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Research Proposal

From television commercials to radio to print ads, advertising has defined the

meaning of perfection. Most notably, advertising dictates what to eat, what to wear,

where to go and who to be seen with. At the same time that childhood obesity is at an all

time high, women in our society are facing advertising's idealized portrayal of unrealistic

bodies. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia and a multitude of other self inflicted diseases are

running rampant in societies nationwide. Our group was intrigued by the relationship

between women and advertising. College aged women often find themselves as the target

of many advertisements. At a time when women are told to define themselves and

mature, advertisers recognize their vulnerability and use this to their advantage. Through

thorough research of a variety of investigative journals, we plan to illustrate the

relationship between advertisements and women's body image.

Advertising has changed the way people consume goods and services. Since the

boom of the 1920s, the advertising industry has tried to convince people why they need to

purchase the newest product on the market. Even more astounding, the advertising

industry has succeeded in changing the way they people feel about themselves. In

magazines and newspapers, women often seek out images of thin models, even when

they anticipate that the images will make them feel badly (Milkie, 1999). Oddly enough,

those who have internalized the media ideal, exposure to images featuring this ideal are

likely to activate the comparison process. Because few women can meet the beauty

standards created by this ideal, dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance is a likely

outcome of this comparison process (Engeln-Maddox, 2005). Through our research we

plan on investigating the thought process of women with different advertisements and

their perceptions about themselves. Knowing that some women actively seek out these

unrealistic images, we plan on investigating why they continue to act with these

mannerisms. Furthermore, we also want to uncover where women look for these images

and at what age they started to do so. Our investigations will look into actions women

have taken to change their image such as diet, plastic surgery and exercise, to see whether

there is a relationship between dissatisfaction with body image and steps taken to change


Because the effects of advertising have such an impact on many women’s lives, in

the past there have been many researchers who are asking the very questions that we

hope to find answers to in our experiment. One such experiment that was conducted by

Gayle R. Bessenof (2006) focused on how the media affects society’s everyday

perception of themselves, more specifically the damaging effects on women. She focused

on how the thin ideal in many advertisements has an affect on women and the way they

compare themselves to others and how it may create self-discrepancies in many women.

The research was conducted by exposing some participants to fashion advertisements

with thin, beautiful models as primers, while others were exposed to neutral

advertisements. The participants were then asked to answer questionnaires about what

feelings they experienced while they were looking through the advertisements. After the

experiment many of the researcher’s assumptions were correct about the effect that the

thin-ideal has on women. Bessenoff found that the women who were exposed to the thin-

ideal advertisements were much more likely to experience feelings about depression,

weight concerns, low self-esteem, and bad moods than the women who were shown

neutral ads before the questionnaire (Bessenoff). Very much like Bessenoff, we are

interested in how advertisements affect the self-esteem of a woman. The previous

research that she has conducted gives us the ability to have some insight about how thin-

idealized advertisements affect the feelings of women.

The average body size of the idealized, glamorous supermodel is often more than

20% underweight (Brown/Dittmar, 2005). Since women today are constantly comparing

themselves to these super thin models, it is no wonder that eating disorders and low self-

esteem in women are at an all time high. But exactly how much do advertisements affect

the way women feel about themselves and the way they live their lives through dieting,

clothing choices, exercise, etc? Previous studies show that viewing thin models increases

weight-related anxiety to an extent that women internalize the thin ideal, and that this

anxiety is heightened with the duration of the viewing time (Brown/Dittmar, 2005). In an

experiment done by Brown and Dittmar, 75 women were exposed to either neutral

advertisements (no models) or to thin models, at either low or high attention, manipulated

by the exposure time and focus instructions. This article aimed to extend the

understanding of why women come to feel bad about their own bodies after exposure to

thin models. Since we are studying how advertisements affect women’s body image and

perception of themselves, this article will be a great reference since it shows the

correlation between media exposure that contain ultra-thin ideals to increased body-

dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Since many studies have shown that ultra-thin

models have an effect on women, we plan to investigate how these advertisements affect

women after planting an unrealistic expectation of perfection into their heads.

1 Another study we found focuses on the younger range for the target audience of

eighteen to twenty year olds is a relevant article for the research that we are planning on

conducting, and this can help gain insight into what possible age differences will have on

our results. There is also a focus in the article on younger teens, this can be utilized in the

research because it provides information about what possible influences our participants

have already encountered in their lives.

They note how advertising emphasizes the theme in culture of girl’s bodies as

“objects”. The study states that these girls are using these models as a point of

comparison, and that these unattainable images will result in lowered self value. This is

the point that we wish to prove in our research that viewing these ads can lower a girl’s

self esteem.

The subjects were chosen from a Midwestern, middle class background, and were

fourth, sixth, and eighth graders. This is relevant to our research because we hope to

discover if our participants were affected at that age. The girls in the experiment were

shown ads from teen magazines. They were primed to look at the ads in one of five ways

as part of: self evaluation, self improvement, and self enhancement 1(finding ways she is

prettier than the model), self enhancement 2(discount beauty of the models) and no

priming at all. The results were that in sixth and eight graders self evaluation caused a

more negative body perception especially after the self evaluation priming, whereas the

self enhancement had no significant effect. The fourth graders were the opposite, they

saw the skinny models in ads as the opposite of what they wanted to be, they wished to

“grow bigger” not remain small, and their self enhancement exercises boosted their views

on their body perception. In the older girls though there was evidence that the motive of

self evaluation was the most harmful to body image.

The objective of the Monro and Huon (2006) experiment was to determine the

effects of media-portrayed idealized images on young women’s body shame and

appearance anxiety, and to see if the effects depend on advertisement type and on

participant self-objectification. While there was no differences between advertisements

with body-related products and without body-related products, their results indicated that

appearance anxiety increased after viewing advertisements featuring any idealized

images. One of the most interesting things that was discovered was that the participants’

body shame increased after exposure to idealized images (Monro and Huon, 2006). The

study supported the idea that idealized images are an influential source of pressure to

meet the thin ideal (Monro and Huon, 2006).

We chose this project to study further the idea that exposure to

advertisements influenced women’s thoughts before and after encountering the

advertisements. We want to design surveys and an experiment that will help us learn who

is more susceptible, like women who workd out or women who read fashion magazines.

We hope to discover how long they have been affected by such advertisements and for

how long they have been comparing themselves to the women in these ads. The research

findings pointed to the same idea that women were greatly affected by these

advertisements. Knowing that some women actively seek out these unrealistic images, we

plan to investigate why they continue to act this way. Furthermore, we want to

investigate into where women look for these images and when they started looking for

these images. Our investigations will look more to college women in particular. We want

to explore the added pressures, like being on their own and finding a job, that they face

and this impact on their body image. We want to look at how body issues can impact

them in a critical stage in life, because they are trying to be successful, trying to find a

mate, trying to balance everything as well as their body while they face other girls and

ads on campus everyday. Our study wants to focus on the college women and how their

personalities and daily activities are influenced by these media ideals.

All of our research indicates a relationship between advertising and women's body

image. Through this project we plan to survey college aged women, age 18-22, about the

way they view themselves and how the media has influenced these perceptions. In our

experiment we will show women different images of models in advertisements and

investigate the relationship between these images and the way they perceive themselves

in society. Because we are a group of five female investigators, we plan on using only

female test subjects for our research experiment and as well as for our survey. Through

the survey we hope to understand if things, such as diet, exercising, magazines, and

personal opinions, influence women. We hope to better understand the way advertisers

influence women's perception of themselves. In addition, we hope that through the

completion of this project, women will understand the unrealistic expectations of women

and be more accepting of themselves.

Works Cited

Bessenoff, Gayle R. “Can the Media Affect Us? Social Comparison, Self-Discrepancy,

and the Thin Ideal.” Psychology of Women Quarterly. Vol. 30. pp. 239-251.

Blackwell Publishing, Inc.

Brown, Amy and Helga Dittmar. Think “Thin” and Feel Bad: The Role of Appearance

Schema Activation, Attention Level, and Thin-Ideal Internalization for Young

Women’s Responses to Ultra-Thin Media Ideals. Journal of Social and Clinical

Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 8, 2005, pp. 1088-1113.

Engeln-Maddox, Renee. Cognitive Responses to idealized Media Images of Women: The

Relationship of Social Comparison and Critical Processing to Body Image

Disturbance in College Women. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol.

24, November 8, 2005, pp. 1114-1138.

Huon, Gail, PhD and Fiona Monro. “Media-Portrayed Idealized Images , Body Shame,

and Appearance Anxiety.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 38 (2005):


Martin, Mary C. And James W. Gentry. “Stuck in the Model Trap: The effects of beautiful

models in ads on female pre adolescents and adolescents.” Journal of Advertising

. Spring 1997. V26 N2, p 19-33