Social institutions, such as family, education and mass media play an important role in the production and regulation of beliefs and practices of gender. Nowadays, advertising is a key institution of socialization in modern society and plays a crucial role in affecting public perception of women. When you walk on the street, slimming advertisements appear everywhere and there is no way to escape from receiving their messages. Undoubtedly, slimming has become a trend in Hong Kong. Moreover, those advertisements bombard us with ideal female images. Although it is widely believed that women have higher social status than the past and have more respect, there is a gap between the perceived female images in print media and real life. Thus, this paper argues that the printed slimming advertisements affect public perception of local women adversely since they often put emphasis on appearance and thinness, they objectify women by distorting the aesthetic standards of a human body and portray women as sex objects.
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Printed slimming advertisements may cultivate images of thinness. Fung (2006) estimates that there is around 30% of the pages of entertainment magazines’ advertisements directing at women. He further points out that those advertisements, especially slimming advertisements, have a great influence affecting the public perception on local women. Nowadays, printed slimming advertisements in magazines and on the billboards often suggest that one particular female image which conveys that an ideal body simply equals slim and not too small-breasted and taut, is socially valued. More importantly, those advertisements suggest the public that “thin is in, fat is out” (Lazier & Kendrick, 1993, p. 209). Furthermore, printed slimming advertisements often attempt to create problems and fears that a fat body means more than something physical. According to those advertisements, a fat body tends to relate to some negative moral qualities. For example, a fat body is perceived as indicative of stupidity, laziness, sickness and self-indulgence. In addition, a fat body is the external sign of internal failure. On the contrary, those advertisements promote thinness as an image of grace, smartness, desirability and sex appeal. Those advertisements do not only tend to praise women with a slim body as fashionable and attractive, but also suggest that a thin body shows positive connotations of women. Thus, it is likely that printed slimming advertisements portraying local women should be thin and suggest that a fat body is not preferable.
Along with thinness, appearance is often emphasized in printed advertisements. Almost all of the women in those printed advertisements are beautiful celebrities who are portrayed as professionals enjoying their lives, such as Cass Phang and Christy Chung of Marie France. For example, Fung (2006, p.175) points out that the advertisement of Marie France Bodyline by Christy Chung promotes “the fashion of body contouring” and gives the public an illusion of becoming a successful and professional woman through slimming. Therefore, printed slimming advertisements greatly affect public perception of local women adversely as they tend to acknowledge physical attractiveness and ignoring their inner beauty.
Printed slimming advertisements tend to objectify women in order to distort the aesthetic standards of human body. Objectification means “women are taught to internalize an observer’s perspective of their own bodies and more concerned with observable body attributes rather than focusing on non-observable body attributes such as feelings and internal bodily states” (Kilbourne, 2002, as cited in Equal Opportunities Commission, p. 27). Therefore, the aesthetic standards of human body are likely to be distorted as women do not often treat their bodies as a whole by ignoring non-observable body attributes and putting their focus on body shape which should be similar with those figures in advertisements. As slimming companies aim at increasing the profit through those advertisement campaigns, a female body is commodified as a marketable product. According to Equal Opportunities Commission (2009), Greening suggests that advertising could be very powerful in shaping public perception toward women as selling objects and even tend to make the selling of women’s body acceptable as it is one of the most powerful sources of education in society. Since the message on the printed slimming advertisements have great influence on women, such as those on the huge billboards outside shopping malls, a large number of women would like to compare themselves with the body shape and image on those advertisements. Moreover, they probably start to think that there is a need for them to conform to those beauty standards shown on the advertisements. They also view their faces as masks and their bodies as objects by denying the fact that everyone’s body should be unique and special. As a result, they are encouraged by those printed slimming advertisements to manipulate and change their faces and bodies through slimming. From the above, there may be a distortion of the aesthetic standards of the human body as women are likely to be portrayed as empty and decorative objects without individuality.
Printed slimming advertisements may portray women as sex objects and women may portray as subordinate to men. It is widely believed that a large number of printed slimming advertisements display women with little clothes and even naked. Those advertisements often convey sexual information which defined by “Harris (1994) as ‘any representation that portrays or implies sexual interest, behaviour, or motivation’ (p.206), is often integrated within the advertisement as images, verbal element or both” (Harris, 1994, as cited in Bohbot, 2003, p.13). For example, the printed advertisement of Fannie Yuen from Josephine Bust and Slimming Centre directs a reader’s gaze to her breasts. Thus, the printed slimming advertisements would affect public perception of local women as sex objects. The use of dismemberment in the printed slimming advertisements also makes women as sex objects. Dismemberment of women means “it is the act of cutting, tearing, pulling, wrenching or otherwise removing, the limbs of a living thing” (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2009, p.15). According to the Equal Opportunities Commission (2009, p.15), dismemberment of women’s bodies is commonly seen in advertisements and “highlight one part of a woman’s body, such as woman’s breasts and legs, while ignoring all other parts of her body, and portray women with missing appendages or substitute appendages.” By using the technique of dismemberment, female bodies are collections of sexual features on display. By turning women into sex objects, women’s role is distorted as women become weak and are subordinated by men. Subordinating women by men means that men always hold the power and authority and they treat women as their belonging as men assume that women are inferior. Models in printed slimming advertisements are passive and submissive, such as the printed advertisement of Sausontong showing the model lying on the floor with bikini. The passive and submissive poses suggest that women are for male sexual desire and satisfy male gaze. According to Berger (2008), men are always spectators and women are always seen. The status of women is lowered by those advertisements as women are portrayed as sex objects. Thus, printed slimming advertisements may portray women as sex objects and women are portrayed as a subordination of men.
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It has been shown that public perception of women is affected by printed slimming advertisements negatively in Hong Kong. Those advertisements cherish the notion of thinness and appearance, dehumanize women as objects and even further devalue women as sex objects which subordinated by men. Therefore, I suggest that there should be guidelines and codes of conduct for advertising organizations. I hope that printed slimming advertisements in Hong Kong will portray women positively in the foreseeable future.
- Berger, J. (2008)Ways of Seeing. Britian: Pengin
- Bohbot, M. (2003) What is Sex in Advertising. In Reichert, T. & Lambiase, J. (Eds.), (p.13) Sex in advertising: perspectives on the erotic appeal. U.S.: Lawerence Erlbaum Associations
- Equal Opportunities Commission. (2009). Study of Public Perception of Female Portrayal of Female Gender in Hong Kong Media. Retrieved October 5, 2009, from http://www.eoc.org.hk/EOC/Upload/UserFiles/File/Report_Eng.pdf
- Fung, A. (2006). Gender and Adverting: The Promotional Culture of Whitening and Slimming. In Chan. K (Ed.), (p.175) Advertising and Hong Kong Society. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press
- Lazier, L. & Kendrick, A. (1993). Women in Advertisements: Sizing Up the Images, Roles, and Functions. In P.J. Creedon (Ed.), (p.209) Women in Mass Communication. London & NY : Sage.
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