Written by Marisa Zaldivar
Experts have long been warning about mass media’s pervasive impact on a young person’s body image. For the latest generation raised on computers and smartphones, as well as TV and magazines, the outcry has heightened. Today, studies show that young people in the U.S., ages 8-18, engage with media about 7.5 hours daily – and, with it, face increasing toxic exposure to unrealistic and dangerous expectations of beauty.
As of 2011, over 30 million Americans of all genders, ages, and ethnicities were said to be suffering from an eating disorder, which carries the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. ANAD, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Diseases, found that “47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures” and “69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.”
The Association for Consumer Research has also conducted extensive studies to better understand the correlation between marketing and health implications, noting the disparity between businesses that market perfection and those that promote positive body images.
Some brands such as Dove, Lane Bryant, and Aerie have had advertising campaigns that encourage people to embrace their body type and individual beauty. A particular brand’s approach, however, may contrast with other campaigns within a parent company’s portfolio of products. Forbes magazine noted, for example that Unilever was marketing “better beauty” for Dove while doing essentially the opposite with its models promoting Axe deodorant.
An ad from Victoria’s secret – captioned “The Perfect Body” and showing 10 young women in bras and underwear – not surprisingly gained widespread attention. Less prominent was the campaign from the Dear Kate underwear firm, which played off the same caption with 10 “average” women. Dear Kate also included a statement with its ad: “Through this photo, we showcase women who are often neglected by the media and traditional retailers. We show the multitude of shapes perfect bodies can take.”
The glut of images seen every day through mass media can creep into young minds both consciously and subconsciously. Too often, companies are feeding upon customers who are starving for acceptance, starving to be perfect, and starving for a mythic body image.