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Examining The Magazine And Advertising Culture Media Essay

“Advertising is inescapable and ubiquitous in Northern/Western societies,” (Gill, 2007, pp73). In today’s media culture, we are constantly bombarded with images of the so-called perfect woman that our perceptions of what our bodies should look like are changing. Advertisers are therefore setting the standard of which we begin to feel we must live up to, giving them a great deal of power over us as an audience as well as a consumer. The visual image is a focal point to any advertisement in both television and print media. Advertisers use this image to communicate a message to their audience and attract consumers, telling us to buy the latest products that will apparently enhance our appearance in some way. We are brainwashed into thinking there is always room for improvement on our bodies when trying to achieve this unattainable “ideal body image” (Grogan, 2008, pp.121) that we are shown. In such advertisements, women are normally shown in a sexual or subordinate manner, unrealistically thin and without imperfections. This is targeting the male gaze (Mulvey, 1989) and female insecurities simultaneously. Many researchers have attempted to analyse and identify the effects of such media consumption and the changing perceptions of the body, including recent academic research from Bernadette Wegenstein in her text Getting Under the Skin (2006), and her most recent theory on The Cosmetic Gaze. (See chapter 1).

The female body has always been under observation, looking all the way back to the Renaissance and Titians’ painting, The Venus of Urbino in 1538(See figure 1). Back then the perception of beauty was much different from today. They celebrated the more voluptuous woman and what would be regarded today as overweight, through paintings like that of Titians’ Venus. Through decades of depicting women, from Renaissance paintings to modern day advertising, the perception of the perfect female body has changed significantly. The desired female form in today’s media controlled society is usually portrayed in advertising as young, tall, slender and unblemished, of which Anthony Cortese defines as the “Provocateur”(Cortese, 2008, pp.59), which is virtually unachievable to most ordinary women. Society is therefore telling them that, if they do not attain this image then, they are not regarded as beautiful or attractive. Women are then trapped in this beauty myth (Wolf, 2002), obsessed with achieving this cultural ideology. However, with obsession over attaining such an image, it often leaves women with insecurities, making them feel even worse about how they actually look, when in reality they do not need to change themselves at all.

Women are shown in many ways through advertising. One advertisement I have analysed is from a Dolce and Gabbana campaign back in 2007(see figure 2). This particular campaign caused much controversy over its racy content where a shirtless man is shown pinning a woman down by her wrists with four other men watching. The image is practically glorifying aggressive behaviour towards women with its overt portrayal of dominance and near rape. Advertisements like this one are telling us it is acceptable for men to treat women with such aggression. The ‘male gaze’(Mulvey, 1989) is the observation in which this image is seen through depicting the sexual objectification of the woman, who with her posture and absent facial expression is appealing to the average man. It is putting male dominance over female passivity which is subconsciously telling us this is the way it should be. Cortese states how “ads seem to seep quietly into the back room of our consciousness.”(Cortese, 2008, pp.38). With consumers spending only seconds looking at advertisements, we unknowingly accept this ideology we are shown.

Through media images and ideologies, women are taught to looks at their bodies as an object, (Kilbourne, 1999). Women’s bodies are constantly used to sell products in advertising. We will see them selling everything from cars to perfume or cologne, in the most seductive of images. Although most of the time these women are not naturally what is considered, perfect. Advertisers will enhance their appearance with computer technology so any blemishes on their complexion or cellulite on their thighs are erased, with the waists taken in and the breasts enlarged. Young girls are probably the most affected by this fabricated appearance as they look through magazines and are seeing their role models in advertisements and are thinking, this is what it takes to be successful; this is what we must look like. When looking at these unrealistic images, women then “perceive imperfections as limiting their power and nullifying their achievements,” (Maine, 2000, pp.81). Many feminists, like this have often argued about how women are oppressed through this objectification within this patriarchal social structure for many years. This air-brushed and retouched image we are seeing in advertising and magazines is ultimately enforcing this ideal. As the reader, we are invited to study this flawless body, believing that this is the ideal we must achieve in being able to have a happy and well rounded life. The ideology is telling us we will not get that job, or we will not get that husband or ultimately achieve that happiness in life with acceptance in society until we look like this.

Kilbourne states in Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders, how “Advertising often reduces the political to the personal. We are told that all we need to do is use the right products...We must constantly perfect and change ourselves, working for self-improvement rather than societal change.” (Kilbourne, 1996, pp.405) To feel beautiful and happy in their bodies women use self-improvement as their primary goal as this is what is shown to them through the media. What they do not realise is that this idea of beauty that is enforced on them through the media is unattainable, because the images themselves are in fact false representations, so we buy the products they are endorsing. These images are what change society’s perceptions of the body and this is what we should really be trying to work on changing.

The objectification of women has always been an issue for us. Looking back to the 1920’s advertisements with the classic pin-up girl or the homemaker, both an ideology targeted at men. Women were given the role of either the sex object or the homemaker or sometimes both, a service us women provided to the man. During the wartime period, the pin up was the object of all male fantasies, most famously the ‘Varga girl’ shown in Esquire magazine (see figure 3). The ‘Varga Girl’ of the 1940s gave American soldiers a certain pleasure while away at war. The girls radiated sexuality and “blended allure with patriotic spirit” (McEuan, 2011, pp.86). The posture and facial expressions of the Varga girl, created this feminine ideal which men idealised. In these particular two images, you can see how her legs resemble that of the vaudeville dancers, and these legs of the pin-up became legendary. Betty Grable became one of the most famous pin-up girls of World War II with her pin-up photograph taken in 1943 that made her legs the most famous in Hollywood and most worship by soldiers. During the war, this image and others like it would be found amongst magazines, post cards, newspapers as well as in soldier’s pockets. It was the new idealised image of what women should look like with a small waist, long legs and large breasts, which are the same features that we idealise in today’s society only in a different style that has changed throughout the years.

When looking through women’s ‘glossy magazines’ as they have become known, they are full of articles and images telling us what it takes to be the perfect woman focusing on physical self improvement and sexuality. They are effectively promoting a “homogenised ideal of feminine beauty.”(Blood, 2005, pp.64) Advertising and editorial content are what make up a magazine. However more recently, advertising has taken up a much larger percentage of the magazine as it is also what forms most articles to sell products. The image we see on covers of these magazines gives women an image to aspire to. We want to look like this and for a moment, these magazines make us believe we can, by using retouched advertising images that have taken hours to create and articles promoting diet and fitness, an example would be ‘How to get a better body in 5 days!’. With the images and articles put together in a single editorial, not only are they influencing the reader with words but using the images as an example of what they will turn out like if you follow these rules. Glossy magazines also have a habit of producing negativity towards the larger female body (see figure 4). Women are to be shocked by the cellulite and over-weight proportions of these celebrities. They seem to say 'God forbid you begin to mature and produce wrinkles on your face'.. “The fear of aging is stimulated by the glossy women’s magazines and driven by advertisers of the multitude of products claiming age-delaying or even age-reversing properties.” (Macdonald, 1995, pp.195). Even women who are completely healthy and do not need to change their appearance want to use these methods that the magazines are suggesting. It’s giving women a constant feeling of displeasure in the way they look which has been referred to as “normative discontent” (Rodin, Silber-stein & Striegel-Moore, 1985, pp.267) (see chapter 3). The hegemonic forces driving this discourse are creating unrealistic expectations for women to live by which ultimately have negative effects on women’s perceptions and the actions they take in achieving these perceptions.

Men’s magazines are infamous for sexually objectifying women in both editorial content and its advertising. Even though our culture today is much more ethnically diverse on the covers of magazines, this just means that more types of women are being objectified in those magazines. Promoting the ‘laddish’ lifestyle that has become apparent in more recent culture of “booze, birds and football” (Pilcher, 1999, pp.128), magazines such as, FHM , GQ and Nuts are reaffirming the male dominated ideal. In a cover image taken from Nuts magazine (see figure 5) it is showing Gemma Merna, a well known actress on television soap opera, Hollyoaks, with the tag line ‘Bra-bustingly brilliant!’. She is shown in black lingerie in a sexually alluring pose. Her eyes are looking at the reader, in a magnetising, ‘come hither’ stare, her breast are pushed up, and her skin is tanned and body is thin. This is all produced for the male reader and as feminists have said, these types of media images are always directed at men. John Berger had the same argument in Ways of Seeing, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”(Berger, 1972, pp.47) So what this ideal is telling us is that as women are being subjected to this gaze and consequently are improving their appearance so that they will be looked at by men. This male attention is telling them that they look good and therefore giving them the gratification they are working towards rather than being happy in their own self-gratification. Even the advertisements in men’s magazines like ‘Nuts’ are implying sex so that they can sell the product to the target reader. This discourse is changing what men believe to be real. Looking at these ideals, it connects with Butler’s theory on how sexed bodies as discursive constructions, so “bodies will be indissociable from the regulatory norms that govern their materialization and the signification of those material effects.”(Butler, 1993, pp.2)

In images found in both advertising and glossy magazines, the female body is either portrayed as a domestic or a sexual fantasy. Either way, they still have the universal body image and measurements of the Barbie Doll. Seeing these images every day, women are under constant observation and judgement from the opposite sex but also themselves. With advertising, they prey on insecurities, “The spectator-buyer s meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself.” (Berger, 1972, pp.134) With such technology and such idealised imagery, women of this century are faced with much harder ideals of the female body to achieve than those of the last. This has resulted in mental and physical problems amongst women of today.

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