The other day, I was reading The State Press-- Arizona State University's daily campus publication. To be honest, I rarely ever read it, but every so often I like to check in and see what it is going on around campus (it’s been almost two years since I graduated from my graduate program there!). Anyways, I came across a pretty interesting article on body image and marketing that I have been trying to make sense of!
One of the principle researchers in the study, Naomi Mandel, is an associate professor of marketing at ASU, and she partnered with two other professors from universities across the country to examine how advertisements (and the models used in them) impact women’s body image and self-esteem. They wanted to determine if using plus-size models and women of all sizes to sell products in ads promoted positive body image in women. What they found was that ‘plus-size models don’t promote positive body image for consumers.’ To read the entire article and to read more about their study, follow this link.
After reading this article, I was sort of confused because I was wondering if the researchers expected a different outcome? Let me explain. I know that we all hope (me included) that seeing women that are a range of sizes will contribute to us having a better and more healthy body image, and I really DO believe that it can and does help (in spite of these findings)-- but I also think that more than anything, our culture’s narrow definition of beauty is what really challenges us the most, and ultimately influences the context in which we view ourselves and others. Anyways, their study (as far as I’m aware) seems not to take this very important component into consideration, which is essential because the way in which we define beauty culturally impacts the way that we see and interpret what is beautiful (maybe they need a social scientist to join their research team!). I almost laughed this morning when I came across an opinion piece on the Huffington Post-- the title alone screamed at me in regards to this very issue- “Why Media Literacy Alone Won’t Make Women Love Their Bodies.” Follow this link to check it out. The premise of the article is based on a study done amongst Girl Scouts- and what they found was that while girls and women are able to critically observe models and unhealthy images that we see in the media, we still want to pursue unhealthy means to achieve this ideal standard of beauty that exists culturally. Here is a snippet that sums up it up, and sums up my thoughts about the ASU study as well..
The young women in the Girl Scouts study are media literate. They view the images they see in magazines and on television with critical eyes. They know full well that what they see presented as beautiful is all but impossible to achieve. They even suspect, rightly, that some of the women they're seeing are sick. And yet, they still think those women are beautiful, and they still want to look like them. What's clear then, is that changing how we see fashion models is only half the battle. That so large a proportion of the women surveyed in the Girl Scouts study were media literate, and were able to view fashion critically, represents enormous progress. But until we change what's considered beautiful in our culture, until we broaden the definition of female beauty to encompass more than 2% of the population, young women will continue to emulate the current ideal, even as they know it to be unrealistic and unhealthy. The other equally important half of the battle, though, is to change how we see beauty, to expand the definition beyond young, white and painfully thin. If we can do that, we can create a world in which young women who want to be considered beautiful by media standards, who want, like all teenagers, to be accepted and liked, don't feel the need to starve themselves in order to do so.
This is obviously a huge challenge and task- and as we all know, cultural change does not happen over night. Starting small is essential- one small way that you can participate is to take part in Operation Beautiful. For more information on Operation Beautiful, follow this link.