years, advertisers have used women as advertising objects thus triggering debates and research interest to unravel the unknown truth behind women and advertising. With most adverts carrying the image of women, it is clear that they usually have an impact on viewers in terms of perception towards self-image.
Needless to mention, all media channels like television, magazines and even the internet are full of adverts carrying the image of a woman (Ohio State University, 2011).
Even though this is never a concern to advertisers and marketers, it has been found that women usually get affected by such media images and influence their perception towards self-esteem. In this regard, this paper explores the relationship between advertising and body image satisfaction.
The concept of body image and how women are portrayed in the media has continuously drawn the attention of people from all walks of life, including authors, scholars and researchers.
In understanding this concept, they have dedicated their time and resources in documenting their findings in form of books, journals and internet articles for future reference and academic edification. This segment synthesizes findings from an array of reputable authors who have broadly covered the topic of advertising and body image satisfaction in women.
What is body image? From a psychological point of view, body image refers to one’s attitude towards own body with regard to sexual attractiveness and aesthetics. (Festinger, 1957).
The phrase was first coined in 1935 by a neurologist from Australia in an article which he described the image and appearance of the human body and how it is viewed by the society. Although the society has always placed a lot of emphasis on beauty, individual’s perception over their bodies may not necessarily match the standards of the society.
Body image is therefore thought to be a product of several aspects, which define human identity (Clay, Vignoles & Dittmar, 2005). These aspects include but not limited to personalities, individual experiences and other forces, which could either be cultural or social.
As a result, the sense of physical appearance usually can transform body image in relation to other people or the ideal image recognized by the society (Manasia, 2011). It therefore follows that an individual’s perception may not necessarily reflect other people’s point of view. The ultimate impact of this scenario is either a case of satisfaction or dissatisfaction depending on an individual’s body rating.
Due to high value attached to body image and sexualization of women, there has been increasing anxiety related to body image around the world. As a sensitive issue that revolves around gender, women are considered more vulnerable to body image anxiety as compared to their male counterparts.
This high concern among women is dangerous since it may result into personality disorders and other health-related issues (Manasia, 2011).
For instance, people who view themselves negatively are likely to engage several options like cosmetics and special dieting with an aim of achieving the desired image. Since no guarantee is given for the efficacy of such options, it is worth noting that this approach may lead to severe cases like scorched skin, eating disorders and overall low esteem.
As mentioned above, matters of self-image mainly affect women in the society hence leading to altered self-esteem. In general, body image cannot be delinked from self-image. Negative body image always makes a woman to lose her inner self-worth.
This means that a person would become less valuable in her own eyes based on judgmental assumptions made from their perceptions. Self-esteem is an essential necessity for both men and women (Maddox, 2005).
However, when women view themselves negatively based on body image, the pride within themselves gets eroded to extreme levels that may cause one to lose friends before disconnecting from the social world. This mainly occurs due to body image dissatisfaction.
People with a higher self-esteem usually enjoy life to the fullest, make friends easily, manage their feelings and behavior and develop an overall acceptance of who they are (Ohio State University, 2011).
Being an important aspect of human life, it is imperative for the society to focus on developing a positive sense of being and encourage women to have a positive self image regardless of what may be considered as a perfect image.
It augments body satisfaction and behavior personality as individuals are able to interact freely without putting a lot of concern on how they appear physically (Muscat, 2011). While these efforts are on, it is essential to point out the role of media in influencing personality image and ability of a person to accept who they are and develop an inner positive drive.
Body image and media
For a very long time, media has portrayed the image of women negatively or different from what the society considers as a standard image. This is common in advertising where most adverts carry images of women that end up affecting the overall body satisfaction among women.
According to Manasia 2011, mass media affects the image of women in a wide range of ways. This occurs through the use of common technologies, which are applied in advertising, and they range from billboards, television, magazines and the internet.
In a 2011 research explaining the impact of mass media on body image, Manasia wonders whether mass media has become the beholder of beauty in the contemporary society.
The research affirms that there is substantive evidence indicating that physical appearance of women is quite important in dictating the behavior of women and their average self-image (Manasia, 2011). In this study, it is undoubtedly clear that media has strong influence in enhancing body satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
Many research findings support the hypothesis of this research arguing that most women around the world find image to be influential in their lives as it determines the manner in which they interact with others, perceive themselves and find satisfaction or dissatisfaction within (Kacey, n.d.).
It filters down to the level of social acceptability as they feel recognized in terns of their body image. Unlike body satisfaction which most women find satisfaction, dissatisfaction can lead to serious withdrawal problems among women.
In analyzing this issue, it is equally important to consider several aspects of beauty as portrayed by the media and advertising companies. Small sized-women are usually favored compared to average or bigger sizes.
In such a case, women who find themselves within the favored category derive significant satisfaction in themselves as they are considered perfect (Media Awareness Network, 2010). On the other hand, women who may have a different body size tend to draw backwards with the fear of rejection due to perceived deviation from what is considered to be perfect in the society.
This implies that adverts, which put a lot of emphasis on body size leave the viewer with a distorted mind concerning acceptable standards of beauty and perfection. However, satisfaction or dissatisfaction depends on the level of personal investment towards physical image (Kilbourne, 2011).
In other words, this argument emphasizes the fact that the impact of body image in advertising affects women differently depending on an individual’s focus and concern over personal image.
Other researches done further indicated that most women prefer turning to magazines, billboards and television adverts, which promote thinness as the ideal body figure to be recognized (Markey, Markey & Birch, 2004).
This seems to be personal-induced torture since some women get obsessed and lured to such images even when they fall outside the ideal bracket of beauty being emphasized by advertisers and other media companies.
When women are exposed to images and video ads, which depict a particular attribute of beauty, they usually get angrier and depressed than before they interacted with the material. With these images dominating fashion magazines around the world, one wonders why women still purchase them, since they cause some level of body dissatisfaction (Biagi, 2011).
According to Muscatell 2011, TV and magazines are filled with images that depict beauty and perfection among women. However, the main question revolves around the way beauty is represented. These images display ultra-thin women and other celebrities appearing with flawless body images.
With regards to billboard adverts, Muscatell argues that it is possible for one to be left with body images in the mind while driving down city streets as billboards dominate all forms of ads on major roads and highways.
In a 2011 article, Muscatell is concerned with the direction which advertising companies have taken and the way they define beauty. His main concern is the most probable way of adopting in order to correct the trend which continues to affect women psychologically as some of the sizes and figures, which are considered ideal seem to be unrealistic and unhealthy (Muscat, 2011).
As further noted by authors, most women get dissatisfied when exposed to adverts in magazines, which support ultra-thin images. This may cause a feeling of lowliness as people imagine being unfit in the society and irrelevant in the societal context of beauty.
Importantly, issues of satisfaction and dissatisfaction adversely affect women below the age of nineteen years as compared to adults and mature women (Kirsh, 2009). This is because young women are more concerned with body image and may suffer severely in an attempt to attain the size being perceived as acceptable by the media.
For young women who may have this size, they also derive a lot of body image satisfaction as they may feel more acceptable, beautiful and recognizable in the society.
On the contrary, those that do not meet perceived standards end up frustrated and may resort to unhealthy and dangerous means of attaining perceived duty. As a result, many develop eating disorders like bulimia and nervosa (Cortese, 2008).
While many women get affected by adverts, which depict the body image, it is sometimes impossible to avoid the impact of adverts. How common are adverts of this nature? Regardless of the nature of products being marketed, women are commonly represented in ads (Grogan, 2008). Commercials ranging from foodstuffs to electronics carry the image of women with emphasis on particular attributes of beauty like color and size.
Additionally, our exposure to the media makes it impossible to avoid these adverts. How often do women visit the internet, watch TV or even drive on the streets? It is clear that the current environment is under significant influence of media that women who may choose to avoid fashion magazines may still suffer the impact of media adverts and get affected emotionally (Ussher, 2000).
Social construction theory
The broadness of this theory covers a wide range of issues from economic to a person’s eating behavior at home. According to this theory, our lives are shaped depending on daily experiences which emanate from effects of numerous social agreements, shared social actions and several institutional practices. As a result, many things which are ignored and taken for granted are always results of human inter-subjectivity.
On this basis, a social construct denotes anything in existence as a result of social interactions and not objective reality. However, these components do exists as integral elements of our social life. Other social constructionists describe social constructs as epistemologically objective since they are objects which have meaning in our social lives.
Additionally, social reality is rooted in human behavior, institutional practices, culture and different languages. From research carried out by different experts and psychologists around the world, it is evident that women get more affected by adverts than men. This could be explained from different perspectives including the way the society defines women as well as what they are expected to become in life.
Through social construction of reality and construction theories, societies have developed norms and standards from a wide range of choices. In other words, whatever that is represented through adverts is not the inherent approach in describing body image but rather an adopted approach that has been adopted through countless choices (Berger & Luckmann, 1991).
In this understanding, social constructionists oppose essentialism, which basically emphasizes the need to observe natural rules as opposed to the creation of perceived social reality that seeks to justify why certain things have to be done in a different way from what is considered as a norm (Berger & Luckmann, 1991).
In relating this theory to women representation in adverts and satisfaction level, it suffices to mention that the contemporary society has realized the existence of several options and variables that could be used in measure beauty besides accepted ones. This makes it frustrating for women who do not meet the perceived standards since many get obsessed to conforming to the patterns of the world as compared to appreciating what they are.
Body image satisfaction in women as influenced by adverts can also be explained using the cultivation theory which expounds on the long-term effects of watching television.
Sociologists posit that television is a form of mass media, which has the capacity of binding societies and groups of people together through common behavior, ethics and stances (Berger & Luckmann, 1991). Through cumulative impact of exposure to TV, victims like children accept certain trends, which begin shaping their lives with time.
The same case applies to adverts and body image satisfaction in women. For a very long time, ultra-slim bodies in women with small tummies have been considered as core attributes of beauty in the society. In other words, these elements are widely acceptable and most people work towards attaining these cultivated features.
When these images are carried in adverts on billboards, the internet and other advertising channels, they become widely acceptable and influential. As a result women suffer from body image dissatisfaction if they are not favored or derive a lot of satisfaction.
From a social science perspective, framing theory suggests that the exact manner in which something is presented to the public usually has significant influence on the choices made by affected people.
It is viewed as an important approach as opposed to rational choice theory which describes how people strive to make rational choices in life regardless of the nature of the data given for analysis. It is important to note that communication plays a major role in framing theory because it evokes conceptual and moral frames through language.
Additionally, frames form vital systems in the community which have to be built for a long period of time. As an art, framing can be essential when coupled with cognitive linguistics. Framing is closely related to agenda-setting although it focuses on the immediate issues at hand rather than an entire topic of research.
According to framing theorists, the media usually places certain events within some space which has meaning as a way of drawing the public attention. As a result, the media is able to control the manner in which audience analyzes issues and makes choices.
Framing therefore revolves around how certain information is covered by the media and the way in which people choose to digest it. Frames influence people’s attitudes towards a given item being featured in the media.
Framing theorists argue that systems are usually developed after some time. This is common in explaining the effects of media to the society. It follows that systems formed through framing and get accepted and assimilated as true and recommended standards (Scheufele, 1999).
Additionally, this theory emphasizes the manner in which different items are presented. This presentation usually has impact on people or individuals interacting with it.
In seeking social reality, women get influenced by representation of body image through adverts. As an acceptable system, many strive to mimic these standards while others get discouraged and dissatisfied with their body images as they may not measure up to the acceptable standards of beauty.
Dealing with dissatisfaction
It is clear that representation of women through adverts has a profound impact on their perception towards their bodies and causes them to get flooded with negative mood and low self-esteem (Poveromo & Hofstra University, 2007). As seen in the above segments of analysis, this may lead to social withdrawal and disconnection, emotional disability and poor eating habits among other adverse effects.
Consequently, there is every need to help women to develop and nurture their self-worthiness regardless of how body images are represented through commercial ads. Through psychological efforts, suggestions have been put forth do deal with dissatisfaction among women emanating from negative media representation.
One of these ways is cognitive dissonance. By definition, it refers to holding conflicting positions simultaneously (Festinger, 1957). This is common when a person believes that physical exercising is important but fails to make any efforts to get to the gym. In this approach, people are usually advised to alleviate their psychological discomfort by making sober and sound decisions.
For the cited scenario, it would be recommendable for the person to go to the gym in order to stay physically fit or ignore and assume that exercising was not that important.
Besides being supported by advertising companies, women ought to be informed that being heavy is healthier than struggling to become ultra-slim (Wykes & Gunter, 2005). In so doing, victims are likely to have a different attitude towards their bodies and maintain a positive self-image.
Future research questions
In addressing future interests, researches should focus on answering the following research issues:
- How to prevent dissatisfaction caused by negative body representation of women in adverts.
- Why men are rarely affected by adverts with regard to body dissatisfaction.
Conclusion and recommendations
It is more evident than not that media has an array of effects on the society. Even though some people argue that the impact of media cannot be quantified, its influence has far-reaching effects. Of significance is the manner in which our behaviors get transformed by emulating celebs and other prominent people dominating the media.
This is usually a perceived assumption that media personalities are perfect in character (Cohen, 2006). The same argument is used by advertising companies to woo customers. By making adverts associated with certain individuals, psychologists have proven that people get easily swayed in decision-making, a concept that marketers take capitalize.
However, common representation of women body image in ads has negative effects. Women get satisfied or dissatisfied depending on whether the image portrayed favors them or not. Dissatisfaction results into other unhealthy and fatal cases like personality disorders and change of behavior.
On the other hand, satisfaction may influence the society to believe that a certain trend is acceptable and worth nurturing (Tiggemann & Slater, 2003). This research has supported the hypothesis that advertising has a significant impact on body image satisfaction in women.
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