Saturday, October 12, 2013

Control Yourselves, Ladies.

Want to get a message across?  Advertise.  You can do it anywhere: on billboards, on television commercials, thru television product placement, in magazines, before YouTube videos, in Playbills, on bus stops, on the train station walls, on the outside of the train, inside the train, before a movie, on a cup, on the coffee sleeve around the cup that already has advertising, and so on, and so on, and so on…  According to Jean Kilbourne’s essay Beauty and the Beast of Advertising, “We are each exposed to over 1500 ads a day, constituting perhaps the most powerful educational force in society” (Kilbourne, 121), and these 1500 daily ads are not only selling things, they are selling ideas.  What is this educational force teaching us?  With countless examples for evidence, ads are creating and continuing gendered stereotypes that are detrimental to females and their relationships with their bodies and food.

Since the societal shift in female beauty, as described by Susan Bordo in her essay Hunger as Ideology, from the “cultural appreciation for the buxom woman” to the “1960s and early 1970s, as Twiggy and Jean Shripton began to set a new norm for ultra-slenderness” and then “the 1980s and 1990s an increasingly universal equation of slenderness with beauty and success” (Bordo, 102), extreme thinness has become the delivery and message of advertisement.   Not only do ads generally feature ultra-thin models selling any and all products, but the ad copy usually reinforces the message in a not so subtle way.  Ads tell women they should not be pear shape,
but rather “strut their skinny”,
 and they teach them they should feel guilty about eating things that taste great,
 but it’s okay if it’s the diet version. Women are taught to use control and limit themselves to the diet versions of products.

“Control” is an important part of diet language, you must control cravings, use portion control, and control your calorie intake; “control” is not something advertisers want people to have over their spending.  It seems “‘Control’ – a word that rarely used to appear in commercial contexts – has become a common trope in advertisements for products as disparate as mascara” (Bordo, 105) because woman need to have control over products to fix the problems in their lives that advertisers are eager to point out to them.  In another article by Jean Kilbourne The More You Subtract The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size, she also speaks about the use of “control” in advertising.  She gives examples of such ads, “’Hey girls, you’ve got the power of control’ says an ad for hairspray… ‘Never lose control’ (hairspray again)…’Only  Victoria’s Secret could make control so sensual’ (girdles)” (Kilbourne, 151, and states that “the empowerment, the enlightenment, is as impossible to get through products as is anything else – love, security, romance, passion.  On one had we know this, but we keep buying and hoping – and buying” (Kilbourne, 151), and because we keep searching and trying to buy control, this idea ads constructed themselves, it keeps working and they keep doing the same copy.  It’s all a vicious cycle.

Some advertisers have realized the public has caught on and are trying to “change” their ways.  The Dove “Real Beauty” campaign is one example of this. Using different shapes and sizes, race, and ages of women was considered a really triumph by some; but these ads are still trying to get women to take control of their dry skin by buying moisturizer. The same idea can be seen in the new Diet Pepsi ad, LINK; Sofia Vergara is often celebrated for her curvy figure, and her she is selling “the new skinny can”.  By having the curvaceous celebrity hold the “new skinny”, the copy looks like it is to imply that curvy is the new skinny – ass is back in style.  But with the shape of the can being changed into a new long and leaner shape, it just implies that long and lean is the new skinny – same old, same old. 

Advertisers are aware of what subliminal message to women and girls with their ads, but their goal is to sell products.  If there is not a created problem to take control of who is going to buy their fix-the-problem-cure?  Their new ads trying to break away from the typical gendered past might be worth some slight celebration.  Sadly, the gender equality is not coming from woman being targeted less, but now more males are worried about their body image and can get targeted as well.   
Bordo, Susan. "Hunger as Ideology". 99-134. print.

Kilbourn, Jean. "Beauty and the Beast of Advertising." Media & Values. N.p.: Winter, 1989. 121-25. Print.

Kilbourn, Jean. " The More You Subtract The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size".  Deadly Persuasion, 1999. 128-154. Print

Diet Pepsi Ad:

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