When examining advertising campaigns throughout history different political, economic, and social issues are very obvious. Advertising always seems to mirror not only what is occurring across mass society, but also the themes unique to a diverse group of sub cultures in society during a particular time period. After closely exploring fashion ads throughout history it was clear how the ideas about body image have changed over time. Gradually it has become acceptable to show more and more skin and advertising in general has become much more sexualized. In the book Adorned in Dreams, Elizabeth Wilson explained how people have used fashion as a way to represent themselves and their reactions to society across the decades. She says, “In all societies the body is ‘dressed’, and everywhere dress and adornment play symbolic, communicative and aesthetic roles. Dress is always ‘unspeakably meaningful’.” Wilson goes on to describe how in the twentieth century the integrity of dress has progressed to disassociate itself from the rigid behavioral codes that once sustained it. Fashion has been freed to become both an aesthetic vehicle for experiments in taste and political means of expression for dissidence, rebellion and social reform. In this book Elizabeth has set up an important foundation for further analysis into current fashion advertising. Many of the issues presented in contemporary advertising convey very similar messages about body images; however more distinctions can be made based on the market a particular ad is targeting.
As illustrated through the movie “Happiness Machines”, an important tool in advertising is the ability to create desire. The “desire”/ Consumer society was born after World War I as a response to the fears of the new industrial society that was a product in America from the war. Based on what Bernays had previously learned from his Uncle, Sigmund Freud, about the human mind and subconscious thinking, he realized this would require him to transform the way society thought about products and turn America from a needs based society into a desire culture. He had to create the new types of customers. Bernays began to create many of the techniques of mass consumer persuasion we still use today. He began to glamorize products by placing advertisements linking products with celebrities who used them. He used product placements in movies and dressed the stars for film premiers with the clothes and jewelry from other firms her represented. He told car companies they could sell cars as symbols of male sexuality. He also employed psychologists to claim a product was good for you and pretended they were independent studies. Finally he paid celebrities to repeat the new and essential message; you bought things not just out of need but to express your inner sense of yourself to others. “Wearing certain clothes will make you more attractive”. This caused a change in society called consumerism.
Today desire is still constructed through political, cultural, and economic conditions, but it is also invested with the power to authorize and normalize those conditions (Helstein, That’s Who I Want to be: The Politics and Production of Desire within Nike Advertising to Women). Susan Bordo described how ads play off of the female fear of food and desire to gain control. In Hunger as Ideology Susan Bordo explains the negative effects advertising has on womens’ body image. Throughout history advertising has played off of womens’ fear of food and desire to gain control and while doing so has embedded the idea that men are superior to women and food should be feared by women, as it is a sign of weakness. Marketers try to sell products by showing it as a tool to gain control over some aspect of their lives. Not only do advertisements play off of females’ struggle for control, they also must be considered as gender ideology- that is, as specifically servicing the cultural reproduction of gender differences and gender inequality, quite independent of marketing concerns. Although it is arguable, these desires seems to be an underlying theme in most advertisements. Different markets have unique desires that take precedence in their lives, thus the major distinctions between modern fashion ads lies in the specific market a brand is targeting.
One of the most dominant types of fashion advertising is that of high-end brands. The pages of fashion magazines are filled with ads for brands such as Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Fendi, Christian Dior, and Prada just to name a few. Although all the brands have unique ads with their distinct trademark on them, there is an eerie similarity between them all. Slender, blonde, Caucasian females seem to dominate the script for high-end fashion advertising. Although in the 21st century advertising seems to becoming more culturally diverse, even the “ethnic” models have very westernized features. The typical ad depicts this female adorned in the latest fashions by the designer and is preposterously posed in a glamorous setting. Often times *** appeal is created either from the way the model is posed or the ‘lack’ of clothing covering her body. Occasionally males are used in these ads as an accessory to the women. Although society in general has become immune to these imagines since they have become so common, the messages they enforce about body images are not acceptable.
According to The Beauty Myth, as found in the Naomi Wolf readings, a thin, white, blonde woman is considered the ‘perfect woman’ and the most beautiful woman to feature. The typical high-end fashion ad plays to that stereotype. In The Beauty Myth, Wolf argues that it is men that create this idea of what or whom is "beautiful". It is the men in society that deem white, thin, blonde woman as beautiful, not women. Men create these "beauties" so that culture can remain male and male dominated, as argued by Wolf. The idea of male dominance is very clear in the advertising industry. The readings from Fresh Lipstick by Scott support this idea of the male dominated gaze. Scott mentioned that a male point-of-view shot is just another way for men to continue to dominate society.
This first set of ads comes from the Fall/Winter 2007 fashion ad campaigns of some of the top high-end designers in the industry. Many of the models are either well known super models of famous celebrities. Ads like these are extremely common today in the fashion industry. They are neither innovative nor distinct and they only help to reinforce the body image crisis currently plaguing the general public.
The role the fashion industry plays on society is haunting. The westernized ideals and images of beauty are rapidly scattering through humanity. As discussed in Making the Body Beautiful by Gilman, aesthetic surgery is a growing industry. More and more people want to have western features and the age of the patients undergoing these surgeries keeps getting younger. Gilman said, “Patients seeking rhinoplasty…frequently show signs of guilt-tinged, second-generation rejection of their ethnic background masked by excuses, such as not photographing well.” When people are constantly bombarded with images of Caucasian females modeling the latest fashions and depicted as the “ideal beauty” it creates a desire to have those same features. “Happiness in our modern world is in part defined by the desire to vanish into the world beyond ourselves where there is no difference. We want to become happy like everyone else and thus be absolutely unique in our happiness. This contradiction is at the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter in aesthetic surgery is the common human desire to ‘pass’ (Gilman, 330).” By filling the fashion magazines with models that all share similar features it creates the idea that through plastic surgery one can achieve those same features and in doing so fit into society.
Another popular type of high-end fashion advertising is shock value. Certain brands choose to fulfill their consumer’s need for desire by use of shock value. These ads typically depict a fantasy world in which they illustrate deep desires that might not be considered proper to openly discuss. An example of this type of advertising is the Fall/Winter 2007 ad campaign by Dolce and Gabbana. According to Domenico Dolce the image is artistic and was meant to “recall an erotic dream, a sexual game.” Protesters complained that the ad depicted rape and was demeaning to women. Spain’s Labor and Social Affairs Ministry said in a statement, “One could infer from the advertisement that it is acceptable to use force as a way of imposing oneself on a woman, reinforced by the passive and complicit manner of the men looking on.”
This ad continues to be filled with Caucasian individuals all scantily clad and exposing extremely cut bodies. Naomi Wolf, in The Beauty Myth, explains how images such as this can have negative consequences on men as well as women. “So powerful is pornography, and so smoothly does it blend in with the advertising of products…that many women find their own fantasies and self-images distorted too…So rare is it to see sexual explicitness in the context of love and intimacy on screen that it seems our culture treats tender sexuality as if it were deviant or deprived, while embracing violent or degrading *** as right and healthy (Wolf, 140).” Men also face the stereotypic ideal of how they are supposed to look and act; men must be in shape, toned, tall, with good hair, teeth and eyes. Today, men make up one-third of all cosmetic surgeries. Images are damaging and may lead to inferiority and inadequacy, and can lead to cosmetic surgery. Men are finally understanding and feeling the affects that advertising and unrealistic expectations of beauty. However, women have been dealing with these issues throughout history.
Along with enforcing very negative messages about body images through the use of male positioning and facial expressions the ad creates a very negative message about male superiority. The men is this ad are holding the female down and forcing themselves upon her. She looks on with a very blank expression, implying that she is dazed and not enjoying herself. The men in the background are just looking on and not doing anything to help her or interfere with the act. In Fresh Lipstick Scott mentions the arguments Beauvior makes that women have an inbreed fear of being raped and becoming the sexual prey of men. Women learn to see themselves as an object viewed from the outside, thus she begins to dress in a way to attract a lover. This involves imagining how one might appear to the desired male (226). This ad perpetuates this fear and seems to allocate rape.
Although the ad campaigns for high-end fashion brands may seem innocent at first glance, upon further investigation it is obvious that they are enforcing negative messages about body image. If these brands clutter society with so many negative messages surrounding body images, how can they continue to remain so popular? It seems as though the designers of these ads knows that their main audience viewing their actual campaigns are not their actual clients purchasing the products. The majority of the people who wear these clothes have personal shoppers or stylists who buy their clothes for them. Rather, the images in these ads are designed to create a desire among a lower class of society to achieve this rich and luxurious lifestyle; however, the consequences resulting from the message of how to achieve this particular lifestyle is devastating.
In Self-Help, Inc. McGee describes how there is a growing interest in the self-help society. The movement can be traced all the way back to the Bible as the first example of a self-help book. Today there is a book to teach people how to help themselves succeed in just about every aspect of life. Advertising seems to foster self-anxieties and endless imperfections. It is important to acknowledge the growth of this trend in society since it seems to parallel a slow shift toward more conscious advertising. In the early 1990s sales of self help books went up 6% following the trends in society of unemployment and a bad economy. In the past ten years there has been a noticeable amount of ads produced in effort to portray positive messages about the body.
The ad campaign by the French brand Nolita is an attempt to create a more positive message about the body image. The author of the campaign is famous Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani. The campaign is designed toward young women who keep up with fashion and is called to draw public attention to such awful disease as anorexia. The ad billboards feature a 27 years old French woman named Isabella Caro who weighs a mere 68 pounds. She says that she has decided to show her body for people to know and to see how the disease impacts the body. It is common knowledge that there is a major problem with eating disorders in the fashion industry. As previously mentioned the typical model has an abnormally tall slender frame. Maintaining this body image is generally unnatural, but models will go to any length to ensure that they stay at a dangerously low body weight.
Women are continually bombarded with advertisements and commercials for weight-loss products and programs. This type of advertising has been around for a long time and continues to enforce negative views of food for women. The media starts targeting girls from a young age and over time the idea is cemented in girl’s heads that food is bad. Many of the advertisements show the power that food has over women. They illustrate how the female psyche is in a constant state of starvation through their efforts to sell products that can create a “cool” or casual relationship with food for women. The issues surrounding food are a lot deeper and more serious than advertisements are willing to admit. Most often women feel upset and depressed and unhappy when they discuss compulsive eating or over indulgence. Since the Victorian era it has been considered taboo to show women eating, particularly in sensuous surrender to rich, exciting food (Hunger as Ideology, Susan Bordo).
Naomi Wolf made a lot of important points about the gravity of eating disorders. She illustrated how it is a vicious cycle that can often lead to death. When people diet the body often feels as if it is starving and chemicals in the head get messed up. It is really hard to control and basically anyone who diets is at equal risk for becoming anorexic or bulimic. Female fat is a sign of sexuality and reproductive ability. There have never been any studies on females that indicate being over weight can lead to other health concerns or put them at higher risk for death. Every study that has been done on obesity has involved male subjects; yet, females are the ones put under constant pressure from society and the media to be thin. It is acceptable for men to be fat, and men should have hardy appetites. It is age old and universal that if there is ever a shortage of food the women are the first to do without. In reality women really need just about as many calories as men and women suffer more serious problems if they are malnourished. Eating disorders effect a significant population in society. It is really scary because it is such a psychological problem that is seems there is no real way to prevent any one person from getting it unless the entire mind set of basically the world is transformed (The Beauty Myth, 179-116).
This ad from Nolita is defiantly a step in the right direction; however it does not do enough. Rather than say how to help someone with an eating disorder it almost seems to criticize the individual with the problem. People with eating disorders already have very flawed and negative self-images. Although this image is not seen as sexualized at all, it is merely because of the condition the model is in. She is still naked and being shot from a male gaze. It seems like a more effective approach would be to illustrate ways to prevent the problem or find a path to recovery; however, it is nice to see the problem is finally being recognized in the fashion industry.
Although the fashion industry is filled with images that perpetuate negative body images in society there seems to be some hope for improvement in the new century. It is very difficult to find ads that do a really good job of portraying positive body images, but they do exist. Some brands do a really good job of producing campaigns that portray a positive body image. United Colors of Benetton has a really unique campaign. It is interesting to note that the photographer for this campaign is also Oliviero Toscani, who shot the pictures of Isabella Caro for the Nolita campaign. Benetton Group’s advertising campaigns are not only a means of communication but an expression of our time. Through their universal impact, they have succeeded in attracting the attention of the public and in standing out amid the current clutter of images.
The latest campaign by the United Colors of Benetton depicts the faces of four different species of apes. The print reads, “If we don’t do anything to save them, in ten to 15 years the great apes could disappear from the majority of the areas where they now live.” There were about two million chimps in Africa one hundred years ago, now there are little more than 150,000. They are dying out as a result of the expanding human population, deforestation, the destruction of their habitat, hunting and traps. The situation of mountain gorillas and orang-utans is even worse. The number of wild apes is falling while the number of orphans in sanctuaries is rising. This campaign does a great job of bringing awareness to important social issues. Some of the other ads depict the problems with starvation, AIDS and heart disease to name a few. Several of the communication projects created by Fabrica, Benetton’s research center have also been developed in cooperation with prestigious associations (including FAO, UNV, WFP) obtaining important acknowledgements at an international level.
Although these ads do not show the clothes, it creates the desire to help fight these problems. Through the campaign people realize that United Colors of Benetton does a lot of work with different organizations and that through buying this brand they are helping to support a very good cause. In that sense it is effective in creating a desire and does not perpetuate the negative body images that the fashion industry has been continually associated with.
Another genre of fashion advertising that seems to do a good job of portraying positive body images is in campaigns for athletic apparel. Currently both Adidas and Nike are attempting to produce campaigns that generate positive body images and messages. Nike’s campaign is a good effort to demonstrate more positive messages about body image, but it has been causing a lot of controversy. Nike’s new ad campaign, “Big Butts, Thunder Thighs, and Tomboy Knees” has been criticized because they highlight the ****, thighs, and knees of women athletes who could hardly by any means be considered out of shape. The campaign seems to have back fired and while those butts, thighs and knees should be praised, the manner that the ad presents the body parts almost condemns them. As explained in The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, in modern society women are expected to have split personalities and lifestyles. Women feel pulled in different directions, such as housewife, working women, athletic social, etc. It seemed that this would have been a great opportunity for Nike to reach the diverse desires of all women, but this campaign does not seem to be there quite yet.
While the campaign seems to have stayed away from the typical genre of fashion advertising, it is not very effective in creating a more positive body image. The images are black and white and shot in a way to eliminate the male gaze or cultural inequalities. However, the depiction of these well-oiled, muscle crunching body parts has sparked some questions. If the message is supposed to be about authenticity, hard work, and in-your-face reality, how about showing a little more sweat and a little less creatine? Furthermore, this ad seems to be appealing to current Nike customers while the whole point of advertising is to try and attract new consumers. Finally, the ad is a copy of the dove campaign which totally strips it of any creative or unique credit the campaign could have been given.
The Adidas campaign launches a new global basketball movement featuring NBA All-Stars Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups and Gilbert Arenas. The movement of the “It Takes 5IVE” campaign is based on the idea of believing in something bigger than the individual-believing in five, believing in team. Adidas wanted to tap into the idea that there is more to the game then just individual achievement and focus on the value of being part of a team. That is the true spirit of the game of basketball. By bringing together five of the game’s most successful athletes and having them deliver the message that real success can only come from being part of a team, and that any individual achievements cannot measure to the success that five players on the court can achieve together shows that teamwork is the most essential aspect to a team sport.
This campaign seems to do a much better job of creating a positive message; however the message creates a desire for team work to help you succeed. While this is a good message, it is not a positive message about body image. Since this campaign stays away from assisting the fashion industry in creating negative body images and more importantly negative overall messages, it is a pretty good campaign.
Finally there are a few campaigns from popular designers that do a rather good job of staying away from continuing the negative body images being produced by the fashion industry. Both Tommy Hilfigure and Old Navy have ads that completely stay away from the body and in that sense they are not effective at creating a positive body image either, rather they are neutral. In the Tommy Hilfigure ad a herd of sheep are standing in front of an American Flag and the tag line reads “follow the flock.” This ad is cute and creates the desire to fit in and then eludes to the idea that through buying Tommy Hilfigure clothing you will be like everyone else; however, as previously stated, people in society today desire control over their destination and the idea of being like everyone else seems to distract from the notion of controlling one’s destiny. The Old Navy ad also uses animals by creating ads depicting images of their icon dog. These ads are effective at getting the name of the brand to the public, but it creates no desire and is therefore not as effective as the Tommy Hilfigure ad.
Overall, fashion advertising is dominated by ads that encourage negative body image through highly sexualized poses, a majority of male gazes, and unrealistic body types. There is not enough cultural diversity in today’s fashion advertising. The ads are effective at creating desire; however, the desire is to achieve unrealistic and unhealthy goals. In the past few years some very significant changes have been made, but it isn’t enough right now. It is a gradual process so it will probably take some time before any major noticeable differences appear on the pages of the top fashion magazines. Hopefully the steps that are taking place now will have a lasting positive impact on the body images created through future fashion advertising.