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Effects of Advertising on Body Image

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2686 words Published: 10th Apr 2019

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As a society, we put too much emphasis on what we see in advertisements. Advertising agencies target our emotional state because advertising is a huge money maker. By focusing on our senses, it drives us to buy products in order to have a sense of perfection, and for those who are not confident, they are fall victim to print advertisements. 

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The purpose of this paper is to take a closer look at how print advertisements can not only change a woman’s perception of body image, but to influence their lives. If we buy products, will they make us more confident? Will we look as good as the models in the print advertisements?  Do we, as women, have body image issues that we need to work on? These are questions that should be answered in order to rationalize how think when it comes to body image.

There are negative effects on women in advertising. Examples would be ageism, sexual exploitation, and body appearance. Many young females look at print ads and want to look like what they see in magazines and online. For many young females who have distorted body image issues, they take on unhealthy forms of controlling their weight. For consumers who view these print advertisements, it can be detrimental to their health. All consumers see are excessively skinny models and the downside of seeing it can be diseases such as anorexia or bulimia. Models are known in society to be underweight. When we see these models in advertisements, we don’t think, “Wow, she needs to eat more.” Women view these pictures as wanting to be like them.

Ageism is another aspect of negativism in advertising. Consumers want to feel and look young. Beauty is perceived as being young and wrinkle-free. Models in many advertisements are in the late teens and early twenties and give a false perception of how we should look at different stages of life. Consumers are finding new ways of making themselves look younger. Botox, cosmetic surgery, and other forms of body enhancements are on the rise for many consumers. Financing is making it more affordable to have procedures done in order to make someone look younger. The problem with all the cosmetic surgery is that once people start seeing these doctors, they continue to do it because of body distortion. All ages of women want to improve their appearance. They want to feel beautiful and if that means altering their appearance medically, most women would do it.

Another issue with women in print advertising is that women are being exploited sexually. Because sexuality sells in advertising, many advertising agencies use sexuality to sell products and services. Many models wear next to nothing, showing their cleavage, legs, or other body parts. Having little to nothing on allows consumers to imagine what these models look like. It makes women more desirable to look at and gives a false sense that these women always look that way. It can give men a false reality that all women are sex objects, which can lead to more troubling situations such as abuse, sexual exploitation, and stalking.

As a society, we place too much emphasis on how we look. We all want to look better or have a sense of being perfect, but it is not realistic when we look at print advertisements. Our body appearance, weight, and flaws are what make us self-conscious or uncomfortable with our appearance. “Print advertising frequently employs multiple images with a single advertisement, each of which is capable of generating an affective response” (Rafi, Chowdhury, Olsen, & Pracejus, 2008). It doesn’t matter if there are negative and positive images in a print advertisement, as long as the responses are positive and the messages are portrayed. According to Putrevu, “Women have superior affect and purchase intent toward advertisements that are verbal, harmonious, complex, and category-oriented” (59). Women view print advertisements with their senses. Women want beauty and perfection because print advertisements give us a sense of what we should look like. By allowing us to feel this way, women buy products they see in print advertisements in order to get a form of satisfaction on their image.

I conducted a short study of three women in my family from the age of 16 to 44. I wanted to see reactions, either positive or negative, towards print advertisements based on how they perceived their body and the body image presented in the print advertisement. I was looking for results that can prove that females at different ages might be influenced by print advertisements. These two images are what I used in my short study.

Dee was my first interview. She is a thirty year old lawyer who lives in Yankton County. Her first thoughts were that the models were too skinny and she didn’t want to ever be that unhealthy. The Calvin Klein model showed no structure to her arms and looked flat in appearance (see fig. 1). She did feel the models were pretty but look undernourished. The images of beauty in the print advertisements had little bearing on Dee’s external view of herself. Dee felt that she wished she could be a little smaller but overall, she was satisfied about her appearance and stated the models were “too thin” and it was “unhealthy” (see fig. 1 & 2).  As a lawyer, Dee stated that it wasn’t natural for the average woman to look this way. She believes that you should feel good in your own skin, but that comes with time and age.

The next female I interviewed was Diana. She is in her forties and is a stay at home mom. When I showed her the first photo, Diana said she looked like a girl in her twenties.  The model was too skinny and didn’t look healthy (see fig. 1). When I showed Diana the next print advertisement, she said she would like to be as tall as the model in the print advertisement (see fig. 2).There was an external self-evaluation in the second print advertisement. When asked if she wished she could be that skinny, Diana stated, “No, beauty is only a perception of the person viewing it.”

The last person I interviewed was Destiny. She is 16 years old living in Yankton, SD. I showed her the first print advertisement and asked her for her opinions. She stated she wanted to look as good as the model but it did look like she was too skinny (see fig. 1). The idealized image in the first print advertisement had a lot of influence on the way Destiny wished she could look. The second print advertisement didn’t affect how Destiny perceived her own appearance. Destiny felt that even though the model was pretty, her appearance wasn’t that great (see fig. 2). Destiny stated that model looked “messy” and “covered as if she were hiding her body.” At the age of 16, there are many females who have image issues with themselves. At that age, many females want the perfect body and want to be pretty because they are insecure with their image.

This was a generic study to see if I could show that females in my family were affected by print advertisements. I wanted to see first-hand how women from different age groups viewed specific print advertisements so I could get a general idea of what they were thinking.     

Advertising uses many images in order to get the messages across to consumers. They use stereotypes of what women should look like. Women, more than men, shop online and in magazines and are exposed to advertising every day. “Images of women in advertising have afflicted females with a range of problems including low self-esteem, eating disorders, and binging, which arise from an attempt of women to adapt to a false self to become more ‘feminine’” (Plakoyiannaki, Mathioudaki, Dimitratos, & Zotos, 2008). When we look at these models, they look perfect; their skin tone, makeup, body image, and dress. Many women want to look good because it gives them a false-hope of what people want you to be. Most men look at women because of her appearance and not the inner beauty. Because men have such high standards for women and since women perceive men as looking at them as sex objects, women have distorted views on how a woman should look.

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Physical attractiveness is important in print advertisements when models are used. “Experts on feminist movements argue that, historically, advertising depictions and expressions of female roles are concrete symbols of objectification and representative of male desire” (Lin & Yeh, 2009). Advertising agencies want consumers to lust over these ads and falsely give us a sense of beauty. Research by Lin & Yeh (2009) supports the theory that “current femininity depictions not only effect gender recognition but also force women to hide good personal characteristics in order to adjust their social behavior to satisfy men’s expectations” (62). Advertising agencies know that if women weren’t posed in certain ways, hair fixed, or didn’t wear make-up; those print advertisements wouldn’t sell on the market. Most ads are air-brushed to rid of flaws. 

Controlling what we see and how we view print advertisements is hard. According to Bishop, “No one makes us buy image products; we are free to do so or not” (386). What Bishop is saying is that we, as a society, choose to view print advertisements and compare them to ourselves. We can decide what makes us look good and what self-image we want to accept. “People can choose whether or not to buy products featured in image ads” (Bishop 386). We can avoid magazines and online print advertisements, but there are billboards and banners that can’t be avoided when we drive in cities and towns.

There is so much negativity toward the influence on women’s images in print advertising. The truth is there are positive sides of having women in print advertising. Dove, a soap product, uses women to promote healthy skin. Their ad campaigns show women without make-up, ordinary women who are not excessively skinny, and use all age groups of women. Print advertisements that use the “natural” woman are more effective in advertising campaigns. It shows that women of all ages and different sizes still look beautiful. You don’t need cover-ups or show skin to prove a point. We are not just in a society of materialistic people, but a society where image is everything.

Another positive influence print advertising has on women is exposure. Because advertising is an important form of communication, it allows women to be noticed. We now see women of every race and nationality in print advertising. Where advertising once showed Caucasian women, it now shows women of every nationality and size. Beauty is not just one color, it is of many. In the past decade, more and more commercials are showing plus-sized women to show that at any size, we can be beautiful. Women don’t want to be exploited as sex objects, but to be viewed as a strong, independent, and self-sufficient.

The advertising agencies want consumers to view their print ads in a positive way. By allowing famous women in print advertising, it can bring positive messages to the consumers. There are print advertisements that want to influence behavior in a positive way. For example, drinking milk or eating healthy. These types of print ads can have a positive effect on consumers, which in return has consumers thinking about nutrition and well-being.

In our society, younger and younger girls are trying to have the perfect body image. It starts at home with parents telling your children that you are perfect, no matter how you look. It is not just talking to girls, but also boys and how they view women. Respecting yourself and your appearance, but also the opposite sex is important to living a happy life with a positive self-esteem. Print advertisements, although should be positive, can have negative impacts on individuals. As we grow up we realize that perception is not everything and should be viewed as such.

There is a lot of evidence that shows consumers are impacted by print advertising in negative ways but there are positive sides as well. The way women look at print advertising can affect not only their perception on their body image but it can also affect their health. Men can falsely perceive women in print advertising by thinking all women should look a certain way: too skinny, always wearing make-up, hair always fixed, wearing barely any clothes.  In contrast, the positive sides of women being impacted by print advertising is focusing on health and well-being.

Advertising agencies manipulate consumer’s senses positively and negatively. Consumers see so many negative sides that they forget to focus on the positive sides of print advertising. It is all about making profits and but as consumers, we need to figure out what is a good body image for women and not exploit what isn’t.

Works Cited

  • Bishop, John D. “Is Self-Identity Image Advertising Ethical?” Business Ethics Quarterly 10.2 (2000): 371-98. Print.
  • Burns, A.C., Biswas, A., & Babin, L.A. “The Operation of Visual Imagery as a Mediator of Advertising Effects.” Journal of Advertising 22.2 (1993): 71-85. Print.
  • Diamond, Daniel S. “A Quantitative Approach to Magazine Advertisement Format Selection.” Journal of Marketing Research 5.4 (1968): 376-86. Print.
  • Frisby, Cynthia. “Does Race Matter? Effects of Idealized Images on African American Women’s Perceptions of Body Esteem.” Journal of Black Studies 34.3 (2004): 323-47. Print.
  • Huhmann, B.A. & Brotherton, T.P. “A Content Analysis of Guilt Appeal in Popular Magazine Advertisements.” Journal of Advertising 26.2 (1997): 35-46. Print.    
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  • Mulder, Dee. Personal interview. 11 April 2017.
  • Lin, C.L, & Yeh, J.T. “Comparing Society’s Awareness of Women: Media Portrayed Idealized Images and Physical Attractiveness.” Journal of Business Ethics 90.1 (2009): 61-79. Print.
  • Nye, C., Roth, M.S., & Shrimp, T.A. “Comparative Advertising in Markets Where Brands and Comparative Advertising Are Novel.” Journal of International Business Studies 39.5 (2008): 851-63. Print.
  • Orth, U.R., & Holancova, D. “Consumer Response to Sex Role Portrayals in Advertisements: Effects of Incongruity and Prejudices on Emotions and Attitudes.” Journal of Advertising 32.4 (2003/2004): 77-89. Print.
  • Plakoyiannaki, E., Mathioudaki, K., Dimitratos, P., & Zotos, Y. “Images of Women in Online Advertisements of Global Products: Does Sexism Exist?” Journal of Business Ethics 83.1 (2008): 101-12. Print.
  • Putrevu, Sanjay. “Communicating with the sexes: Male and Female Response to Print Advertisements.” Journal of Advertising 33.3 (2004): 51-62. Print.
  • Rafi, M.M.I., Chowdhury, G., Olsen, D., & Pracejus, J.W. “Affective Responses to Images in Print Advertising: Affect integration in a Simultaneous Presentation Context.” Journal of Advertising 37.3 (2008): 7-18. Print.
  • Randall, Destiny. Personal interview.  13 April 2017.
  • Schmitt, B.H., Tavassoli, N.T., & Millard, R.T. “Memory for Print Ads: Understanding Relations among Brand Name, Copy, and Picture.” Journal of Consumer Psychology 2.1 (1993): 55-81. Print. 
  • Steenhoven, Diana. Personal interview. 12 April 2017.


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