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The Attempt to Address Body Image in Media: Helpful or Harmful?

It is no secret that media portrayal of body image has become a front-running issue
addressed in the ethical boundaries of advertising. Back in 1979, the average fashion model only
weighed about 8% less than an average female in the United States, but by 1999, only twenty
years later, they weighed at least 23% less (Poorani, 2012). By now, as the average woman in
society has gotten a bit larger and the average model has gotten drastically slimmer, an American
woman between the age of 18 and 34 years old has less than a 7% chance of being as thin as a
fashion or runway model that they see in the advertisements being directed toward them
(Poorani, 2012).
Literature Review
Extensive research has been done on this topic exploring the overwhelmingly negative
impacts the physical standards created by media have on body image and self-esteem of its
consumers. Heavy and increasing exposure of these body ideals tend to have a negative influence
on men as well, but they are primarily targeted at women, with adolescent girls being an even
more vulnerable market (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). During this time in a young woman’s life, a
primary social task is to form her own identity and be socially accepted by her peers, which often
includes being attractive to potential mates. Simultaneously, these girls start facing physical
changes due to puberty such as the natural development of breasts and widening of hips which
only pushes them farther away from the thin ideal that they are trying to conform to, often
leading to serious health issues (Bell & Dittmar, 2011).
The most effective medium that these types of messages have been known to travel
through are television and magazines (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). Correlational studies have shown
that a higher experience of body dissatisfaction is linked to more time spent watching television
or reading magazines (Ashikali & Dittmar (2012). Magazines seem to be the more poisonous of
the two, though, with more than two thirds of girls interviewed saying that magazine models
influence their idea of ideal beauty (Poorani, 2012). Since the images included between the
covers are still images of an unrealistically thin body shape, airbrushed skin, and professional
lighting and makeup techniques (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). This points out that there is not only a
thin ideal that is being emphasized, but also an unrealistically beautiful face that women strive to
have, leading to not only weight-related dissatisfaction, but general disappointment in one’s
appearance. As if these images did not send enough of a message, advertisers then tend to
glamorize unhealthy attitudes toward food and target the insecurities of women, especially
adolescents, offering their products as solutions (Poorani, 2012). Magazine topics also often
revolve around celebrities, diet, fitness, beauty, and fashion discussion to accompany their
idealized images (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). However, Bell and Dittmar also suggest that television
and magazines will begin to decline in their body image impact, while interactive media such as
those available through the internet will begin to become the most impactful body image sources.
This pressure to conform is a culturally defined issue of body and beauty idealism and
has been identified mostly with western societies, particularly the United Kingdom, United
States, and Australia (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). All three of these countries have similar beauty
ideals defined by mass media portrayals of thin, yet toned and curvaceous women with flawless
skin, teeth, and hair, and all three countries also report similar high levels of body dissatisfaction
among their teenage girl population especially (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). In America specifically,
about 59% of the population is overweight or obese (Smeesters, Mussweiler, & Mandel, 2010).
With media exposure having such a strong impact on average size women, it is likely that
heavier women may be even more strongly affected by media messages of body image
standards. Smeesters, Mussweiler, and Madnel also suggest that even the 2% of the population
that is underweight may be especially vulnerable to advertisements of thin body messages
because many of them are current victims of eating disorders who are sensitive to body image
influences (2010).
Experimental studies have given insight to just how immediate psychological effects are
of even slight exposure to body image messages in the media. These findings overwhelmingly
have shown instant dissatisfaction in women when they are exposed to advertisements that
contain a thin model in them, rather than just a neutral image, and they have also shown these
correlations to be strong with unhealthy eating beliefs and behaviors (Ashikali & Dittmar, 2012).
During this relatively immediate social comparison, a woman may engage in similarity testing or
dissimilarity testing. If using similarity testing, one will find ways that she and the standard are
similar and ignore signs that there are dissimilarities, while those who use dissimilarity testing
will tend to focus on ways that they are different from the standard and ignore what they have in
common, typically leading to less positive body satisfaction (Smeesters, Mussweiler, & Mandel,
2010). Findings indicated that, when viewing advertisements, one will typically use similarity
testing when a person in an advertisement is of a relatable size to them, but they will use
dissimilarity testing when a person is of a noticeably different size (Smeesters, Mussweiler, &
Mandel, 2010). This explains the, often times, negative comparisons that an average consumer
will make between herself and a model that she is trying to conform with.
However, it is not always bad outcomes coming from the women being exposed to so
many media messages, since a lot of factors play into how vulnerable they are. Some women do
not engage in social comparison as much as others or may not be as materialistic to absorb the
messages of wealth, fame, and image that can come along with the thin ideal in advertisements
(Ashikali & Dittmar, 2012). Some consumers also recognize just how unattainable and
unrealistic a model’s perfection is and find it irrelevant to make social comparisons with,
avoiding the negative possibilities all together (Smeesters, Mussweiler, & Mandel, 2010). Many
girls and women are becoming more aware of marketing strategies through access to information
and campaigns, making them more critical and less affected by the images that they absorb in the
media (Ashikali & Dittmar, 2012). In more extreme cases, some European governments have
recognized the potential danger in media images and are considering greater regulation and
notification of the use of airbrushing as well as a mandatory increase in the body sizes and shape
diversity of models being displayed (Diedrichs & Lee, 2011).
Moving forward from this background in body image, it is important to recognize that
there has been an effort by many different branches of society and the media to shift messages
from a thin ideal to a healthier ideal. A majority attitude used to be that consumers are
responsible for their consumption and interpretation of media messages, but now many fashion
and advertising industries are feeling the heat of responsibility to promote a more positive ideal
and standard (Diedrichs & Lee, 2011). Many advertising and fashion industries have avoided this
type of switch or have been hesitant to promote more average models because of a fear of their
markets’ reaction and loss of money, since “thinness sells” (Diedrichs & Lee, 2011). Contrary to
this cautionary behavior, men and women have been seen to react similarly to average size
models as they do to thin models as far as making decisions to purchase an advertised product
(Diedrichs & Lee, 2011).
Although nothing significant was reported for men, many women were strongly affected
by advertisements with a more average weighted model endorsing a product, showing a
generally positive change in mood and decrease in anxiety (Owen & Spencer, 2013). For women
who internalize cultural media messages, a feeling of relief was expressed by those who were
exposed to an advertisement with an average size model compared to those who were exposed to
a thin model or no model at all ( Diedrichs & Lee, 2011). Own and Spencer suggest that this type
of feeling stems from a sense of reward a woman feels when they see a like-bodied woman in an
advertisement as opposed to the thin ideal that they are used to (2013). By the end of these
experiments dealing with advertisement exposure, the general idea of an ideal body in a
woman’s mind was reported to increased in size and some women who were at risk for eating
disorders felt less pressure to act on dieting urges after viewing these more realistic images (Own
& Spencer, 2013).
With all of that being said, Martin and Xavier suggested that attitudes toward the types of
women used in advertisements can be influenced by two different personality types: internal and
external (2010). Internals are identified as people who believe that they are in charge of their
own fate, meaning that they feel that dieting and exercising can help them to attain the body that
they desire, while externals feel that many of the aspects of their body shape are out of their
control, often leading to a higher level of body dissatisfaction (Martin & Xavier, 2010). That
being said, internals often view average and overweight people negatively since they see them as
being lazy. Regardless, when exposed to viewing advertisements with larger size models, even
internals showed a large increase in self esteem and acceptance while external consumers felt
less pressure to lose weight at that point in time, but still expressed the motive to want to slim
down in the future (Martin & Xavier, 2010).
Finally, after exploring some reactions to the efforts of an emphasis on health and realism
in advertisements, there is yet another shift in advertising that focuses on the fitness and
athleticism of women. Many advertisements are steering away from using typical thin models
and experimenting with ideas of fitness and activity in relation to “health.” A push toward
athletics for females first started outside of the advertising industry, but largely because of the
advertising industry. Women are portrayed as being thin, with their appearance and sexual
attractiveness being their only importance. Athletic participation was then encouraged for
women to counter these emphases (Crissey & Honea, 2006). Many advertisements seem to have
genuine motives for a shift toward a healthy and fit woman, such as encouraging self-reliance
and focusing on one’s capabilities, rather than just her appearance (Crissey & Honea, 2006).
Unfortunately, this message is not easily communicated since fitness has recently become
another standard intertwined with the ideal beautiful woman (Crissey & Honea, 2006). Many
athletic women, more so at young competitive ages, are more vulnerable to negative side effects
such as eating disorders once they become more athletically involved because of the
requirements of some sports such as gymnastics, figure skating, and dancing (Robinson &
Ferraro, 2004). Many women also struggle to balance the pressures being put on them by fitness
standards and by societal standards, and find themselves trying to be physically fit and extremely
thin simultaneously (Robinson & Ferraro, 2004; De Bruin, Oudejans, Bakker, & Woertman,
2011).
Many women in more elite roles have very strict diets and, despite overall satisfaction
with their bodies, will use weight control methods and still have a high drive for thinness (De
Bruin et. al., 2011). Women athletes who have admitted to having eating disorders also tend to
result from feeling fatter from other similar athletes, even when there was no significant
difference in weight characteristics to be found (De Bruin, et. al., 2011). Coaches, judges, and
teammates also have been discovered to encourage weight management behaviors that may lead
to unhealthy habits or eating disorders, yet these type of women are photographed and then
displayed as being strong, attainable, and healthy (Robinson & Ferraro, 2004).
There is plenty of research about what type of lifestyle is actually being carried out by
fitness-focused females trying to live a “healthy” lifestyle, but there is very little research that
addresses the recent shift in many companies to using athletes and fitness models to sell their
products. Sabiston and Chandler, however, have addressed this potential issue by realizing that
“depicting fit and toned female bodies may create a body image context that mirrors the fashion
industry, where exposure to models in advertising leads to negative body image” (2009). Sports
television and print media seem to have an especially strong link to negative adolescent body
image and body-related anxiety (Sabiston & Chandler, 2009). Exposure to female figures who
are muscular and toned, yet still beautiful and thin, leads to body shame similar to product-
related advertising (Sabiston & Chandler, 2009). It is fair to say that this feeling of “shame” may
be even stronger since a viewer may feel guilty for sitting on the couch as they are consuming
this type of advertisement. Individuals who are affected by these campaigns and images are more
likely to exercise and diet to alter their weight and appearance than to better themselves or to try
to live the healthy life that is being suggested to them.
Aside from these general introductory findings, there is little research done yet on the
consumption of media messages and campaigns that are aimed at pushing a healthy and fit
lifestyle. The shift toward using “healthy” and active women as models for a product stems from
the same kind of shift that is experimenting with using average and “healthy” weight models.
However, portraying a professional athlete or a fitness model as a healthy image to strive toward,
both of whom have a sole purpose to stay in shape and have endless access to trainers and
nutritionists, may be just as unrealistic and unattainable for an average consumer as a thin ideal
of beauty may be. These types of advertisements may display a good message at face value, but
they may be just as damaging as the type of unrealistic thin ideals that they are trying to
counteract. Research on the mental and emotional impacts of the communication of these types
of advertisements and campaigns is extremely important while these type of images are still
relatively new and contained.
Description
Within the last decade, and even more noticeably in the last five or so years, there has
been a shift by some companies to place an emphasis on a healthy and fit body and improved
body image through their advertising toward women. As America has become more aware and
concerned about health problems, mostly dealing with obesity, and many dealing with the
negative emotional impacts that the media has on women, this is a shift that even a couple name-
brand companies have begun to make. Three of these large companies include Dove, Nike, and
Under Armour. All three of these companies have started some type of campaign directed
specifically at women, seemingly in response to some of the health issues mentioned previously.
Nike and Under Armour are two leaders in the athletic apparel market, so it comes as no surprise
that they have acknowledged and responded to the issues with very similar campaigns displaying
fitness and athleticism. The third company, which may be credited with being the most well
known to first directly and openly attack the “media on body image” issue, is Dove. Dove is a
beauty brand most often recognized for skincare and hair care products.
Nike and Under Armour have each had a handful of commercials airing that are
specifically aimed at women, with Nike also printing a series of images that were much more
overtly aimed at body image. Dove, on the other hand, has created an entire series of stories and
short clips to correspond with its “Real Beauty” campaign, including dozens of sketches
available online in addition to its select few commercials that have included aspects and mention
of the campaign. While these companies all seem to include their products and brand name in the
commercial to varying degrees, they all clearly place the focus on the overarching messages that
they are trying to communicate through their advertisements.
It is important to remember that, no matter how genuine a company may seem with trying
to communicate a message, advertisements are still used as tools to increase profit. That being
said, these three advertisement campaigns are extremely appropriate and relevant to examine
because they are all addressing mental, emotional, and physical health, while simultaneously
offering some form of solutions or suggestions on how to improve these things. Under Armour’s
“No Matter What, Sweat Every Day” commercial is encouraging women to get out and pursue
an active lifestyle while striving toward high levels of athleticism. Nike Women’s “Make
Yourself” commercial sends a similar message along with mention of motivation, and Nike
Women’s “Just Do It” print advertisements encourage women to view the “imperfect” parts of
their body in a different light. Finally, Dove’s “Camera Shy” commercial is straightforward in
asking the question, “when did you stop thinking you’re beautiful,” and attempts to inspire
female viewers to “be your beautiful self.” All of these commercials seem to have positive and
honest intentions, but further examination is necessary to discover the true impacts they have.
It is essential to have an understanding of the images that these commercials and
advertisements display. Under Armour’s “No Matter What, Sweat Every Day” advertisement is
an extended, minute long commercial. With an upbeat song beginning on the background,
sounding somewhat like a chant by a group of girls, the beginning of the commercial shows
various women waking up out of bed, on their walk to the gym, tying their hair up into tight
pony tails, and beginning their stretches and warm ups. After that mood is set, the music pauses
for a second, and then comes back with some intensity as one woman literally kicks off an
athletic montage with a kickboxing move. There is then a series of quick clips of a variety of
very athletic women kickboxing, doing advanced yoga, performing some type of hanging
acrobatic workouts, running, and just working out in general. Finally, toward the end, the music
lowers a bit as it shows the women breathing heavily or taking breaks as the commercial’s title
and slogan comes across the screen a couple of words at a time.
Nike Women’s “Make Yourself” commercial begins with featuring a voiceover from
track star Allyson Felix along with a text statement reading, “I’m making myself proud.” Then
American Skier, Julia Mancuso takes over the dialogue while more text arrives reading, “I’m
making myself shine.” Finally, Sofia Boutella, an Algerian dancer, rounds out the speech of the
commercial accompanied by text that reads, “I’m making myself hot.” The words “proud,”
“shine,” and “hot” all are written in to a fill in the blank type image on the screen. Following the
introduction by these celebrity athletes, another upbeat hip hop song picks up and a montage of
workout clips similar to the ones described by the Under Armour commercial play; a majority of
these workouts seem to be cross fit or aerobic workouts that are visibly very cardio and strength
intensive. Finally, some text at the end of the minute-long commercial reads, “What Are You
Doing To Make Yourself?”
Nike’s printed advertisements go a much different direction than this commercial,
however. There are six pictures that were printed, all six with a picture of the body part of a
woman along with a corresponding titles and a few clever lines written about that body part.
These include “my Shoulders… aren’t dainty,” “my legs… were once two hairy sticks,” “my
knees… are tomboys,” “I have thunder thighs,” and “my butt… is big.” The lines following these
titles tend to talk about the functions and abilities of these body parts and the improvement that
these muscles have had. The included text also seems to be aimed at a “girl power” type
message, with some inclusion of inside jokes that only girls should pick up on as well as some
insinuation of the unimportance of men. For example, the “my butt” advertisement includes a
couple lines stating, “it’s a space heater for my side of the bed; it’s my ambassador to those who
walk behind me; it’s a border collie that herds skinny women away from the best deals at
clothing sales.”
Finally, Dove’s “Camera Shy” commercial begins with a camera walking in on a girl in
her room talking on the phone, and as soon as she sees the camera, she turns away and hides her
face. The next minute is filled with moments like this, where this camera seems to sneak up on
women at parties, dinners, doorways, and anywhere else that women interact with on an average
day, and they all have the same reaction of dread toward the camera. Finally, the commercial
asks, “when did you stop thinking you’re beautiful?” There is then a brief group of clips of very
young girls laughing and playing and when they see the camera, they only get more excited and
smile even bigger. The commercial closes with the Dove logo and the statement, “be your
beautiful self.”
Beauty is something that is a hard thing to define or set guidelines to, but when someone
is described as “beautiful” in a magazine or on television, there tends to be some general
common characteristics that these people will have in common. For women, it tends to be a
thinner body type or petite frame, smooth skin, a white smile, nice hair, and a good sense of
style. By many of these standards, almost all of the women being displayed by these three
companies in their campaign advertisements still use very attractive women in their commercials
and prints. It seems to be obvious that an effort has been made by these examples of commercials
to display some level of diversity of the women acting in the advertisements. All three of these
companies cover a wide range of ethnic diversity in their commercials, and Dove goes even
further and covers a wide age range. However, through all of the advertisements, the women are
still generally thinner than the so-called average population, based simply on visual observation
of the clips. The Nike and Under Armour women, especially, are thin, which is appropriate since
these are companies that are selling athletic apparel items, but it may be misleading since these
campaigns are directed at all women. The women used in these two company’s advertisements
also are extremely toned and in shape in addition to already being visibly thin, which is again
appropriate for the brand, but may be unattainable to the average woman who is not as
experienced of an athlete. The important thing to notice here is that these advertisements are
specifically aimed at changing a woman’s lifestyle and aiming at a healthier mind and body, yet
they are still using models that are far above what is seen as average; the only difference is that
these commercials are posing these actresses as being more relatable, “real” women.
Another theme that can be extracted out of these examples of advertisements from three
name brand American companies is an emphasis on the importance of the effort a woman puts
into her appearance, as well as the value a woman has based on her appearance. In the Nike and
Under Armour commercials, although all of the women are displayed while they are hard at
work, they have to have their hair in stylish up-dos, modest makeup that still makes her facial
appearance attractive as she is sweating and working out, and most importantly, the tightest
fitting and most skin-showing clothing options that the company has to offer. The commercials
focus many close-ups of a woman’s bare legs and tight butt as she goes through various types of
training routines. Even the Dove commercial that is trying to display women who feel they are
not “camera ready” only shows a montage of women with hair and makeup done in presentable
clothing. Although these women are acting as if they are upset about being taken “off guard” by
the camera, in various places like their bed right as they are waking up or their kitchen table
while they are on the computer, none of them seem to match the actual appearance of a normal
woman who does not wake up in the morning with a full face of makeup or do her hair to sit
alone in her house. These two themes are very similar and share much overlap, but further
examination can show the possible negativity that can be pulled from this contradictory content.
Analysis
So far, the controversial topic of media’s influence on a woman’s body image has been
discussed and further explored, while discovering a gap in research dealing with the more recent
shift toward health and fitness being displayed in media messages. As time has moved forward
and some of the negative outcomes of the “thin ideal” media standard have been exposed, it
seems that Americans, both consumers and companies, have become more aware and cautious
toward media advertisements. This may be why a handful of companies have made an effort to
shift their advertising messages toward a focus of self-fulfillment and health both mentally and
physically. However, the efforts of these companies may be reinforcing the downward spiral of
body image in women, rather than trying to empower them. After reviewing previous research
and dissecting a couple advertisements, quite a few questions can be raised as to whether these
companies’ advertisements are resulting in positive or negative impacts on the perceived
definition of beauty and the importance of being beautiful.
The main reason that can be argued for the destructive capabilities of this new emphasis
on fitness is an “athletic ideal” body in comparison to a “thin ideal” body. As cynical as it may
sound, the unrealistic “thin ideal” is an attainable body type for many women; unfortunately, this
is commonly only reached through the horrifying increase in eating disorders within the young
girl population. As it is commonly known and expressed through examples of women who do
develop serious eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, the scariest part seems to be that
these women still are blind to how thin they are even when they are passed the point of
starvation. However, the new “athletic ideal” body is not only slim, but it also is toned and with
perfectly smooth, tight skin wrapping around the muscles. To achieve the level of muscle
definition that some of these newer models display in media advertisements, a woman needs an
incredible amount of time, dedication, hard work, and dieting. The models that display this body
image in the media are often professional athletes or even actresses; both are careers that focus
exclusively on fitness or appearance. It is then likely that an average woman could never have
the time and resources to obtain the bodies that these models flaunt. Most women do not have a
personal trainer, nutritionist, money for organic meals, possibly a cook, or time to work out
multiple times a day. It is likely that there could be a connection between the desire to look like a
fitness model and the likeliness to try to cheat passed all of these realistic and healthy ways of
achieving this body type by investing in different types of protein supplements, drinks, shakes,
and so on to try to make the most out of the one hour in the day that a woman may have the time
to do something active.
The first questions here that could be raised are, what if a woman does become motivated
enough to earn a fit, toned body? Will she be able to recognize her improvements and find
happiness with her appearance? Will she fall to the same demise that many women suffered with
“thin ideal” induced eating disorders and not be able to recognize the definition of her muscles?
Could she then instead become obsessed with becoming more fit and more toned due to the
“athletic ideal” media influences to the point where she is mentally and physically just as
unhealthy as the girls negatively impacted by the “thin ideal” media messages?
Another point to ponder is how athleticism and gym-going is becoming a major source of
socialization and a way to fit in with peers. Of course, there may not be an actual increase in
these activities, but rather a perception of an increase of these activities due to the rise of social
media sites. It seems impossible for this generation to just quietly visit the gym to get a good
workout in; there is often a need to post a status onto Facebook or post a picture onto Instagram
to ensure that everyone knows when a workout is taking place. In these pictures, it is typically
not appropriate for a woman to be sweaty or wearing anything that she would not feel
comfortable wearing out on a casual night. The most common gym pictures that women seem to
post are ones of a perfect “messy bun,” a full face of makeup, and how great her yoga pants
make her legs look in this mirror.
Now for a second round of questions; is this just a coincidence that these types of
narcissistic behaviors are becoming more popular because of the increasing usage of social
media sites as an outlet for people to display the ideal versions of themselves? Or did this type of
behavior become popular because the media has placed an increasing amount of stress on the
importance of a healthy lifestyle and fitness? Being that people’s behaviors, their surrounding
culture, and the media are all constantly influencing each other, these questions lead into the
classic “chicken and egg” type of problem.
The biggest ethical issue that may be faced by some of these new shifts in advertisements
is whether companies are falsely representing the ideas that they are trying to enforce. An
example of this is that Dove has labeled its campaign as “Real Beauty,” insinuating that the
models that they use should be more realistic and relatable. That being said, although they do
succeed in displaying more diversity within their models, they still use women who are overall
appealing. The biggest issue here could be that there is a variety of race, size, and color between
their models, but they all still have beautiful and smooth skin. This sends a message to a woman
who may be comforted by the relatable body size of the model that her skin should also look as
tight and young as the “average” model’s does. Although airbrushing models is a common
practice now in the advertising industry, it makes it less ethical to use these types of tricks on
women that are labeled as “real.” Steering away from the Dove example, many images that
include “real” athletes also illustrate a body free of any cellulite or wrinkles. Remember that
earlier it was mentioned that some governments in Europe are actually considering increasing
regulation on these type of diversity issues and on the use and expression of editing images.
So, can airbrushing be just as harmful as slimming down or bulking up various body
parts in an image? Should consumers just be happy that the diversity and size issue is being
handled and not get to greedy for the editing problem to be solved simultaneously? Is it the
consumers’ responsibility to know that the advertisements that they absorb are subject to editing
software? Is it the responsibility of companies and advertising agencies to act more carefully
about how they label and represent their campaigns? With how much power has been stripped
away from the FCC in regard to advertising, would it even be possible for the American
government to get involved to regulate any of these things? All of these questions could be
suggestions for further research.
Continuing that idea, sometimes it is hard to distinguish a company’s “honest” efforts to
improve society from their efforts to sell a product. Regardless of the messages that Dove, Nike,
and Under Armour relay, they are all still companies with a main goal of increasing profit. Dove
may be using the new models that they have been using to send a message that all women are
beautiful in some way or another, or they may be using these models to show that their products
can bring beautiful and healthy skin to any woman, regardless of their skin type. Nike and Under
Armour may want to encourage women to get off of their seats, be active, and enjoy the healthy
benefits of pushing your body and becoming a stronger, more physically capable woman, or they
may be wanting to remind you that they are the only brands you can wear to at least appear as
though you fit in to this desirable lifestyle.
With the amount of money, connections, and power these types of brands have, wouldn’t
it be a more honest and ethical move on their part to create some type of campaign that doesn’t
slap their name or logo on the front of it if they are truly acting with the intent to improve body
image in this society? With such personal and sensitive topics, is it okay for body image
campaigns to be lead at all by people who are motivated by profit and develop deceptive
advertisements for a living? It would be interesting to see if there are any companies that have
truly, genuinely founded or are strong supporters of certain foundations or campaigns without
having to showcase their support to relate it back to their brands; but if these types of companies
do exist, there would really be no way to tell.
To wrap things up, let’s review that earlier there was research that mentioned men and
women reacting similarly to average sized models as they do to thin models when making
decisions to purchase an advertised product. With this type of information available, why are a
majority of companies still so hesitant to make this switch in their advertisements? For example,
this research suggests that Nike or Under Armour commercials would be just as effective with
more average-bodied women wearing their clothes and going through all of the active motions.
However, this then leads into the debate that maybe advertising should stick to using models that
should be someone to strive for, so they don’t further encourage the overweight epidemic that
Americans face. Are these “average” models being used even a fair representation of the average
American consumer? Maybe this idea of being “average” or being “real” is actually a middle
ground between the actual average American and the far above average media figure. While the
fit and “athletic ideal” body type may actually create an even larger gap between media actors
and “average” Americans, these “Real Beauty” models may be used as a stepping stone that is
actually attainable to the large portion of the American population that is extremely overweight.
Although these models still may be unrealistic or unattainably flawless, they may be perceived as
more relatable and within reach than past advertisements, which could encourage a shift to
healthy habits in some Americans or decrease the negative self-esteem in others. At this point,
this area of a consumer’s reaction to advertising has simply not been explored deeply enough to
understand the answers to some of these questions or to truly understand if the possible positive
impacts of these advertisements can compete with the negative consequences that have been
discussed thus far.
After reviewing the research that has been done up until this point on the media’s
relationship with body image, discussing some examples that illustrate the shifting models and
messages being used in advertisements, and analyzing the many facets and possibilities that these
things are suggesting, it should be clear that this is an uprising issue of importance for the
American society. There are many implications and possible impacts that this shift may have, but
only time will tell if there will be changes that are noticeable enough to be considered
significant. Hopefully, a larger number of image-based companies will start joining this shift,
which would then result in more material to compare and measure consumers’ reactions to. Until
then, hopefully women can look passed some of the images they see that add an extra amount of
pressure to look a certain way and instead focus on some of the new messages coming their way
to avert their attention more toward their capabilities and accomplishments that may not be easily
captured by a quick glance.

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